In Conversation with Dana Pollack of Dana’s Bakery
Can you describe Dana’s Bakery in a few words?
“Not your ordinary…” We like to color outside the lines and put our own fun unique twist on everything we touch!
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I was working as a photo editor (at Muscle & Fitness magazine) and just was not feeling it. I had always loved baking but never thought about doing it for a living. I decided to quit my job, enroll in culinary school and while in school, I fell in love with french macarons. Although macs were becoming more popular in the states they were the same french flavors, no matter who was selling them. I decided I needed to make them. But in FUN American flavors that actually appealed to me. And the rest is history…
You are a classically trained chef, having studied fine baking and the pastry arts at NYC’s Institute of Culinary Education. What is a lesson you learned during your studies that is still useful today? And in contrast, what is a lesson you learned outside of school that has proved essential?
In school, you learn technical skills and you’re educated on the history of the food you’re making but you don’t learn real life kitchen skills. Some things just come with time, and real life experiences. ICE is an incredible program and I learned all the necessary things one would need to know to be a pastry magician HOWEVER it wasn’t until i was working in restaurants that I learned about the vital stuff. Speed, momentum, ordering, Back of house, service vs prep, kitchen burns, etc. From working in restaurants i quickly realized that it was not the path i wanted to take with my new culinary training. I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs and doing my own thing was always just sort of a viable option for me. I decided it was time, I wanted to make the rules.
Although my father and grandparents owned their own businesses, I had NO idea what it really entailed. The amount of work it takes to get it off the ground, and then even more so to keep it running (successfully). If i had know what I do now, maybe i would have stayed in the kitchens 😉 (just kidding, JUST KIDDING!!)
Dana’s Bakery specializes in French macarons, but gives them a unique twist with flavors such as S’mores and Fruity Cereal. What drew you to macarons in the first place?
I fell in love with macarons for their distinct texture and cute looks. The photo editor in my loved their physical appeal. I know that doesnt make sense, how can a “cookie” be “cute”. But it is! I was hooked and intrigued before I even tried one.
How was Dana’s Bakery first received by the public? How did you get the word out?
In 2012, when I launched the bakery I was one of the first ever bakeries doing only online D2C sales. It made sense for me, since I had no business partner or financial backing i Had to be scrappy and start in the most cost efficient way possible. Being online allowed me to keep my overhead low and grow organically as the sales started coming in. I offered local NYC delivery, people would order online, and I would personally deliver it to them.
Although we didn’t have a storefront, and we weren’t paying for online advertising I DID have social media (which was FREE!) and my photo skills from my past life. I shot all my food like I would a sexy still life bottle of perfume. People really resonated with the images, the familiar flavor profiles (who doesn’t love Red Velvet or S’mores) and started requesting nationwide delivery. All of a sudden I had a business. I figured out logistics of shipping, how to scale the business without sacrificing the quality. What started as a 1 woman opp, is now 40+ employees and growing every year. Its WILD.
What is a piece of advice you wish you had known before you opened your business?
Surround yourself with trustworthy people who do their tasks better than you. When you get to a certain point, your business becomes its own person. This isn’t about you or your ego, its about your team, your business being the best that it can be, and making sure that your company not only grows but thrives.
Although it’s important to be hands on, and versed in all aspects of your business, as you grow you physically and mentally cannot do it all. Be everywhere at the same time. As entrepreneurs its hard to let go, but letting go doesn’t mean that you are giving up control completely. It means you are building your army so you can become stronger as a whole.
Oh and… “Don’t work harder, work smarter”. There are only so many hours in a day 😉
What is a little known fact that might surprise us about the day to day of running Dana’s Bakery?
There arent many hidden fun facts, I wear my heart on my sleeve and show so much of what we do and who we all are on our social media. So lots of fun, but not hidden! I think this helps customers connect, and get to know the people behind the brand. Its so important!!
That being said, we do have a new employee of the month program that i’m really excited about. We award one star per day for exceptional work. Whoever gets the most stars gets their own parking spot, a paid day off, and a print out of their face with a HUGE sign that says EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH for all to see when someone enters the bakery.
What is the biggest challenge you have encountered along the way and what did you learn?
GROWTH. If i’m being honest, I face new challenges everyday. In the beginning, starting a business with no experience was the biggest challenge. I had NO idea what I was doing. Faking it till i made it, and figuring things out as it came. As we grew, there would be more challenges. Product development, HR, logistical issues, growth retention, I mean when does it end? It just doesnt. When you’re stressed out it’s hard to view these things as opportunities. But they are. They are little stepping stones, getting you from point A to B as your company continues to grow.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
Hands down, my two beautiful daughters, Leni (4) and Ella (1). (spoken like a true Mom, no?)
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
We were all personally and professionally impacted by Covid-19. I will never forget the feeling of the unknown of what was going on and what was going to happen when it all started. I think that most D2C (online) brands had a surge in sales from everyone being home and ordering online. We were very fortunate to have experienced this. Because we are an online food company, we are considered essential and could continue to operate at full capacity. Beginning of March I thought I was going to need to let people go to stay afloat, however we ended up hiring more people because we could not keep up with the demand.
What is next for Dana’s Bakery? Can you share some exciting new flavors or innovations you have in the pipeline?
So many exciting things to come!! In addition to expanding the product line, I have a cookbook coming out in Spring 2021 (its available for pre-order) . We are also launching our proprietary blend of Gluten Free flour and it will be sold online and in stores nationwide.
What advice can you offer to budding entrepreneurs/female founders who are trying to launch their own bakery?
No more excuses. You don’t need to go to business school to start your own business. You don’t always need capital or partners to get things off the ground. You don’t ALWAYS need a business plan. An idea with a few simple stepping stone goals will take you so much further than you think. Yes you need some type of plan / direction when getting started. However I see so many people get so hung up on the business plan that they spend more time working on the plan than the actual business itself.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Being comfortable and confident. Living everyday loving what you do is empowering and is a gift I don’t take for granted.
For more insights into Dana’s inspiring entrepreneurial journey, check out her episode here!