Jenna Park, Sweet Fine Day, Freelancer and Woman Entrepreneur
My BFF reads Sweet Fine Day religiously. She turned me on to the site and thought it would be a good idea to interview Jenna for woman entrepreneur of the week. Not only have I read Sweet Fine Day where Jenna is totally honest and transparent about herself and her life, I have tasted the delicious products from Jenna and her husband Mark's bakery, Whimsy & Spice. It took us a while to find a time to connect but we finally did and her story is one that I see many of the next generation taking.
Jenna grew up in Queens as the first generation of parents who immigrated from Korea. Her mother was a nurse and in the 70's the US opened up their doors to nurses and Jenna's mom came over. Once she settled herself in she then brought Jenna, her husband and her own siblings to the US to live. An impressive story.
Jenna attended Catholic school in Queens, St. Francis Prep, which at that time didn't even require uniforms and had about 700/800 kids per class. This school was also a feeder into Cooper Union. For a college that takes very few kids every year, St. Francis would have at least 3 if not more kids go to Cooper Union after graduating HS. Jenna was one of them.
All her life Jenna was an achiever. Maybe it had to do with her family life which although they lived in Queens, it was probably a bit sheltered as many first generation attempt to keep the values and traditions that came with them to the states. Her father owned a wig store near Bloomingdales that had some major stars as clients. Her mother continued in nursing as it allowed her the ability to be home at 3pm for the kids.
Once Jenna got into Cooper Union she moved to the East Village and everything changed. She got there and lost steam. She wondered to herself what is the point. Striving to be the best and then all of a sudden you get there and you look around and say, so what. If it wasn't for her parents, she probably wouldn't have even survived the three years that she did. At the end of her junior year she called it quits. The hardest part was telling her parents. Her father was surprisingly calm and just asked her to promise that she would finish her education. Instead of staying in NYC, she traveled around the US for the next eight months eventually landing in Olympia, Washington where she had her transcripts moved to Evergreen State College. Jenna really knew nothing about the college but it ended up being the perfect fit. She majored in fine arts at Cooper Union but at Evergreen she studied music. It was an interesting time to be in Seattle as the whole riot girl era was happening and Nirvana was peaking. It was there she also met her husband, Mark.
After graduating, they moved to Portland, OR where Jenna did graphics for a local magazine just to make some money. She missed the diversity of NYC, the beat of the street and her Mom was sick so they packed up and moved to NYC. It was good to be back. She was glad that she had made the journey that she did. Once she got to Cooper Union she felt lost and she realized that she had to find herself by doing it her way.
In NYC, she fell into the beauty business working for a small family owned business that designed all the perfume strips. At that point there was only one company doing this. The family was also in the luxury goods market but it was there that she saw a completely different world. A world of entrepreneurship different than her father or mother and a world of serious wealth. The company was sold and after a year and a half she left.
Instead of getting another job, she went to ITP, a divison of NYU. She was there from 1998-2000 at a time where the web was really changing. After graduating she interviewed with a variety of large companies but realized that she couldn't see herself there. Instead of she forged out on her own as a freelancer. She met a woman who started a company called Cabengo It is here where she has done a variety of interesting work, mostly artistic web work, for companies that interest her. Another friend started PopGadget and she found herself working with them too and then launched BabyGadget. Jenna worked on this for a year. It was 2004 and she had her first kid. Although everything changed because she had a kid in many ways it didn't.
Her husband Mark is a pastry chef and was working at a place where he had insurance and was making pretty good money. He had two days off during the week so between the two of them they tag teamed because Jenna was working four days a week. Mark decided to move on in his job and then ended up being laid off, the economy had just soured. It was then that they decided to open Sweet Fine Day. Timing is everything. They had talked about it for years and this opportunity presented itself. It was 2008.
They were living in Brooklyn and spoke to Eric from Brooklyn Flea who came to their house to see if they would be interested in having a table at the Flea. Jenna knew the importance of having a web presence from blogging and branding and she grew that part of the business while Mark baked. They opened up with the flea and their business was born. It became profitable out of the gate. The success of the Brooklyn Flea venue has allowed many people to have their own businesses that they love such as Jenna and Mark.
Jenna has continued to do freelance work even as they business has grown. They rent out commercial space in Sunset Park which is where their products are made. The kids are a little bit older and in school all day so that has changed their lives too. Yet they still tag team and have thought about where they want to take the business.
Jenna's Mom quit being a nurse after the kids left the house and got into real estate where she seriously excelled. That is Jenna's role model. What is interesting about Jenna's story is that she isn't exactly an entrepreneur but she is. She has created a work/life situation that is suited to her and her family. She works on great projects, she keeps up their blog, she helps her husband in the family business as they figure out what the next steps of growth are and she has figured out how to create flexibility in her life. Jenna wrote a great post about spontaneity and flexibility after we spoke. I probably got her thinking. Although it isn't always easy, each step of the way is different as their kids get older. Although Jenna is not 20, I believe her story is ahead of the curve. More and more people will find themselves where Jenna did even how she felt at Cooper. She took control of her own life and created one that works for her and her family.
It was great sitting down with her. Jenna is thoughtful, super smart and there is a calm intensity about her that I found intriguing. Thanks to Helene for pushing me to contact Jenna. Nice one.