For some people, a sweet tooth is a problem. For Michelle Kozak, it has helped spawn a thriving business.
After an intensive four-week pastry course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Kozak returned to Columbus inspired. She decided she would launch a pastry business out of her home in Grandview, and in fall 2009 Pâtisserie Lallier was born.
“Many people ask me about my business name,” she says. “In French, pâtisserie means “pastry shop,” and usually the chef’s name is used with it. I decided to use Lallier, my mom’s maiden name, since it has French origins.
“Her ancestors came to this country in the late 1800s, and there is a street in Paris called Rue Lallier that we go to whenever we are in Paris. Also, the grocery store my grandparents ran for 30 years was called Lallier Food Center, so it was nice to be able to carry on the tradition of a Lallier small business.”
In fall 2011, Kozak completed the third and final Le Cordon Bleu course required to receive a diploma in pastry baking. Business at Pâtisserie Lallier also began to pick up at that time. Kozak has been baking and working at Chase simultaneously, but in March of this year, she left the banking industry behind.
“It got to the point that it was difficult for me to give my all to both the Chase job and Pâtisserie Lallier, so I decided the time was right to try focusing on the pastry business full time,” she explains.
A former high school math teacher, Kozak likes the precision and attention to detail required when making pastries.
“I also think of it as an art form, and love touring the dessert ‘museums’ found all over Paris and finding inspiration from them,” she says.
To learn why Kozak is not looking for a retail space, who has helped get her pastries to market, and what has surprised her most about running a business, keep reading.
The Metropreneur: Why is it important to you to use local and organic ingredients whenever possible?
Michelle Kozak: Sourcing ingredients locally allows me to get the freshest produce and other ingredients, while at the same time supporting the local economy. It minimizes my carbon footprint because the food doesn’t travel great distances to get here. Having a relationship with the person producing your ingredients is another great benefit.
My husband and I started using organic products more than five years ago in order to avoid unnecessary exposure to harmful chemicals. It made sense to try to use the same practices we have in place at home with the pastry business.
[M]: Where are your pastries sold?
MK: Currently our pastries are sold weekly at the Global Gallery Coffee Shop, A Touch of Earth, the Grandview Theatre, and the Grandview Grind. Before the mid-week markets started up we were delivering to Dinin’ Hall, but we shifted our focus to the markets in early June.
We participated in three of Franklin Park Conservatory’s new Wednesday markets in June, and for all of July and August we’re at the new Slow Down Wednesday Market in Clintonville. You can also find us many Saturdays at the Clintonville Farmers’ Market.
[M]: How do you decide where to sell your pastries?
MK: Two years ago, a friend of mine introduced to me to her friend, Connie [De Jong], who owns the Global Gallery Coffee Shop. I am very appreciative of Erin [Galloway] for making the connection, and to Connie for giving me my first opportunity to sell my pastries in a retail setting.
Similarly, I have friends who know the manager of A Touch of Earth, and we met at an event a couple of years ago. Shawn [Slivinski] approached me about a year and a half ago about carrying my pastries, and I started selling the pastries there in the spring of 2011.
My husband and I live in Grandview, so I was excited to have a presence here −at both the Grandview Theatre, where I’ve been selling for about six months− and the Grandview Grind, where I just started selling about a month ago.
David [Nedrow] and Jennifer [Stancel] at the Grandview Theatre are dedicated to sourcing local food and beverages for the theatre, and they are also great salespeople for these products.
[M]: Would you like to have your own pastry shop someday?
MK: My passion really lies with making pastries, coming up with new ideas of other pastries to add to the menu, etc. Owning a pastry shop would require that a large portion of time be dedicated to maintaining the physical space and hiring/managing people− things which are of less interest to me than creating pastries.
For this reason I do not have any plans to open a retail space at this time. My goal for this year was to do as many markets as possible to build up a client base. That has been successful so far, as I usually have several catering orders each week in addition to the markets and wholesale orders.
[M]: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome it?
MK: For the past 14 years I have worked as a computer programmer, where I spent my days at a desk in front of a computer. I knew that the change from that sort of sedentary lifestyle would be difficult, but I underestimated the impact it would have. Now that I have been working full time with my business for a little over four months, I am finding that I’m getting more accustomed to the longer work days, and to standing for long periods of time.
Another challenge, but one that I am generally fine with, is trying to run the business by myself and cover all aspects of baking, delivering, marketing, packaging, etc. My husband helps by getting the booth set up at the Saturday markets, but otherwise I am doing the bulk of the work. I am constantly looking for ways to become more efficient and productive.
[M]: What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a small business owner?
MK: Freedom to be creative and to be able to execute new ideas is my favorite part of this job. It’s also rewarding when people enjoy and appreciate the pastries that I have made. I take a lot of pride in producing food that uses high-quality ingredients, and that both looks and tastes great.
[M]: Is there some piece of business advice you wish you’d known back when you were just starting out?
MK: My dad ran a computer business for many years, and my grandparents ran a grocery store for about 30 years, so I have been able to see first hand the long hours and work required to be an entrepreneur. Even with that knowledge, I was still surprised about the amount of time that’s really required to make a business work.
To learn more about Pâtisserie Lallier, visit PatisserieLallier.com.