by Paul Cram, Slingshot

From decadent cheesecakes to alcohol infused hand-held pies to little hand-sized bundt cakes — these three Minnesota business owner’s are shining examples of success in the local dessert landscape: Tami Cabrera, Muddy Paws Cheesecake; Sara Holden, Sara’s Tipsy Pies; Kim and Jamie Cassens, Nothing Bundt Cakes. I ask this trio of female-owned food-industry businesses a few quick questions about their start-up strategy, their perspectives on what makes a good food product idea, and their overall advice for anyone else who is interested in getting into the food-industry here in the Twin Cities, but this knowledge is applicable anywhere really. They all graciously share some of their hard-learned insights.

What is a “food business”

Tami: I belong to a 400 member cooking club where I’ve learned of over 50 different careers in food. The food business is not only made of cafes, bakeries, restaurants, and food trucks. It also encompasses food writers, nutritionists, and food scientists… along with many other categories.

Sara: A food business can be anything you dream up. Currently I’m a food business without a food truck or restaurant. (The restaurant is coming) Who knew alcohol mixed with a pie would make people so excited to buy my product?

Jamie: A quality product that you are able to produce consistently and receive validation on from consumers.

How do you know if your food business idea is worth pursuing?

Jamie: In our case, we purchased a Nothing Bundt Cakes franchise – so the process for determining worth of opening this type of food business, for us, was on the already-proven methods and success of the franchise itself. The product is very high quality and the financial risks were minimal with a fairly short turn around on profit.

Sara: Well, starting out, who really knows! We jump in with a grand plan, and typically that changes over and over again. We really do whatever it takes to keep going. For me, I didn’t think about the future business I could have selling pies infused with alcohol. I only cared that I loved baking and feeding people pie. It wasn’t until I started bringing my pies to farmers markets that I realized this could be something sustainable. People loved it and connected to it as emotionally as I did.
It wasn’t just me or only my family telling me the pie was good- it was complete strangers who continued to support my idea.
That’s when I realized.
Another thing is to seriously consider is can you afford your food business idea?
It does take money to make money. If you are quitting your job before you test things out… eh, I would suggest you not do that. The hours are VERY long and the pay not so great!
The best advice I was given is to only look at your company as an asset. If you’re doing it to make lots of money right now chances are it wont happen. It’s the end when you sell when you are paid for your dedication.

Tami: When starting out it’s important to know what your priorities are.
Are they to make money or to live out your passion?
If profit is your first goal, you’ll be looking at cost effective strategies over highest quality.
If your passion is first, you’ll be looking to make the best product you can and price it competitively. Prepare to work hard for very little profit for a long time but it WILL pay off!

Looking over the past several months of Twin Cities Wedding & Event Professionals (TCWEP) events, I realize I’ve sampled the desserts of all three of the following local business owners who brought their delectable creations for us event-attendees to taste.
Sara Holden, owner of Sara’s Tipsy Pies, brought three varieties of her pies to TCWEP’s Historic Hope Glen Farm & Vineyard event: Boozey Blueberry Lemon, Carousing Caramel Apple, and Razzy Apple Raspberry.
Tami Cabrera, owner of Muddy Paws Cheesecake*, brought five varieties of her cheesecakes to TCWEP’s Delta Hotels by Marriot event: Chocolate Decadence, Chocolate Marble, Original, Raspberry Swirl, and Turtle.
Jamie Cassens, wedding & event planner at Nothing Bundt Cakes*, brought three varieties of individual-sized bundt cakes to TCWEP’s Crowne Plaza AiRE event: Dark Chocolate Chip, Lemon, and Red Velvet.

What steps do people need to go through to validate their idea?

Jamie: If you are starting from scratch I would start small with focus groups, friends and family. Work the network you have to validate the product and quality and grow from there.

Tami: Test your product out at charity events, farmer’s markets, etc.
Also, it’s important to know your niche, target market and to have or to hire marketing skills. Before investing in an expensive commercial kitchen, rent hourly space from a church, incubator, etc.
Marketing, customer service and how your product stands out is key.

Sara: Testing the market: 
Do people want what your making?
Is anyone else doing what you want to do and can you do it better?
Can you niche yourself?  
Are you a point of difference?
Is it scale-able?
Where could you sell it?
What licensing do you need?
How will you get it out for the world to see?
Branding is almost as important as the Product itself. It’s really a perfect storm.A great product,  little bit of luck and a ton of hard work.

Anything Else People Might Want to Consider?

Sara: I think it’s important to have an exit strategy.
I gave myself a 5 years. If I wasn’t growing and making my brand stronger by then, maybe I’d have to give it up. The idea took my breath away but it’s important to understand when to say when.
We are hitting year eight now.
Best of luck!
Sara Holden, Founder of Sara’s Tipsy Pies

Tami: Contact your local SCORE organization who can help you look at your business plan for free or ask a local business to be your mentor in exchange for social media shout outs, etc.
Tami Cabrera, Owner of Muddy Paws Cheesecake*

Jamie: Work the network you have to validate the product and quality and grow from there.
Jamie Cassens, wedding & events director Nothing Bundt Cakes* Minnetonka

*Official TCWEP 2018-2019 Member

Food Idea Tips

Thank you so much everyone for sharing. You’re inspiring. We look forward to more of your work and continued success here in the Twin Cities.

If anyone has a question or comment, please leave them below or reach out on the site.