How I Did It: Susan Sarich, Founder & CEO of SusieCakes
Growing up in Chicago, I was fortunate to have my two grandmothers live across the alley from each other.
After school, I would spend time in their kitchens, sharing my day with them over warm piece of pound cake or a freshly glazed Bundt cake.
It was during those times that I learned many life lessons that helped mold the person I am today.
Even though women of their generation had very few career options, they taught me to believe in myself and to follow my dreams – both of which gave me the confidence to build SusieCakes later in my life.
From a young age, I had a love for the food business and knew I wanted to work in hospitality.
To pursue this passion, I attended Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration with aspirations to open my own company, although that company had yet to be defined.
First, however, I wanted to get the best experience with some of the industry’s leaders. I worked many years in food & beverage operations in hotels, restaurants, and clubs - learning from the ground up.
However, what I continually found during my career was that many talented, intelligent, and driven women left the industry because of the long hours required on nights, weekends, & holidays.
I wanted to form a business model that would allow women to have progressive careers in foodservice, without necessarily having to sacrifice their personal lives or raising a family.
At this same time, I also noticed a lack of neighborhood bakeries that offered products made entirely on-site, from scratch.
Purchasing options for cakes were often limited to supermarket cakes, made with preservatives, additives, and trans-fats. Armed with my grandmothers’ 3X5 recipe cards (that called simply for butter, flour, sugar & eggs), I put together a business plan for SusieCakes.
As the plan developed, I defined it to center around 4 elements: Cakes, Careers, Community and our mission of “Connection through Celebration”.
Cakes – SusieCakes would provide the market with scratch-made products, as an alternative to the highly processed, artificial ones sold at most grocery stores. This would be achieved by baking daily at each location, using only the highest quality ingredients.
Careers – SusieCakes would focus on giving all team members, especially women, the opportunity to have a progressive careers in foodservice along with a work/life balance. To achieve this, we would have limited hours of operation and we would be closed on Sundays and holidays, as our leases would allow.
Community – SusieCakes would give back to our immediate communities. We would achieve this by donating to local non-profits – from food banks to public schools. Today, a majority of our support focuses on groups committed to promoting self-esteem, life skills and continuing education for girls and young women.
Connection through Celebration – SusieCakes would pay tribute to my grandmothers, who spent a great deal of their time in the kitchen and used their baked goods as a way to connect with their family at mealtime. SusieCakes’ would connect to our guests through our products and they, in turn, would connect to their own families while sharing a cake during their celebrations.
I spent many months on the business plan, assuring the financial models were solid.
Once I completed the plan, my next step was securing capital. This was the single most challenging obstacle. Many believed that the concept would not be successful.
After numerous rejections for a bank loan, I realized my start-up funds would need to come from friends and family.
I surrounded myself with people who believed in me and reminded me of my commitment to build a company that would give women opportunities that neither of my grandmothers was given.
I persevered and once the Brentwood, California bakery opened, guests responded extremely well. I knew I had a something I could build upon and began plans for expansion shortly thereafter.
Instead of raising capital for one additional location, I began thinking on a larger scale and raised funds to open 3 more bakeries – Calabasas, Newport Beach and Manhattan Beach.
We opened one per year over the next three years. I wanted to prove the model in a market beyond Southern California and as a result, launched the first Northern California SusieCakes in 2010.
Our next four locations were built in the Bay Area: Marin County, San Francisco, Menlo Park, and Lafayette.
By year’s end, we will have 8 locations with 130 team members. I am continually grateful to every team member who promotes our mission of “Connecting through Celebration” on a daily basis to our guests.
My advice to entrepreneurs:
1. Follow your intuition -- it is the single best tool you have.
2. Think before you speak --as a business owner; your words become your brand.
3. Give sincere appreciation and honest feedback to members on your team.
4. Seek first to understand and then be understood.
5. Have fun along the way and be truly grateful for the opportunity to do what brings you joy!
Susan Sarich is the Founder & CEO of SusieCakes, a California-based, retail baking company. She holds a BS from Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and has spent her entire career in the hospitality business. Prior to founding SusieCakes, Susan worked for Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, House of Blues, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, and Ian Schrager Hotels. She splits her time between Los Angeles and San Francisco and is passionate about supporting other female entrepreneurs.