After ditching her career in advertising, enrolling in pastry school, and spending nearly a decade creating desserts for private clients out of her kitchen, Sherry Blockinger started her own company, Sherry B Dessert Studio in New York. Named one of the "Best Small Town Bakeries" by Travel & Leisure and one of the "100 People, Places or Things That Matter in 2016" by Departures magazine, she's carved her place on the global gourmand's map. In 2016, she scaled for the overwhelming demand - now her desserts are available nationwide. The Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center caught up with her to hear her founder's journey so far.
So what does "entrepreneurship" mean to you?
To me, entrepreneurship is quintessentially the willingness to take big risks in order to gain big rewards because you can't have one without the other. It is imperative for aspiring entrepreneurs to understand and believe in their concept in order to fearlessly step out of their comfort zone and grow a business.
Describe the a-ha moment to lead to you starting the company.
After attending classes at L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda, MD., sherry b. dessert studio was born out of my undeniable culinary passion. While I was home raising my daughter, I decided to pursue my Grand Diplome in Pastry Arts at the French Culinary Institute in New York. It was then I fell in love with the art and science of recipes. Every day I found myself mixing, changing, and rearranging traditional desserts, which led to the development of the "studio" concept.
What's the biggest experience or lesson gained on your journey so far?
I have learned that you can't manage everyone on your team the same way. Especially true in the hospitality industry, your team is comprised of people with vastly differing levels of experience, education, age, etc. It took me a while to develop a management style that I was comfortable with and felt true to myself, but one that was also attuned to the sensitivities, strengths, and weaknesses of my individual team members. I have learned to manage employees still in high school and those who have never graduated from high school; I have learned to lead cooks in my kitchen who went to culinary school and worked in some of the toughest restaurants, and cooks who worked their way up in kitchens. In this process, I have learned that showing compassion and mentoring, not simply commanding respect, is key to being a successful leader.
How is your company changing the landscape?
At sherry b. dessert studio we make dessert the star of the conversation. We want guests to know two things.
1. This is a guilt-free/judgement-free zone. We understand that dessert is a luxury and it is important to us that you enjoy every bite.
2. Make room for dessert. I like to say dessert is the emotional component of the food pyramid. If it makes you happy, make room for it in your diet. It's all about balance.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
If I could go back and give myself one piece of advice, I would tell myself not to fear making mistakes because so many issues and decisions will arise everyday and you need to learn to roll with the punches. Overall, I wouldn't do anything differently because every setback has reallyshaped our company into what it is today. Every past failure and mistake has been a teaching moment to make us better for the future.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business?
Trust your instincts. The biggest mistakes I've made in both my personal life and professional career resulted in going against my gut. It is my mission to remain true to my vision regardless of circumstance. I've learned it is easy to fall back on the influence of others, which is why it is important to know who you are and when to be conscious of those surrounding you. Stick to your guns. That said, do not sacrifice quality in order to grow.
What's it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
My partners and I came to the business from different backgrounds and it can be difficult at times to manage three opposing business styles. However, with multiple perspectives comes varying strengths and thoughtful business strategies. Collectively, we find solutions to satisfy multiple viewpoints.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
The challenge at stake often determines the way I source inspiration. If it is business related, I usually turn to my "sounding board" made up of trusted friends and family who have business experience in areas and industries different from my own for ideas. When I need to completely power down, I step out of the kitchen. I usually find myself working out as it helps me clear my head and feel empowered for the next creative move.
What does "success" look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
I ask myself the same thing. I'll know when I get there. One benchmark for the business is our 2018 move to New York City. It was always a dream to grow the business in New York City and test the boundaries of dessert in a city of endless artistry. Regardless of growth, success to me will always be the interaction and response from customers smiling bite after bite in the studio.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey if you can.
I don't know that I could easily identify a single proud or dark moment. I am a perfectionist and tend to put a lot of pressure on myself, with no limitations. It can make the proud moments pass by too quickly, without enough reflection and the dark moments seem bigger than they should. I constantly work on "finding the gray."
What lesson did 2017 have for you? What do you look forward to for the rest of 2018?
The world can be unlucky. Despite knowledge, experience, and planning, there are bad hands to be dealt with at times. I had never fully anticipated the number of construction delays, permits or noreasters flooding the scene. Even with unpredictable constraints, 2018 brought us New York City and a new location to call home.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?
Working out is a core essential of my morning ritual. It helps me build strength inside and out. Even if I do not have time to go to the gym, I often find myself doing a 20-min express workout so I can start the day with a clear head. I also find reserving a bit of quiet time is helpful in planning for the day and the challenges that may lie ahead.
Has being a female entrepreneur helped or discouraged you in your context? What do you think would help women, entrepreneurs, and leaders, the most?
Though I am a female entrepreneur, I've never considered myself to have limitations. No task is too big or too small. I'll carry a 50lb. sack of flour to get the job done if I need to and I'm not afraid to ask or answer the tough questions in the boardroom. I'd advise other women not to allow their gender or feminity to be an issue. Hard work is required regardless of sex. So show up as an equal and prove you are better.
Nasdaq's Education Foundation helped launch The Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in the fall of 2015. Located in San Francisco, it has quickly become the go to destination for the next generation of risk takers and idea makers who take the plunge into entrepreneurship.