Matchbox Kitchen Interview

About a year ago my friend Ami was working on a personal project that featured entrepreneurs and asked to include me. She came over to take photos at my old apartment kitchen and ask me a few questions. While she decided not to go through with the project, Ami just recently sent me the photos and I thought I'd share them here, as well as the interview. It’s been interesting to look back at where I was almost exactly one year ago. Thank you Ami for the great photos and for the opportunity to capture this time capsule of my little business!

Why Matchbox Kitchen? Matchbox Kitchen originally started as a blog to be shared between my boyfriend, Gary, and myself. He went to culinary school and cooks more savory foods while I was baked mostly as a hobby. I wanted something gender neutral and though we hadn't moved out yet, we were planning to in the next few months and knew our first apartment would be very small. Hence, Matchbox Kitchen! We have since moved out and indeed, our kitchen is rather small.

Can you talk a little about your background and how you got into baking? Did you always know you wanted to be a baker? Around 2009 I had been reading several blogs that would keep on mentioning a book called Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. These weren't food blogs, but they'd always crank out beautiful loaves of bread, bagels, brioche, donuts, pretzels, all from the same cookbook! The next year I made it my New Year's resolution to purchase the book and learn how to make bread. After having some success it snowballed from there. It was so exciting to make something look so professional, yet came so naturally. I loved learning the hows and whys behind baking and just kept practicing.

I don't think I ever thought I'd become a baker. I actually went to college for graphic design, and if you asked any of my friends they would've said the same thing. Back then I still baked cakes and cookies from boxes (which now makes me cringe).

What was the biggest factor that made you make the leap into making baking a business? I always knew I'd want to create something with my hands and started off selling stationery on etsy, but I wasn't making any progress and kept it as a hobby. After baking for fun for a year or so and when I remembered that Unique LA was coming up and I thought I'd try applying for it.  I was tired of not taking risks and not doing anything with my life. My friend helped design packaging for me and I took some photos and created a website. It was actually all fake for the application! I told myself that if I got in then I'd have to go through with it, and even if it was a a horrible experience I wouldn't have to continue. Thankfully I had an amazing time and I've stuck with it since.

Currently you work part-time while running your business. What is it like juggling a part-time job and your business simultaneously? Is it harder/easier than you imagined? In the first half of 2012 I worked part-time at a bookstore while my own business was starting to pick up. My day job hours were not very flexible and it was a struggle to balance both At the end of May I decided to quit that job and work on Matchbox Kitchen full time. It was exhilarating to be able to be on my own, but after six months it started to wear down on me. There stress of having to make a certain amount of money was too much to bear, and being alone to my thoughts all day was not helpful! Thankfully I found another part time job, this time at a bakery. I truly have the best coworkers that are all supportive of my business and I have a much more flexible schedule. At this moment, working part time takes a lot of pressure off of me and allows the business to grow at my own pace. I work better when my time is filled up, so having another job gives my days more structure as I can get into a bad habit of procrastinating!

What is a day in your life like? Most days I wake up around 8 and check my email/instagram/twitter from bed. I usually make a to do list on my phone the night before so I go through that. If I have any cake or cookie orders I start working on them so they'll be ready to be shipped out. If not, I will try to work on the other side of the business, such as updating my website, get my paperwork and taxes organized, order supplies, etc. Some days I'll experiment in the kitchen and take photos for my blog. Unfortunately I get sidetracked easily and will take breaks cleaning the apartment, play with my cats, or read blogs. I try to go to the gym twice a week and I work part time three times a week. Other than that, any free time is spent either baking or on the computer!

You wrote an insightful blog post on celebrating the one-year mark of running your business and the struggle that you felt during that time. Can you elaborate on that? What keeps you motivated during tough times? For you, what have been those tough times? At the time I wrote that blog post I was under a lot of stress to push my business forward. My savings account was dwindling and I wasn't sure how to use my last pennies to keep myself afloat. I had a few big baking jobs that went horribly (at least in my eyes). Not only were they large orders, they were bigger clients that could potentially give me my "big break," which put a lot of pressure on me to make sure everything was perfect! Unfortunately things didn't go swimmingly and I really wanted to give up at that point. I had lost motivation to bake and holed myself in my apartment. It was a tough couple of months, but I still had some online cookie orders and cake orders coming in and kept going even though I wasn't enjoying it. I can't say that I was very motivated during this time, other than feeling an obligation to my customers to keep baking.

One of the biggest concerns for new businesses is how to grow and reach clients. Do you do a lot of in-person or online networking with people one-on-one? You're also fairly active on social media, have you found that it's helped in the growth of your business? What do you think has been your biggest contributing factor to your growth? I am the worst at promoting my own business, especially in person! My blog and Instagram have been tremendous help in promoting my business as they allow my photos to speak for me. The biggest factors to my growth have been working on my food photography as well as surrounding myself with a group of fellow small business owners. My friend Erin Dollar (of Cotton & Flax) started a small business group that meets up monthly to discuss our goals to help us stay accountable. Not only that but because we're all in different stages of ownership they've given me so much valuable advice!

What are your ultimate goal and hopes for Matchbox Kitchen? What would mean success for you? My ultimate goal for Matchbox Kitchen is to open up a shop/cafe/studio space. Although I mostly make desserts right now, my goal for Matchbox Kitchen is to promote a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. I want to serve healthy options as well as indulgent ones, using only locally grown, organic ingredients. For the shop portion I'd offer sustainably produced home goods such as reusable bags, wooden cutting boards, and tea towels. As for the studio space, I would love to host classes and partner with other local businesses, such as teaching a container gardening class.

As cheesy as it sounds, success to me would be to leave a positive impact on the world, knowing that I made it a better place.

What is your advice for other who want to pursue owning their own bake shop or other creative venture? Don't compare yourself to others, just keep working hard in pursuit of what you love.

What is your favorite item in your shop to make/eat? My favorite thing to make and eat are cakes! I love carefully assembling each layer, smoothing out delicious frosting, and combining different flavors and textures.

All photos by Ami Martin.