Erin McKenna, Babycakes, Woman Entrepreneur

imgres-1In our house we do stay on top of the latest and greatest.  Babycakes opened in 2005 and was the first vegan gluten-free bakery that we knew of.  Of course we picked up some of the wares to taste and were all pretty impressed with how good they were without the ingredients we were used to.  That was ten years ago.  So when someone introduced me to Erin I was definitely interested in talking and hearing her story.

Erin grew up in San Diego.  She is one of 12 kids.  California was the dream in the 1950s going under the heading “go west young man”.  Erin’s aunt moved out there and her parents followed.  Her father went through a variety of jobs until her parents opened up an insurance agency together.  She learned then how important location was.  They opened right across from the DMV and the business did just fine.

During high school Erin worked in cafes.  At 18 she decided to move to San Francisco and went to St Mary’s College where she majored in communications.  She moved around living with strangers in different flats while she was there.  She found that she really loved waitressing and hospitality.  Even had a job at Chez Panisse as a bartender.

San Francisco was fine by she always had this notion that she should get to NYC at one point of her life.  Dream job would be a costume designer for Saturday Night Live.  She continued to waitress after college instead of pursuing something with her degree.  Before making her way east she moved down to LA for awhile where she worked on costume design for a few movies and continued to waitress on the side.  Erin finally landed full-time job at Flaunt magazine in LA as the office manager.  The owners wanted to know if she was moved to NYC to open the office there so she could keep them posted on how the opening was going.  She figured this was her ticket to NYC and she went.

Two months in NYC working for Flaunt was enough and she quit.  She took a job as a fashion assistant and did budget living for the next 8 months.  Erin said she kept her sanity through a lot of meditation which she still does everyday.  She really wanted to do something more meaningful with her life.  She didn’t love what she was doing, others were getting promoted and she could care less and the only time she really enjoyed herself was when she was waitressing.

Erin had this idea about a bakery.  She really did not even know how to bake.  She took a leap of faith and quit her job.  She knew she could always go back to waitressing.  To keep things afloat she worked at Lupa at night.  During the day she she started baking with ingredients that she believed were better for her.  She had a system to her day.  Get up, go to the gym, test recipes, go work, come home, write business plan, sleep.  She had 5 great recipes and decided she was ready.  She raised some money from friends and family and went looking for a place.

She was looking downtown.  The realtor kept taking her to the wrong places.  One day she brought her builder with her when they were looking.  They were standing on Broome between Ludlow and Orchard and she turned to the agent and builder and said I want a place right there pointing to a storefront.  The super was outside and over heard her.  He piped up and said the owners are right over there because the place just became available today.  They signed a lease that day.

The second she opened she began to get press.  On Mondays she would man the shop by herself.  They would make products the night before and sell them the next day.  She still hadn’t figured out quality control and how the flow worked.  That particular day someone came in and bought out every single cupcake in the shop.  So Erin quickly made another batch and put them out.  The next person who walked in the shop was the food editor from New York Times.  She bought a few cupcakes that were freshly made and wrote about them that Wednesday in the food section of the NYTimes as the best cupcake in NYC.

After the article people were coming every single day.  She figured after two weeks the crowds would die down but they never did.  There is now a Babycakes in Hancock Park Los Angeles, downtown Disney in Orlando and plans to open another one in NYC.  I’d be looking for more in the years to come.

Erin brought over a serious amount of treats for us to taste.  One was better than the next.  I love how Erin just followed her instincts and took a leap of faith to open her own bakery.  Her timing was perfect too.  Who knew eating sweets could be so good for you?