Sweet Business Reinventions

All it took was a passion for food—and a little moolah—for each of these women to go into the “delicious!” business

by Nicole Blades
baker image
Photograph: Ben Hoffmann

The couple took out a $250,000 loan, collateralized by their home equity, to build and staff a 2,500-square foot commercial kitchen in Norfolk, Virginia. Home food production for commercial sale isn’t legal in Norfolk, and she knew that in order to make the numbers work, she’d have to sell in large quantities, nationwide. She quit her ER job and with one part-time employee (two more joined months later), she brought her first Dr. Lucy’s cookies to market in November 2007: chocolate chip, cinnamon, oatmeal and a sugar cookie.

Paul, still working his ER job, led the sales efforts and they quickly got into local natural food stores and 35 stores that are part of a grocery chain. By September 2008, Whole Foods mid-Atlantic stores were stocking Lucy’s cookies (drlucys.com).

Then the economic downturn hit. Gibney had moved to a larger, 12,000-square foot baking facility to keep up with demand, and expanded her staff to 20, and she struggled to cover the higher overhead. “We filled out those awful personal credit card offers that come in the mail,” she says, and began looking for private investors. Worst of all, they had to lay off three of their employees. “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “But we were succeeding. We’d get emails and phone calls from people saying, thank you so much, these cookies are so good, and my child loves them.”

Finally, in July 2011, Gibney made a deal with private investors. Paul has stepped back from the business.  “He misses it, but he was getting worn out, and we didn’t want to have all of our earnings coming from one source,” says Gibney. Their staff has grown to 36, and she expects gross sales in 2012 to reach $5 million. Recently, Dr. Lucy’s products received a glowing review from a food blogger, junkfoodguy. “Thank you,” he wrote, “you made me believe that gluten-free CAN still be indulgent.”

NICOLE BLADES is a Connecticut-based journalist and author.

Next: Switching Career Gears

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