I had an epiphany on the treadmill at my gym one Sunday morning many years ago. While jogging and sweating away, I watched Martha Stewart and her chocolatier guest turn dark chocolate into a head of cabbage, and a straw-like nest to hold the following Sunday’s cache of Easter eggs. This woman actually had created a business doing what she loved to do! The proverbial lightening bolt pierced my entire being: work at something you love and it’s not work. Somehow, I missed that entire life lesson, but I vowed to make up for it once I retired from selling designer clothing season after season to the country’s toniest boutiques and specialty stores. I’m not a fashionista, I’m a FOODIE… and, in particular, it’s all things sweet, that make my hearbeat quicken. I can think about dessert, read about it, talk about it , make it, and, of course, eat it, every single solitary day of the year.
Fast forward to the spring of 2003: the fairly well-known Seventh Avenue company I worked for downsized and I was out of a job. After a lot of consideration, I decided not to go and find another fashion sales job, but, to pursue the dream I had for years, creating confections for a living. But, before I could be taken seriously as a pastry chef, I was told by many in the industry that I needed to get a culinary school education. I enrolled in The French Culinary Institute’s pastry program, where I spent six of the happiest months of my life studying the art of pastry. It didn’t matter to me that I was on the threshold of my 50th birthday and that my classmates (and chef instructors) were 20-30 years younger. Heck, I didn’t even mind the homework!!! Imagine a final exam that involves cake or chocolate or croissants! At the end of the program, I graduated with honors and then the fun really began.
In general, the food business isn’t known for paying high salaries. And, benefits are few, if at all. At this stage of my life, I needed to start my own business and make my own destiny. First, I interned for a very successful cake decorator, and worked at a wildly popular Chelsea cupcake bakery to learn first hand how to run a bakery business, or better yet, how NOT to run a bakery. I teamed up with another woman who already had started a business adorning cakes with hand-decorated cookies. But, she was undercapitalized, understaffed, and completely naïve about running a business. The hours were beyond brutal, and no matter how much work we took on, there wasn’t enough money coming in to cover expenses and take salaries. But I persevered as long as I could because I believed in this concept of cookies as decorations on cake. Luckily, for me, she decided to throw in the towel. She closed the business, moved to New Jersey to regroup and started a family. That cleared the way for me start my own business.
One Tough Cookie, Inc. was born in the summer of 2005. At first, orders trickled in by word of mouth. Then, my BIG break came in August 2006 with a great write-up on the popular website “Urban Baby”. My phone started ringing at 8:00 that morning and continued all day and into the next. An avalanche of emails came pouring in with orders, questions about ordering, compliments, congratulations……..my head was spinning!!! At that moment, all bets were off…I proved to myself that I am, indeed, One Tough Cookie.