We caught up with ZOZI user and pastry chef/instructor Gesine Bullock-Prado of Sugar Glider Kitchen, a Vermont baking school offering intimate classes for small groups of students. Gesine dishes on helpful business tips, her favorite classes to teach, and the "perplexing problem of unraveling tangled aprons when you pull them out of the dryer."
1. Tell us a bit about your background and your passion for baking:
I’ve always been an avid baker. Through college, law school and running a Hollywood production company, I baked. I really started training in earnest in LA, when I realized I wasn’t suited for that job, and that the world of flour, butter, and sugar were my calling. I chose to learn the ins and outs of pastry and eventually left California and opened a pastry shop in Vermont.
2. When did you decide to open your baking school and offer classes?
I’ve been teaching for over 10 years around the country and via Craftsy, primarily as a Guest Chef Instructor at King Arthur Flour here in Vermont. My students were unhappy with the limited number of classes I was teaching, so I decided to convert my commercial bakery into a classroom to meet the demand.
3. What are some of the biggest challenges of running a baking school business, and how did you navigate those?
I had a built-in customer base, I already had a space that surpassed the necessary codes, and I’ve been teaching for years, so much of the process was natural. However, in the past I’ve had a multitude of assistants. I’m very hands-on and take care of much of my own prep but all those extra hands make a big difference. I’ve had to plan much further ahead and time things differently so I don’t feel like I’m running about like an idiot during the class. There’s also the perplexing problem of unraveling tangled aprons when you pull them out of the dryer.
4. If someone is waffling about starting this type of business (a baking school, cooking school, culinary classes, pastry classes, etc.) what would you say is...
a. The most rewarding thing about this type of business: The students. When they leave with a confidence and joy in baking, I’m the happiest baker in the world.
b. Something to consider before starting this type of business: Know your craft, inside and out. Be an expert at both demos and hands-on instruction.
5. Any budget planning tips you’d like to share for this particular business model?
You’ll need multiples, of everything. That can add up. Decide whether it makes more sense to ask your students to work as partners to cut down on the supply list.
6. In your experience, what really delights your students or audience?
I try to make the entire process entertaining and educational. If the students aren’t having fun and enjoying the atmosphere, then they won’t enjoy the experience as much as they might if you had taken the time to create a friendly environment.
7. What are some of your favorite classes to teach and why? Any particular type of pastry that you really love to make?
Laminated doughs like puff pastry and croissant. The process is so different than the creaming or biscuit methods and really intimidates home bakers. It’s a treat to show students that they needn’t fear the turns and folds.
8. What's one of your long-term business goals or aspirations?
I’d love to have a large cadre of local regulars. I have had many return students in my classes at King Arthur and other venues around the country but it would be lovely to know that in my own small community, there are budding bakers who will come back often to up their baking game with me.
9. How has implementing modern business tools, like online booking, made it easier for you to focus less on the nitty gritty and more on what you love to do?
I wouldn’t have started Sugar Glider Kitchen without ZOZI. I knew, from running a pastry shop and a commercial bakery, that taking that part of the equation off my plate would be the only way I’d be able to run a business successfully without burning out from the minutiae. There are far too many ways to mess up the process on your own and dissatisfy customers before they’ve even walked into the class, so why chance losing customers and your mind?
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