Life is Sweet

A successful bakery owner shares her career tips.

What woman wouldn’t want her career to be in chocolate? Well, it’s a lot harder than it sounds, but Rachel Thebault, head confectioner and owner of Tribeca Treats, a trendy specialty bakery in Manhattan, has a knack for satisfying everyone’s sweet tooth.

Thebault, a former investment banker with two daughters, began Tribeca Treats as a small side business. “It was really more like a money-making hobby,” she says.

Although it was a registered business, Thebault didn’t run things as such. She only took on what she had time for, working for friends and friends of friends. Starting the company in steps, Thebault taught herself business tactics along the way, like what things could be done ahead of time and how.

“It was a gut feeling,” Thebault says of her decision to enroll at the Institute of Culinary Education. “I really enjoyed my career in investment banking, but when I looked ahead five to ten years, I didn’t see it as a long-term career.”

Thebault developed a love for cooking as a result of her parents. Her father’s approach to preparing meals was to always follow a recipe, while her mom’s was to cook from memory. Thebault combined their two styles to create her own recipes. Thebault’s extensive travels also influenced her dishes, merging her appreciation for exotic cultures and American traditions.

Although the working mom is proud to have turned her passion into a career, Thebault reflects on a negative truth. “Once your hobby becomes a business, it becomes less hobby-like.” While the early days of the company allowed Thebault great fun in the kitchen experimenting with different truffles, these days, she spends far more time on management and tedious tasks than on being creative.

Thebault advises women who may be looking to start a company that finding the right business partner or staff is key. Also, staff and investors should share the main person’s aesthetic taste or be willing to abide by hers. “There’s a certain artistry you can’t teach.”

Likewise, Thebault feels the most challenging aspect of running her business that she underestimated “is just dealing with people on a day-to-day basis, including staff, vendors and the general public.” While she is happy to say that 90 percent of her customers are great, Thebault knows there are always going to be customers who are difficult to please. “It’s hard when you’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into something and then someone complains about the job you’ve done, even when you’ve done nothing wrong,” says Thebault. “Everything you do is a personal reflection, so how do you deal with that?”

Thebault suggests that to start a successful business, one should be a people person who is a multi-tasker and has a type-A personality. Some women may get scared off in starting a business from scratch. But, says Thebault, sitting down and honestly assessing your strengths and weaknesses can help you forge ahead. Once established, you can hire someone to handle the things you can’t. “Starting a business is such a unique opportunity to play to your strengths,” adds Thebault.

Recently, the financial whiz and baker was named a 2008 award recipient in the “Make Mine a Million $ Business” Program, sponsored by Count Me In, a nonprofit women’s entrepreneur organization, and American Express OPEN. “The percentage of male-owned businesses reaching that [million dollar] mark is much higher,” says Thebault, considering the importance of Count Me In. “Women and men approach business differently. Women’s emotions and philosophies are often different, so it’s nice to be part of a community where your business questions can be answered by women.”

Thebault has heard other women say that owning a business is like having another child, and she couldn’t agree more with the analogy: “You have to nurture it, you have to trust the people who are handling it when you’re not there,” says Thebault. “And when you start a business, it’s like having a newborn. You have to be there almost always to establish things.”

Thebault is pleased that she can use her business to set a positive example for her daughters. “I’m glad to be showing them that I went ahead and pursued something that I really wanted for myself,” she says. “I took charge and I own my own business. I hope when they’re older and they decide they want to try something that they follow my example.”