We caught up with Dana Pollack on the “birth story” that brought her first baby, Dana’s Bakery, into the world, then asked her to tell us about her experience preparing for motherhood while running a growing business. As a founder, was she able to take maternity leave? How is she preparing for the arrival of her second daughter? Read on to find out…
Before launching Dana’s Bakery, what did you do?
Dana: Before I quit my job to go to culinary school, I was the photo editor at Muscle & Fitness Magazine. I graduated with a BFA in Photography from Parsons School of Design and worked in the editorial/magazine world for 10 years before my big career change!
Why did you gravitate towards baking and macarons in particular? What inspired you to take a leap of faith and pursue your passion?
Dana: I always loved to bake but never thought about doing it for a living. I would bake to relieve stress, show people I care, and gift them desserts. I have always loved entertaining, dinner parties etc. While sitting in my cubicle at Muscle & Fitness, I had one of those lightbulb moments while staring at my computer screen looking at a photo of a man in speedo covered in body oil. I said out loud “Am I REALLY going to do this for the rest of my life?”.
That’s when I decided I should pursue my passion. I quit my job the next day, then enrolled in culinary school one weeks after that. Although I always loved baking and food, I knew that if I was going to quit my job and switch careers at 30 I needed some structure. I wanted to immerse myself in this new culture and get as much training as I possibly could.
In true Dana fashion, I threw myself in 100%. While in culinary school nights and weekends, I also worked part-time as a pastry cook to gain real life experience during the day. I quickly realized that restaurant kitchens were NOT for me. Everything you read in the late and great Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential is real… and I couldn’t see myself doing that long term.
As my studies continued, I fell in love with the French macaron. They’re so pretty with this unique texture I had never experienced before. They’re also very hard to make and I loved the challenge. Although French macarons were becoming more popular, I could only find them in the same very classic French flavors like lavender, rose, and pistachio. I thought, “What gives?” Why couldn’tI find these amazing desserts in AMERICAN flavors like s’mores, red velvet and birthday cake? That’s when the concept of Dana’s Bakery was born!
After you committed to making the jump into entrepreneurship, what were the first steps you took?
Dana: I didn’t really think about it like that. I never went to business school. I never had and still have never had a business plan or partner. I knew I was passionate about what I was doing and would stop at nothing to make it work or get the job(s) done. Once I decided I wanted to open my bakery I enlisted my mom (hi, mom!) to help me set up the entity for the business. As she did that I began developing and testing my recipes. Because of my photo background I shot the macarons like I would shoot a sexy still life bottle of perfume. I had always been drawn to that aesthetic as opposed to the typical soft, out of focus food photography I saw everywhere. I had a childhood friend who was a graphic designer make my website, and soon after we were live! I started with local NYC deliver, delivered by yours truly!
Because of social media and the way I photographed my macarons, word spread, and I started getting interest around the country for nationwide shipping. This was almost 9 years ago. At the time there were no online bakeries. Once I figured out the logistics of shipping and shelf life, we were officially one of the first!
How did you build buzz to grow the brand?
Dana: Because I didn’t have any business experience, partners or investors, I wanted to start very slow and bare bones. Because we did not have a physical store I knew that my images needed to look AMAZING. People are buying with their eyes. If the macarons looked good they would buy them—and if they tasted good customers would not only come back for more, but tell their friends. That was and still is our recipe to success.
I put any money made back into the business and used it to grow. I utilized free tools like social media and word of mouth to spread the word, which resulted in sales. For example: we would get a large corporate gift order, they would send them as gifts to their clients, the clients would love package, and then order their gifts from us as well. It was an organic domino effect. The same thing happened with smaller orders.
What is your best advice for mamas with new businesses trying to develop their brand voice on social media?
Dana: It is so important to be authentic and consistent in your messaging. If you do something for someone else, or you post because it’s what you THINK others will like, your followers will see right through you. You want qualified and engaged users. You want organic growth. The only way to accomplish that is to build trust, attract, and grow an audience that genuinely likes you and your product—whatever you are about.
It is also important to be consisgtent. Find your own rhythm and post in the same pattern. Post at specific times of day and create features that are so “very you.’ For example, I could do a repost of one of our followers’ photos every Monday and call it #MacaronMonday. Not a bad idea… maybe I should do that from now on!
As Dana’s Bakery grew, what challenges came with that growth?
Dana: When starting out literally everything was a challenge. I have come to realize that’s not a bad thing. Challenges mean growth and if you don’t grow you die. Because we started small, I had to learn every aspect of the business—from production, to fulfillment, to HR, to finance. I need to know it all. This was extremely daunting at times, but in hindsight knowing how it all works allowed me to eventually hire people who specialize in these fields. They do these things better than me so we can GROW. Although I am still involved with it all, I am now able to dedicate more time to other things that demand my attention because I know each specific task is in good hands.
How did that business growth coincide with the growth of your family?
Dana: My husband Adam and I met when I was two weeks into culinary school. He was with me from the very beginning, from the crazy hours while I was in school to the brunch at Fred’s where I decided what I wanted to do with my new culinary training–the moment Dana’s Bakery was born. He’s been there through relentless hours during the beginning phases of Dana’s Bakery (it’s still like this from time to time, especially around the holidays!) and all the ups and downs that come with entrepreneurship and owning my own business.
Somehow between all this madness our relationship grew along with the bakery. After one year of dating we were engaged, a year later married, and two years after that our daughter Leni was born! And now I’m pregnant with our second daughter… who’s expected to arrive on Leni’s Birthday this August. We’ll have sisters who will be three years apart, just like me and my sister. I could not be more excited.
Adam has ALWAYS been so supportive in both home and work. From being in the kitchen with me on the late nights to being happily hands on with Leni, I am so lucky to have an equal partner when it comes to raising our family. It just works and allows me the freedom to do what I need to do when work pulls me away from home.
Were you able to take a maternity leave? What did that look like?
Dana: With Leni, I didn’t take much of a maternity leave. I was working until the day before I gave birth. I remember being VERY pregnant and doing my first-ever Facebook live on my due date. The kitchen had a poll to see if my water would break while filming (ha!). Bringing Leni home from the hospital I remember we had a photoshoot going on and I was trying to perfect the balance of being in the moment while producing this photoshoot via phone and failing miserably. I also remember hysterical crying for no reason at all. Thanks, postpartum hormones!
I took three weeks maternity leave which was really a loose work from home because I was still working just not in the office. Our nanny started and I was back to work and gearing up for our busy holiday season.
I know this may sound crazy to some, but I really didn’t mind at all. Dana’s Bakery is my first baby, and I am so passionate about what we do. So, it’s enjoyable and I actually WANT to be involved and know what’s going on, even when I was home adjusting to life as a new mom.
As I prepare for my second, I plan to take more time to be with Leni and our family during this amazing transition. I’m grateful to have a kickass team at work who can and will hold down the fort while I am gone. We are working months ahead to make sure that things run smoothly while I am not here. And although I will always touch base and check in with them multiple times a day, I have no intention of producing any photoshoots on our way home from the hospital this time around!
How has motherhood made you a better entrepreneur?
Dana: My priorities are straight. The phrase, “time is valuable” has a whole new meaning. I wake up early to go to the gym so I can make it home in time to see Leni off to school. I book meetings during her naps and work like a crazy woman to get my shi*t done in order to make it home in time for dinner and bedtime as best I can.
I think about what it means to be a woman, especially a woman in business today. To me, it means being capable and fearless with the ability to follow your passion. I hope that my girls are inspired by seeing their mom live this way.
With baby number two on the way, do you feel better prepared to manage the juggle the second time around?
Dana : YES! Although I know everyone says two is crazier than one (how could it not be?), just not having to deal with the unknown is comforting. Although I am sure there will be plenty of new and unknown surprises with #2, I’ve been through labor, I’ve changed diapers, I’ve had sleepless nights, I’ve had enough experiences to know that everything is a phase, and that my ass will eventually return to its original shape and size.
It’s also fun to think about Leni as a big sister, my heart is already exploding with the thought of seeing them together.
3 pearls of wisdom
Everything is a phase, don’t stress out it’s not forever.
Try to be in the moment (I am constantly working on this). When I AM with my family, I try to be present. Emails, Instagram and text messages can wait. I’ve come to realize it’s more about the quality, not the quantity.
There is no such thing as perfect.