“I didn't feel fulfilled creatively or intellectually.”
What work were you doing previously?
I worked in book publishing.
What are you doing now?
I am the Founder and Pastry Chef at Mini Melanie, an online desserts company.
How did you feel about your work before you decided to make a change?
I didn't feel fulfilled creatively or intellectually.
Why did you change?
I grew up baking and was always happiest when I was in the kitchen, but no one in my big family was a chef.
I made it my focus to land a job after university in book publishing, and I did. But once I was there, I was only thinking about food.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
While at my post-college book publishing job, I started a side hustle private cheffing and it got really busy.
Are you happy with the change?
I've never looked back.
The journey I've been on from going to culinary school, to having culinary internships, working in restaurants, and now running my own food business has been both addictive and exceedingly exciting.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I don't miss anything about working in the corporate world.
Although I always have Mini Melanie on my mind and am always somewhat working, I feel so fulfilled that I have this baby to nurture day and night, and a team to grow to help us be better and bigger every day.
How did you go about making the shift? And how specifically did you choose your new career?
My first step was to go to culinary school part time.
I didn't know anyone who had a job in the food industry, so it seemed like the only thing to do to break into the industry. As it turns out, culinary school isn't entirely necessary. You learn the most working in restaurants. But I still learned a lot at school and made lasting relationships.
In terms of choosing my career, I got my feet wet doing private dinners and cooking classes in clients' homes. It let me get a sense of how hard it is physically and mentally to work in a kitchen, and that ultimately it was right for me.
I worked in a couple of restaurants. I was the Pastry Sous Chef at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and prior to that I was the Pastry Cook at Babbo.
I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I enjoy being creative and solving problems, and I also enjoy the process of working with and managing a staff. In restaurants and cooking privately, I tried to grow my skill set in these areas, to ultimately apply these qualities to my own business.
Baking has gone from being my childhood hobby to my profession. It still makes me happy to get up and get in to the kitchen every day.
I love that dessert isn't absolutely necessary, but it's so memorable and makes people happy. Customers buy our truffles and cakes either as an everyday indulgence or to mark special occasions. It's very thrilling to be a part of such occasions and to make people smile when they dig in.
Opening a storefront bakery is such a risk for a new business that has grown organically, without any funding. The retail landscape has changed as people are shopping online more and more. I decided we would sell our desserts online via Shopify, so that we could give our customers convenience and a pleasant, consistent user experience, without taking a huge risk financially and operationally.
What didn't go well? What 'wrong turns' did you take?
I don't think I took a wrong turn. Every step and transition turned out to be worthwhile.
Plenty of drama happened, though! I sliced my thumb working service on a busy night at Babbo. My biggest mentor, a famous pastry chef at Babbo, humiliated me for months in front of the other cooks before making me her sous chef. This is just a small sprinkling of kitchen tales!
How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?
I was able to save money while working in book publishing and living at home. And I saved as well from my private cheffing business.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
I was working Monday to Friday in book publishing, while I went to culinary school all day Saturday and Sunday.
What help did you get?
My family. I'm very lucky to have close family nearby as well as a very supportive (and well-fed) husband.
What resources would you recommend to others?
LinkedIn is an incredible tool.
Contact your university's alumni network and use social media to get the most out of your network of family and friends.
What have you learnt in the process?
Following my passion has not been an easy route, but it's an exciting one that's made me leap out of bed every morning.
What do you wish you'd done differently?
I would've loved to have had more time for more experiences before starting Mini Melanie, but I'm glad I started the business while I was still in my twenties because it takes a lot of energy!
If I'd had more time after working in restaurants, it would have been so helpful to have worked for another food start-up.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
Find people who have jobs that you want and speak to them about their experiences.
Not only will it help you figure out your path, but you will be able to build a network of contacts before even career shifting.
To find out more about Melanie's business, visit www.minimelanie.com.
Melanie uses Shopify to sell online. To learn more, visit www.shopify.com.
What lessons could you take from Melanie's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.