When Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, oil services analyst Lisa Rochelle was one of the many Wall Streeters who found themselves suddenly out of work. A 20-year Wall Street veteran, Rochelle saw an opportunity to take her career in a sweet new direction: as a cake decorator.
"My family thought I was crazy," Rochelle said. Until then, her only pastry experience had been making birthday cakes for her three children, and those cakes, she admitted, "were really bad."
She said the idea of starting her own company had never appealed to her because business school had taught her all the ways in which new businesses fail. But with finance jobs few and far between, Rochelle decided it was time to mix it up, career-wise.
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In deciding her next move, she looked to her creative side as well as her undergraduate degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology. Plus, she had an industry expert in the family: her sister Renee had been a professional cake decorator for 20 years.
Following Renee through the day-to-day logistics of the cake decorating business, Lisa learned the craft firsthand.
Then she spent a year honing her decorating skills and researching the market before taking her first order. In 2010, she launched Sweet Grace Cake Designs, named for her daughter. Self-funding her new venture, Rochelle rented kitchen space on an as-needed basis and purchased baking equipment as money allowed. Deliberately growing the company slowly, she built her business on word-of-mouth referrals and made customer service a priority.
Now in its fifth year, Sweet Grace Cake Designs has a permanent storefront in Haworth, New Jersey, and Rochelle has been named one of the top cake decorators in the country by Martha Stewart Weddings. With the help of her two employees, she estimates she's made 1,000 cakes so far, including custom purse cakes ordered by Stella McCartney. Cake prices range from $200 to $2,000.
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For Rochelle, the sweetest part of success has been discovering the entrepreneurial spirit she never knew she had. While she said her Wall Street background is her "secret weapon" in running her business, she has no plans to go back into finance.