Pattie Lerner, Sweet Megan Baking Company, Woman Entrepreneur
Pattie emailed me a really thoughtful note about her career path that began as a nurse. After speaking with Pattie it was apparent to me that she has essentially never stopped moving. Her latest endeavor is the Sweet Megan Baking Company that makes sure her niece, who died of a brain tumor in her early 20's name lives on. Around the time of her nieces illness she began baking glutten free, soy free, dairy free products for her own 20 year old daughter who was diagnosed with celiac disease.
Pattie grew up in Abington Pennsylvania which is about 20 minutes from where she resides now. Bucks Country area. Her father was a very successful hairdresser and the life of the party. Her Mom was a fashion designer in the textiles industry. After losing her husband way too early (Pattie was 10) she went back to school to become a medical assistant. She then got remarried and became an interior designer for Bloomingdales. In those days Bloomingdales was the place for that career.
After graduating from high school Pattie went directly to nursing school. It was a two year program. She spent time at a few hospitals from public to private. Private was definitely the best experience. She is so energetic and outgoing that doctors wanted her to work with them in the ICU and the ER. She learned quickly and loved what she was doing. It was at that time she met her husband. Once they got married and they had their first child her husband had built a car leasing company.
Her husband would watch their daughter while she would go to work on the weekends and nights helping open the first hospice unit for the hospital. One morning he told her that he could not watch their daughter that Saturday because he was taking the LSAT's. She had no idea he was studying for them. He ended up doing really well and got accepted into the WIdener Univeristy School of Law School. By the time he graduated they had 3 kids and Pattie was staying at home with them.
Her husband had continued running the car leasing company while he was in law school. He began his own practice after graduation keeping the leasing business until the law business overtook it financially. He has two offices going with separate phones. Pattie was not exactly sitting around. During this time she was a nurse at her kids summer camp, she tie-dyed clothes and sold them to boutiques. She just kept moving forward.
When her youngest was 10, her son, she decided it was time to go back to school and get a degree in nursing. To do that she needed meant clinical hours and being at the hospital at 6am. She decided that instead of that she would become a hairdresser. There was a school down the street. She inquired about it on a Friday and was at school that Monday. The school lasts a year. Keep in mind that Pattie had already been cutting friends hair for years. During the year that she was in school she cut all her friends hair for free and their friends too. She didn't realize that she was building a serious rolodex. By the time she got a job in a salon she walked in with clients. Her kids were 11, 14 and 16 at this point. They would stop by the salon afterschool and they could see her working. It was the perfect job for her life. She stayed there 10 years. As the kids got older she cut back to 3 days a week playing mahjong and tennis with her friends on those off-days. It was a very lucrative successful career.
Her husbands niece, Meghan, was diagnosed with a brain tumor at 18 years old. The illness took over the family. Pattie called the head oncologist at the Childrens Hospital who happened to be a camper when she was a nurse at Saginaw camp. He told her that nobody ever lives from what her niece had. It was terrible. She died 3 years after being diagnosed. They discussed creating a foundation for Meghan.
Her daughter had also been sick for the last 5 years and nobody had figured out what was wrong. Pattie thought she had celiac disease. One day she gets an email from her chiropractor who tells her that he just lost 30 lbs in two months after discovering he had celiac disease. She forwarded the email to her daughter where he had written about all of his issues. Her daughter read it and said to Pattie, that is me.
She told her daughter she would help her go glutten free. Her husband had been diagnosed with heart disease in his early 30s for years so Pattie had changed their entire eating habits back then. She did not want him to live day to day with medication but to solve his issues mostly through diet. It worked. She figured she could help her daughter too.
The first thing they did was go to the grocery store and buy every gluten free product off the shelf. Everything she bought was not only not very tasty it was not healthy at all. Many of the gluten free products are filled with sugar to make them taste better which has other effects like diabetes. Pattie started on a mission. She started to her research. She started out with cornmeal making corn muffins until she mastered them. She told her chiropractor what she was doing and he said to her you know the corn meal you are using is GMO. Then Pattie began grinding her own flour from products at the health food store. She would buy the most expensive ingredients and she began baking for her family and her friends. She would take recipes and revamp them to make them her own and gluten free and non-GMO.
Each year at the kids birthdays she would always make them a cake. She promised her daughter that she would figure out how to make the best gluten free chocolate cake. Her daughter said to her she felt sorry for anyone else who had what she had and did not have the opportunity to eat the products that her Mom was making. Pattie had a small hair salon in her basement at this point so she would cut hair on occassion and serve her wares. People loved them.
She decided to bring them to the health food store down the street to see if she would be interested in buying her cupcakes. She loved them. Pattie spent the next six months tooling the recipes before spending a Saturday at the healthfood store selling her wares. She sold 75 cupcakes in two hours. The owner placed a large order and the rest is history.
Pattie is now selling to high end groceries in the area. She is moving into a facility right now that will make the products and have an area to buy and eat. Her daughter is healthy. Pattie has begun to play around with other products like pizza crusts. She sent me her cookies, cupcakes, cake lollipops and pizza crust. The sweets were just incredible. You would never know that they were gluten free. They are amazing. There is no gluten, no dairy, no nuts or soy in her facility.
Talking to Pattie was like taking a trip back to camp. She had serious energy. She has had several careers all with an entrepreneurial bend. She had made each move work for her and her family at the same time. I swear she did not breath the entire time we talked. Pattie is the ultimate woman of her generation. I just love women like Pattie. Her energy is infectious and she has always figured it out. She did not start baking with a business in mind but low and behold here she is opening a wholesale/retail business running Sweet Meghans. I love it.
I like people who just do it, hack a new discipline to become an expert, build stuff that gets sold and create a new market. Especially in the food biz.I know how hard and how inspiring it is as I live with someone doing it.BTW–gluten free bagels in East Village http://jennifersway.org/. When I need to do a lox and bagel Sunday I get on my bike, stop at Russ and Daughters (fave spot in NY) in LES then there for the bagels.
good to know!
A take charge type of woman. I’m curious about the business, though. It seems like these g-free baked good companies are becoming a dime a dozen, and the price point on goods is usually on the higher end. How much room for growth is there in this market?
I believe there is huge growth particularly when they actually taste good.