If you have ever been tempted to chuck the Palm Pilot, ditch the agonizing bureaucratic corporate meetings and ball up the sensible tie or pantyhose, you're not alone. Disaffected corporate types have decided to veer off the fast track and pave new paths to entrepreneurship. In doing so, they've found happiness in creating soothing businesses that nourish customers' refined palates and souls.
Unfulfilled as an investment bank chief of staff, Laure de Montebello quit the corporate world and joined the French Culinary Institute in 1997. "I loved the care and meticulousness required for chocolate work," says de Montebello, 38, who later became a French restaurant's pastry chef.
In 2001, she started Sans Souci Gourmet Confections with friend and former software consultant Angela Fields in Port Jefferson, New York. Estimating 2005 sales between $350,000 and $400,000, they recently won over Bergdorf Goodman. "It's a total lifestyle change," says Fields, 34. "We decide how busy we're going to be, how to market ourselves."
While they can choose to close the artisanal chocolate business for two weeks in August for family outings, de Montebello acknowledges, "To keep the business alive, we can't have quite as much flexibility as we'd like." The beginning was filled with long hours and many sacrifices, but the rewards since have been sweet. Says de Montebello, "We don't carry beepers, have faxes next to our beds or get called into the office at 3 in the morning anymore. It's a delightful change."
When Greg O'Neill, 42, and Ken Miller, 37, pursued greener business pastures by opening Pastoral, an artisanal cheese, wine and bread store, they bid adieu to their Cape Cod condo and traded in their BMW for a used Volkswagen Jetta. O'Neill, a senior marketing executive for several major corporations, found giving up the comfortable lifestyle relatively painless at the prospect of building something all their own. The well-traveled foodies found nothing resembling their concept in Chicago's gourmet retail scene and sought to fill the void in intimate, specialty retail. "I was always managing other people's brands," says O'Neill. "We thought we were capable of creating our own."
While the multitalented Miller still works passionately as a software developer, his culinary background and degree from the New York Culinary Institute are being put to good use. Open since 2004, Pastoral is quaint at 425 square feet of retail space, and estimates sales between $500,000 and $600,000 for 2005.
Taking in the change of scenery, Amy Hoffman marvels at the contrast between her former magazine publisher days and her current life, which often has her working in the dirt with jeans, work boots and a deep tan. She and her husband, David, went from wine connoisseurs to wine entrepreneurs when they started Rooster Hill Winery in 2003, and expect $420,000 in sales for 2005. "It's a bit of a change," muses Amy, 45. "It's almost three business: vineyards, winery and then the retail tasting room, which allows us immediate feedback."
David, 65, has kept select clients from his private tax business while working with Amy to strategize and set budgets for Penn Yann, New York-based Rooster Hill. Their motivation for starting the business: challenging themselves with something totally new. Says Amy, "We loved the idea of being outdoors, growing a crop and turning it into a really nice product."