Though she’s been baking since the age of 6, Jennie Scheinbach didn’t dream of making brownies and whoopie pies and cupcakes for a living.
Like a lot of young people, she went to college (not culinary school) and earned a sociology degree. But her longtime passion for sweets and a desire to be home with her children, not to mention a knack for creating tasty vegan treats, eventually led her to go into business for herself.
At first, Scheinbach baked desserts in her home kitchen and sold them at various local retailers. However, demand soon required that she move her operations to a commercial kitchen. So in 2005, she opened Pattycake Bakery at its current location: 3009 N. High St. in Clintonville.
Herewith, Scheinbach, a Toledo native, shares the 10 questions she is asked most frequently about Pattycake− and her answers, of course.
1. How did you get your start?
Well, I’ve always loved sweets, and began baking at a young age both by emulating my parents, who are both excellent cooks, and also by just reading cookbooks and figuring stuff out for myself. To satisfy my sweets cravings, I repeatedly made the peanut butter cookies and chocolate souffle recipes in the Joy of Cooking, cheesecake, crepes, etc.
In fact, I won a regional girl scout bake-off with a recipe my mother created for a marble cheesecake with mandarin oranges, apricot glaze, and a chocolate cookie crumb crust. I am making my mouth water just thinking about it! Taking that lifelong passion for baking, I basically talked my way into a job as the head dessert baker at Benevolence back when Nancy and Larry Henry were at the helm. That was really where i learned a lot of the ins and outs of hand-made commercial production.
Then I had a kid, went to college, had another kid, and shortly after that I earned my degree in sociology. I wasn’t ready to get a “real” job, though, or go to graduate school −at the time, I was planning to be an academic for my career− as my baby was just a few months old and I wanted to do something flexible that would allow me to be the primary caregiver for my children, but would still pay. I did have $22,ooo in student loans to pay off.
All this time, I was still baking mainly to satisfy my sweet tooth and, in the meantime, my partner and I had gone from vegetarian to vegan, which necessitated learning a different skill set and embarking on recipe creation, which I had not really done before. I would bring the fruits of my baking experiments to potlucks and preschool functions, and folks would ooh and ahh over them, especially once they discovered that they were vegan. At the time, though this is now changing, folks thought that vegan desserts were by definition dry and tasteless and definitely did not imagine that they could compare to their non-vegan counterparts.
On a number of those occasions, people suggested that I open my own bakery. At the time, I thought this was patently ridiculous. Who opens their own bakery without a shred of culinary training?! But after I graduated from Ohio State University and was looking for a way to make money from home, I contacted the manager of our local food co-operative and asked him if I could bring some cookies in to sell. He agreed, I baked up a batch, they sold like the proverbial hotcakes, more and more people and businesses wanted them, and the rest is history.
2. How did you finance Pattycake in the beginning?
Because I was baking from my home kitchen, the initial startup costs were incredibly small− basically less than $50 including ingredients because I already had a lot of the production equipment necessary, like a mixer and cookie trays, and also because I did it very small scale and chose to package what I created in simple plastic wrap with address labels for ingredients.
As business grew, I saved money, purchased a bigger mixer, more −professional this time− baking sheets, etc., and continued to save for the next year-and-a-half until growth necessitated me either moving Pattycake out of my kitchen −I could only bake 18 cookies at a time, basically the oven was full from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. just to keep up− or quitting. My partner and I felt like we had a pretty good thing going and decided we wanted to continue.
I wrote a business plan with the help of library books, found a wonderful space, figured stuff out, and realized I only needed a small loan in addition to the $25,000 I had saved over our first year-and-a-half to make it happen on the cheap− no major changes to the space, used equipment, a DIY vibe, etc. My grandmother gave me a $10,000 loan after her accountant and lawyer approved it based on the business plan.
3. What differentiates Pattycake from other bakeries?
In an organic nutshell, we have always been focused on being as ecologically sustainable as possible. This includes a focus on minimally refined, organic, local, vegan, and all natural ingredients −no trans fats or chemical food-dyes− and further minimizing our carbon footprint by recycling, composting, using biodegradable packaging and cleaning products, doing wholesale deliveries by bike, etc. We also make it a point to be both accessible to, and involved with, our community, especially in regards to donating treats to local causes and organizations that are in line with our mission and/or that we just generally value and therefore want to support.
4. Who is Pattycake’s typical customer?
While we definitely attract a more environmentally aware and health-conscious crowd, I think our customers really defy being stereotyped. We have our fair share of random neighborhood folks who just like a good cookie. Another huge market for us has been folks who suffer from various allergies or love someone who does, both to the obvious, dairy and eggs, as well as people who are allergic or sensitive to nuts, gluten, corn, sugar, etc.
5. People typically think of eggs and butter as crucial to baking. How do you bake without?
Each recipe is different, and through trial and error we’ve come up with some pretty efficient and delicious ways around using animal products in our goodies. There are very few things that just can’t be done vegan −anything based on meringue, for the most salient example− but for most pastries, if you use the right egg replacer, or combination of, butter and other dairy products are pretty easy to exchange. I’m going to name check here, but the last time I talked with Jeni Britton Bauer she told me she actually prefers cookies baked without dairy and eggs now, and I feel the same way. Without the animal, for lack of a better word, muskiness of butter and eggs, other subtle elements, such as the nutty flavor of the organic grains, can really come through.
Two things: the additional costs sometimes associated with green business practices can be managed through effective communication to customers about why the end product costs more. Using good ingredients and sustainable packaging does have an increased up-front cost, but when you look at the bigger picture, it’s really pay now or pay later.
This is both true on the microscale of our bodies where it can make a huge difference to, for example, stop eating trans fats and cholesterol, and on a macro level where the choices we make as business owners impact our community and world far into the future. It is not, or should not be, anyway, just about what makes your business the most money. It is actually less expensive in the long run to try to take care of our bodies and the planet now instead of forever delaying into the future.
I’m also generally in favor of an incrementalist approach. It’s OK to at first just do what you can to make small changes. Maybe it is not practical at this point for your business to compost and trade in the delivery van for a bike cart, but you are able to recycle all the glass, cans, plastic, paper you as a business accumulate and investigate using compostables in place of disposables.
6. What’s the relationship between Pattycake and Rad Dog?
A year-and-a-half ago, Tawd Bell mentioned to me that he wanted to sell Rad Dog. I love the brand and Tawd, too, so I immediately began to think about whether or not it would be a good fit for pattycake and began discussing the option with my coworkers. Although it wasn’t exactly a perfect match −for one thing, Pattycake is an all-scratch bakery whereas Rad Dog at this time uses Stan Evans buns and Tofurky products for the delicious dogs− generally the two brands share similar values and have resonant, if not matching, identities.
In the end, we loved the brand and Tawd enough that we decided to buy the business and work with Tawd to try to foster growth for both brands. The purchase went through just in time for the winter hiatus necessitated by the realities of the open foodcart biz. We are still working out the details of scheduling and parceling out responsibilities especially, but we are definitely excited for the coming spring and summer, and the chance to both cross-market and expose an ever wider audience to our delicious offerings that also happen to be vegan.
7. Pattycake began selling goodies online throughout the United States this past year, as well as through the retail store in Clintonville and wholesale throughout Columbus. How are the online sales going and what proportion of business is generated through each source?
Online sales are definitely growing. The winter holiday season was great and Valentine’s day was pretty phenomenal. Shout out to Sarah Bryant and the rest of the all-stars for making it happen! But we definitely are still trying to figure out how to make that work efficiently and also how to market ourselves nationally.
In terms of revenue generated, this has really changed for us over the years. At first, we were almost exclusively wholesale. Then when we moved the bakery into our storefront location 5.5 years ago, we hoped to do about 50/50 wholesale and retail, and we met that goal rather quickly. At this point, I would say we make 40 percent of our income through wholesale, 55 percent through local retail, and 5 percent through our online store.
While the volume orders wholesale accounts facilitate are nice, the extra time, materials, and costs associated, combined with the discounted rate we offer wholesale clients, almost doesn’t make sense from a financial standpoint unless you factor in the exposure having our cookies and muffins around town gives us, which is why our goal has always been to increase retail sales. Plus, there is just something satisfying about having an excited end-user right in front of you, and having that immediate positive feedback and interaction.
8. What have been the biggest challenges to running your own business?
My answer to that question changes depending on what is going on at any given time in the life of Pattycake. Generally, although I think of myself as a good communicator, being the boss of people I love is exceptionally challenging. Trying to get the needs of the business met while still respecting others autonomy, rights, perspective, etc. is something I am pretty good at, but always find stressful.
Also, knowing when I need to delegate or hire something out has been hard. I frequently think I can do more than I actually can, and have definitely found that it is better to pay someone else to do the things I am just not good at. Overall, jumping through the initial hoops in terms of various city departments and agencies was incredibly challenging and something that i am not looking forward to repeating.
9. What’s the best thing about your job?
Hands down getting to be a part of the awesomeness that is going on in terms of entrepreneurial and creative energy in Columbus. I love the people here and get so much out of being a part of such a vibrant community.
10. What’s next?
We are hoping to move on expanding our offerings in the next year beyond sweets. At this point, we are really in a space crunch. We are still doing all that we do out of our original 650-square-foot storefront, but we are hoping to have that resolved as soon as possible. Though we aren’t entirely sure where and how we are going to end up doing that, we do love Clintonville and, without giving too much away, are hoping to work it out so that we can do more where we are.
To learn more about Pattycake Bakery, visit PattycakeVeganBakery.com.
All photography by Adam Slane.