The Founder of a Macaron Bakery Used Her Past Experience As a Photo Editor to Build Her Instagram-Ready Brand
In the Women Entrepreneur series My First Moves, we talk to founders about that pivotal moment when they decided to turn their business idea into a reality -- and the first steps they took to make it happen.
At the age of 30, Dana Pollack quit a steady job, enrolled in culinary school, worked grueling hours in a kitchen and eventually started a small macaron business out of a rented kitchen space in New Jersey. Today, Dana’s Bakery is a thriving and fast-growing operation that’s breathed new life into the trendy dessert. But in those early days, to turn her dream into an actual business, Pollack leaned on her own drive, public transportation and her mom.
1. Make a big change.
Pollack had spent nearly 10 years working as a photo editor, hopping from gig to gig before landing at Muscle & Fitness magazine. After requesting a raise and getting turned down, she started questioning whether all the hard work was worth it.
“I was sitting at my desk editing photos of men in Speedos,” she says. “It was a shoot I had produced, and it was great storytelling, but it wasn’t fulfilling my passion.”
She’d always loved baking -- something she enjoyed as a hobby but never considered as a career. But as she started thinking about leaving publishing, she explored her options.
“I went for a tour at the Institute of Culinary Education and fell in love,” she says. “I quit my job that week and enrolled in the baking and pastry program.” It was a big leap, but it felt like the right time. “I was about to turn 30, I didn’t have kids, I wasn’t married,” she says.
2. Hustle -- hard.
Pollack wanted to finish culinary school and hit the ground running. “I didn’t want to graduate just to spend all my time working in a kitchen to get my real-world experience,” she says. So she committed to a brutal schedule. In addition to spending her days at school, she worked weekends at the restaurant Lexington Brass in Manhattan. “I soaked up that time in the kitchen, did one night of service and on weekends I’d do production -- peeling and coring hundreds of apples, making thousands of brioches. I’d work until 1 a.m. and go to school at 6 a.m.”
3. Take baby steps.
At the Institute of Culinary Education, she fell in love with macarons, and realized there was a hole in the market: Everything available was in traditional French flavors like lavender and pistachio. She wanted to Americanize the dessert: birthday cake macarons, pink lemonade macarons.
With a concept in mind, she started taking small but necessary steps. “What do I need to do? Have an LLC. What’s going to make the macarons different? Flavors. Where will I make them? I need a kitchen space.”
With the help of her mom, she got the LLC in order and rented space, by the hour, at an incubator kitchen in New Jersey, which provided her with all the equipment and tools she needed. “It was just day by day, laying down the bricks,” she says.
4. Figure out what sets you apart.
To highlight her unique flavors and market the brand on a shoestring budget, Pollack leaned on her past as a photo editor.
“I love bold colors, and photographed these macarons the way you would photograph, say, a sexy bottle of perfume,” she says. “I put the photos on Instagram, and it just spread. We hit the wave at the right moment.”
A friend who knew web design helped her build a website, and Dana’s Bakery was up and running.
5. Wear many hats.
Pollack started offering local delivery in New York, which required her to haul her finished product in from her rented kitchen in New Jersey and deliver it by hand.
“I’d do it all on public transportation,” she says. “I was just running around the city, carrying a million bags. Really grinding. Grinding. As our sales grew, I started enlisting family members, my boyfriend, anyone to help me.”
Eventually she expanded her delivery options and started shipping via the postal service, but that came with its own set of learning curves. “The first box we used for shipping, I didn’t use protective clamshell for the macarons, so they would break,” she recalls. “That was a costly lesson.”
6. Find strategic partners.
To expand her reach, Pollack started exploring wholesale partnerships. “It was just about knocking on doors,” she says. “Who do I know who knows someone who works there? How can I walk the fine line of being persistent but not annoying? I was confident that if I could get the product in front of someone and get them to taste it, it’d be a no-brainer.”
Her persistence led to partnerships with Williams Sonoma, among other players, though she eventually pulled back on the wholesale side of her business and focused on the partners that were the best (and most reliable) fit.
“Wholesale is great, but you don’t make much money,” she says. “We had become 70 percent wholesale and 30 percent direct, and I wanted to flip that.” She kept some longstanding, reliable brand partners, and cut out the smaller organizations that were less likely to pay on time. “It took a year to switch the scale.”