Q&A with a young entrepreneur whose business is no piece of cake

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Over the past few years, television programs featuring baking and cakes, such as Ace of Cakes, Cake Boss and Amazing Wedding Cakes, have become wildly popular.  And for good reason: cake is a yummy (and perhaps one of my favourite) part of celebrations, and it takes a lot of skill to make the ornate creations that these professionals do.

Jen Stirk, a self-professed foodie and owner of Pastry DC, creates elaborate works of art out baked goods. She learned the necessary techniques to make yummy pieces of art through Georgian College’s culinary skills diploma and a confectionery arts certificate from the Bonnie Gordon School of Cake Decorating and Design, but they are no piece of cake.

Jen and I recently spoke about her education and how it relates to her business.

Q. What made you want to pursue a degree in culinary arts?

A. I’ve always loved the culinary world, but it wasn’t until a 12th grade culinary class that the idea of pursuing post-secondary education in the subject was suggested by my teacher.  He inspired me and believed in my abilities. He encouraged me and boosted my confidence. Thanks to him, I looked into the idea of furthering my education and decided to go forward with his suggestion. I applied to school, was accepted and found myself excelling in my schoolwork. Thanks to one of my teachers during my post secondary education, I decided to further expand my education in confectionery arts, which is now the basis of my new business.

Q. How did you get the idea to start your business?

A. I’ve always known I wanted to own my own business. At first I wasn’t sure what it would be, I definitely knew it was either fashion or food. Throughout my schooling I was introduced to many business classes. However, my education did start me thinking more seriously about beginning a business and the challenges it would present.

Q. What skills have you utilized from your degree and certificate to help promote, develop and improve Pastry DC?

A.I learned so many skills being in school. Everything from organization, communication, multi tasking, and of course the actual skills to produce a sell-able product. I learned the different theories and process involved in running a business. Through tutoring my peers I developed the skills to teach others, which has and will be quite an important asset to developing and potentially expanding by business. I utilize all of these skills on a daily basis to help promote, develop and improve Pastry DC.

Q. What do you want to see from your company in the next year? What about the next five years?

A. In the next year I would like to of course build a larger clientèle. I would like to develop and learn new recipes to be able to offer new products, specifically allergy accommodating products. I want to obtain a professional location to work directly out of. I have plans to be able to offer workshops on basic cake design and baking.

There are still so many more areas of culinary arts that I would like educate my self in within the next few years, i.e., writing my Red Seal, but as things stand now, in the next five years I would like to have an established storefront and catering service for Pastry DC. I want to be able to service a wider geographical area, potentially province wide. I want to be able to expand the workshops offered to also include workshops in subjects such as pastry making, fine French pastries, and advanced cake design.

Q. What words of advice do you have for other students and grads who want to start their own business?

A. If you’re going to start a business, you need to be passionate about it. Stay focused and positive. It can be hard work, but perseverance pays off. Ask questions, research and remember that everything takes time and patience.

Network, network, network. The people you know can really help you to go farther and help you develop your business. I couldn’t have accomplished what I have accomplished and wouldn’t be where I am right now if it wasn’t for all the support and help from people and businesses such as my family, my friend Sean Rowe from myVibe.ca, Lisa Clements from Ravens Ridge Photography, Emily and Tanya from Pear Home,  Mr. Smith from Orangeville District Secondary School, and all my other friends who have helped me so much. Networking and keeping an open mind can take you so far when starting a business.

Most importantly, keep learning. You can never have enough education. It can really take you above and beyond your original expectations or desires.

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