This is Susan Palmer, the owner of Little Red Kitchen Bake Shop. A native New Yorker, Susan grew up on Long Island with a family that always seemed to have a connection to food. Her grandfather owned a wholesale candy business in Brooklyn so growing up she remembers hearing stories about the “candy man” whose staircases were always lined with boxes of candy. Watching Julia Child on PBS or other cooking shows was a normal occurrence for her and her three brothers, all of whom worked in restaurants throughout their lives as servers and cooks. One of her brothers even went on to open his own restaurant in Great Neck. Although no one in her family is trained professionally, both of her parents cooked regularly so cooking, baking and working in restaurants always felt natural to them and they all had a passion for it. However Susan didn’t think of pursuing a career in food until 2011 when she decided that she wanted a hobby to dedicate her free time to and started a food blog. After growing frustrated with the lack of growth in her corporate job and realizing that she could earn a living from the content she created on her blog, she took a risk and turned her hobby into a career. And although her kitchen is no longer little or red, Susan is committed to staying loyal to her brand of home style baked goods by using high quality ingredients and only creating small batches of her mouthwatering desserts.
Susan was a music major in college and worked at a theatre company on Broadway for eight years before starting her own business. Although she loves music and plays orchestral percussion, she has stage fright and recognized that as a woman in the music industry with limited performance spots to begin with and no interest in teaching, building a career in music would be hard for her to sustain. So she decided to work in an industry where she could still appreciate the music without the uncertainty of being a performer. She says that she really enjoyed her time working in the theatre industry but as the years continued, she hit a plateau in her position and became unhappy with her job. She began dreading going to work and turned to her food blog (named after the red kitchen she was cooking in in her 7×7 apartment) as a side project since she was already making various dishes at home and taking pictures of them for fun. During this time she also began entering different cooking competitions, most notably The Takedowns, a competition that was started in Brooklyn by Matt Timms where self-taught cooks bring their various creations, including cookies, for people to taste and vote for the best ones. Susan did the cookie takedown in 2011 and 2013 and won both times and also won in 2012 when she did the ice cream takedown. Through these competitions she realized that people enjoyed what she was making, since she kept winning, and her blog was bringing in enough revenue to allow her to earn a living. With this knowledge, she decided to turn her love of cooking into a career and began working on her own recipes and taking steps to open her own business.
Susan continued entering competitions, running her food blog and working full time until 2014. Once she had committed to the idea of running her own business, she strongly believed that if she was going to open her own bake shop, she was going to do it right and took the time to do just that. She used the entire year of 2013 to create a business plan with a consultant and did a lot of research to perfect her chocolate chip cookie recipe. In May 2014, she did a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the business and officially launched it that fall. However, she continued working for the theatre company for another year after that to give herself a solid foundation to rely on before transitioning to the bake shop full time. She says that she did have some anxiety about lack of money and stability when starting the business and then again when she made it her full time focus. But it wasn’t as much anxiety as a music career would have given her or the anxiety that she felt at a job she was unhappy doing. Food brought her joy and she felt less uncertainty starting her own business because she was taking matters into her own hands and choosing her own path. Like any entrepreneur, there were a few moments when she second guessed herself but she kept pushing through them and was quickly able to learn the hustle of the food industry.
Today Susan has grown the blog that started in her little, red kitchen into a successful wholesale business. She sells her cookies, brownies and blondies at small retailers throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn and also does food service for the catering department at Murray’s Cheese and 10Below Ice Cream. She does her own catering as well and has a reputation for creating custom items for her clients. The toughest part of the business is that the dessert market is very saturated in New York so it’s difficult to find customers to sell her products to. Which is why she’s so intent on keeping her items homemade and authentic in order to differentiate herself from the many other bake shops and dessert businesses that she’s competing with. Everything is made to order in small batches by Susan or her baking assistant. She’s very picky about the types of ingredients that she’ll use because quality matters to her more than anything. Almost every ingredient they use is organic. She won’t use corn syrup or enriched flour and will only use food coloring when a client requests it. On top of having a product that tastes good, she doesn’t want her items to be loaded with additives that are bad for her customer’s bodies. It’s more important for her to create high quality products than do something that’s better for her financially. Which is also why she bakes a lot of vegan and gluten free customized items and takes her time creating them so that anything vegan or gluten free doesn’t “taste” vegan or gluten free. She enjoys that her customer’s dietary restrictions have helped her think outside the box of what’s considered “normal” for baking.
Susan recently moved into a larger commercial kitchen in Brooklyn and her focus now is expanding into more retail locations and doing more catering. She’s always working to make sure that her products are the best quality possible and that they create a taste that you remember. Her mission is to take the cookies that you loved growing up and make them even more delicious, so that when you bite into one of her cookies, you get a flashback to your childhood… but it’s even better than you remember. The most rewarding part of the business for Susan is making customers happy and she strives to recreate “that warm feeling inside” that you get when an experience makes you nostalgic. She hopes that when customers buy her products she’s able to transfer to them the joy that she gets from cooking and baking and will always go the extra mile to make sure that her customer is satisfied.
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