A Treat from Back in the Day!

The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook is coming out this week and I can't wait to get it! Cheryl Day allowed me to interview her for my blog about 3 years ago (way back in the day!). I asked all kinds of really ridiculous, snoopy questions and she answered them all. I thought her answers were really interesting, truthful and inspiring. Cheryl tops the list of famous bakers I'd most like to meet. I think she'd be a lot of fun to hang out with.

So - in honor of her/their first cookbook, thought I'd repost the interview. Congratulations Cheryl and Griffith!

I can't tell you how thrilled I am to be able to do this interview. Cheryl Day, owner of Back in the Day Bakery, is a very accomplished baker. Her cupcakes have been voted the best in the country. She's been in several magazines, the New York Times, and even appeared on the Paula Deen Show. (here's a link to that show) Located in Savannah, Georgia, her bakery is a tourist destination. It has that vintage/retro/shabby chic look and feel that I absolutely adore. I've wanted to visit Savannah for a long time and if I ever do get to go there, her bakery will be the first place I go! It's so sooo kind of her to take the time to answer my questions about starting a bakery business and to allow me to share them with you.

Here's what Cheryl wrote for the "about me" section of her blog Buttercream and Roses:

It all began with an easy bake oven. I am a newly-wed and own a bakery with my husband in Savannah, GA. I have the best job in the world, and I'm on a path to discovering the people who share my passion for life, learning, baking, and growing as a person. I love everything about baking and the fascination with what you can do with a few simple ingredients. It is impossible to measure the happiness I bring to others on a daily basis and the joy it brings me in return. Baking from scratch is a lost art and I am determined to carry on the tradition of baking from the heart. 

Emily - So, it all began with an Easy Bake oven (the best toy ever!) Do you remember anything special that you made with your Easy Bake?

Cheryl
- The "Baby cake" that I make was inspired by my early days of baking with my easy bake oven.

Emily - I read that your grandma and your mom taught you how to bake. Do you have any special memories of baking with them that you’d like to share?

Cheryl - Ah Memories...I lost my mom at an early age, so baking is all about memories for me. Just the other day I was making buttermilk biscuits and I found myself day dreaming about my mother's hands showing me how to dock the tops with a fork.I always find comfort in knowing that I can reach in the pantry and gather just a few humble ingredients, bake something delicious and be transformed to my childhood.


Emily - What did you do before you opened your bakery? Did you go to college? If so, what did you study? Did you always dream of having a bakery? What lead to the decision to open Back in the Day Bakery?

Cheryl - I owned a mini department store with my sister. We sold everything from trendy womens & childrens clothing, furniture, apothecary all decorated in a very vintage shabby chic kind of way. I did go to college, but I dropped out when my mom passed away. I am a self taught baker. I did not go to a fancy pastry school. Whenever I have a challenge in the kitchen, I'll say I suppose I would have learned that in pastry school. I was always the one to bring dessert to the party, but none of my friends actually paid me to do it. So I never really thought of it as a career choice, I have always enjoyed feeding people. It is still amazing that I get paid to do it now.

Emily - I’m interested in knowing what was going on in your life about six months to a year before you opened the bakery and then what life was like that first year after the bakery opened.

 

Cheryl - I was in retail and NOT loving it. I loved the customer service aspect and meeting new people, but I was at a point in my life that I was determined to become the person I always wanted to be. That was running some sort of food related business. My husband and my sister encouraged me to take the leap of faith and my husband took it with me. We started researching like crazy, testing recipes, looking for packaging and thinking of what we wanted our place to feel like. Of course keep in mind, I was still a "Home" baker and what I would soon discover was that there was a BIG difference. My friend & mentor Jane owned the best bakery in Atlanta and she consulted with us (Money well spent) and came to help us make the transition from home bakers to running a professional bakery. The biggest change was realizing that we had to consider production time and that we couldn't spend all day working on one product when I had bakery cases to fill. We quickly learned short cuts without compromising quality. Time after all is money so this all has to be factored into pricing.
I remember being soooo scared. We had worked so hard building out the space mostly ourselves, spent ALL our money paying professional contractors (electricians, plumbers, sheet rockers) and now it was time to open the doors for business.
It was just my husband and I. Zero employees. We would alternate our baking schedules and then wait on customers too. Alot had changed since we first had the "thought" of opening our own bakery because the financing fell thru and we spent all of our savings, credit cards to get the doors open. So FAILURE was not an option for us. I remember feeling overwhelmed, but still very hopeful.The first year was alot of hard work and at the end of that year we hired our first front of house employee.

Emily - What was it that made you decide, “I’m going to open my own bakery” ? How much time did you spend planning your bakery before you opened it?

Cheryl - At the time there were NO high end quality artisan bakeries in Savannah. I knew that I wanted to do some sort of food related business.
Baking was our specialty and we had a lot of fond memories about bakeries. We thought it would be less capital because we knew that we could run it ourselves without having to hire wait staff etc. until we built up our customer base. So we just went for it!It was about 2 years from the vision until we opened our doors.

Emily - Did you have to write up a business plan and look for financing?  Was the decision to start your own business scary? Did you ever have any doubts about what you were doing?

Cheryl - Yes we did write a business plan and looked for financing, but got turned down by every bank & the city entreprenurial program. We went to the SBA & looking back I think the reason why we did not get any money from those sources is because NO ONE believed that our idea had merit. They simply didn't believe in us. We had no real experience so I suppose I can't really blame them. The funny thing is, I was recently asked to teach classes on "branding" by the the city entreprenrial center. Was I scared? Absolutely I doubted my ability to do it for a long time. I questioned if we were good enough. Then people kept coming. We got voted best bakery, best cupcakes in the country and on and on...We kept getting more and more recognition and accolades. So I finally stopped doubting myself and focused on making us better.

Emily - After the bakery opened… What was the most difficult part of running your new business? What was the most exciting/satisfying part of having your own bakery? 

Cheryl - The most difficult thing was the long hours & the pressure that we could not even take a day off if we are sick. Working in a kitchen is not glamorous. It is a lot of pressure to put out a consistent product every day. Questioning whether or not we could keep up with demand especially since we bake everything from scratch. It is a lot of dish washing & toilet scrubbing too. The most exciting thing was people buying what we made and loving it! It was so exciting to meet our loyal customers and talking about food with others that were as passionate about it as we were. Also knowing that we had a great product was very rewarding. People seemed to really appreciate what we were doing.

Emily - Now… What is the most difficult part of running your business and what is the best part? What is a typical day like for you? 

Cheryl - The most difficult thing is finding good employees. It is like finding a needle in a haystack. Baking is not a career goal for many people. It comes so naturally for my husband and I, and we have worked so hard to build our reputation of quality. It is hard to find others with that same sort of dedication.

My work day right now is from 4:30 to 4:30 and it is non stop. During the holidays, we work 16 hour days. I have worked 19 hour days I think that is because I still wear a lot of hats. There's really no typical day.
If someone oversleeps or calls in sick, I am the front girl juggling the rest of my baking & decorating projects for the day.
I still love to bake just as much as the first day we opened, but I would love to clone myself.
Emily - You make everything from scratch. How do you manage your time and get everything done without going crazy?

Cheryl - Who said I wasn't crazy! LOL Seriously, After 5 years I am still working out the kinks. BUT we are always committed to making everything from scratch. This year I am determined to train my clone and be less of a control freak.

Emily - How did you decide on a location? Back in the Day Bakery has gotten lots of great publicity and has become a tourist destination. This has to be exciting. Has this changed the way you run your business? How do you meet the demands brought about by all your success and publicity?


Cheryl -  We chose our location which is a "transitional" neighborhood & a lot of people thought we were crazy. The reasoning was twofold because we wanted to be a neighborhood bakery and for financial reasons. Based on this, we knew we had to be REALLY Really good and we thought as long as we were centrally located people would come. Then of course we started to get some great press NY Times, Food Network etc. and then we became a destination for tourists.
Emily - Just for fun… What is your favorite dessert to make?

Cheryl - I love baking cakes and cupcakes.
Emily - Is there a certain special tool or supply you could not live without?

Cheryl - A 50 cent bowl scraper is the best tool ever for adding dry ingredients as you mix and a multitude of other uses.

Emily - Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own bakery or baking business?

Cheryl - If you are passionate, have a great work ethic, can multi task, and dedicated to your dream, then go for it! Don't think you can depend on others because you can't. At the end of the day remember it is YOUR dream. Yes you can! Finally, remember don't think you can be everything to everybody.