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Last story segment, we ended with the opening of my storefront ice cream shop and bakery in California. Despite the huge success of our all-natural chocolate cake and cheesecake baked with honey, I knew that being a baker was not my “inner calling”. Yes, we were producing hundreds of cheesecakes, carrot, chocolate and ice cream cakes; we actually produced 6000 chocolate eclairs in one day!! (We had to “suffer” with 10 lb. blocks of Ghirardelli Chocolate to dip the eclairs!) So, what’s the problem you ask?! I just think that being into wellness and fitness for so long, that all those desserts did not satisfy my passion. Although I loved baking, I knew there was more for me.
When something stirs you, and creates a passion, you have an opportunity to embark on a mission; and usually, you enjoy it. Success will come if you can be clear with the mission and have the determination and tenacity to achieve that goal. As an example, I recently saw a video that makes this point. A young guy had taken a video with his phone in the city, while walking by a homeless person, without shoes, in the rain and cold. You could hear him say, “How is it possible in a world where millions of people are linked together with electronic devices that a person should go without shoes? In that moment, he had his mission and started a network to provide for the needs of the homeless.
I’m not comparing this to my business experience, as it is truly a very deep and touching endeavor. But it is a good example of how passion and need will drive someone to success. I’m sure that no matter what obstacles came his way, and you know there were many, he would still steer his way through because he’s looking at this person who's got this endearing need, and it's gotta be fixed. He had to do something. He had to survive. There's an urgency to that.
Having the necessity to survive is a big deal. It’s also important to recognize what you can and can't do. That’s why I took on a partner in my business, mostly because I recognize that I’m better at some things and not so good at others—so I put my time where my talents are. I also know I couldn't do it all myself and that my inspirations were way bigger than me. When I finally realized that, I started asking for help and going out and finding it.
Back to the story— yes, we decided to sell the bakery business. When we did, I had a very coincidental thing happen to provide validation we were making the right decision.
As I had mentioned in the earlier article, I had this love for cheesecake. When I was in high school and old enough to drive, I parked cars for extra money at a restaurant called the Claremont diner in New Jersey. The cheesecake there was so good that people would drive across the river after New York Broadway shows late into the night. They’d come just for the cheesecake! I also would eat it every day I worked there!
So, when we came to California and started baking desserts, the Claremont cheesecake is the one I would emulate; but mine would be all-natural and with honey. At the end when we were closing shop and selling the equipment in 1983, this real skinny guy walks in, and looks around at the equipment. We chatted a while and he finally said he didn’t see what he was looking for, but was glad he came in. He was a very nice guy and somehow, I told him about the Claremont Diner. I'm going through the whole story and he's listening and listening. Finally, he gets a smile on his face, and he said, "You know, that's my cheesecake! I made that cheesecake back east for years! There was my cheesecake hero, right in front of me! I really felt complete and could close this chapter of my life.
After we sold the bakery, I was asked by a friend, who knew the experience I had, if I might be able to help a group of local monks with their farming business. They were producing a small amount of fresh culinary herbs for the Los Angeles market. These fellows were artisans and not receiving much for their work, and were having a hard time collecting monies owed to them!! Fortunately, I could help them quickly find the right price to sell at, and get their money when due. More importantly, I had a real connection to herbs and I was totally turned on to farming! We started to scale the business up step by step. Fundamentally, they were producing gorgeous products. Alas, the herbs and business were secondary to their spiritual practice! So, in order to stabilize sales of what they were producing, I had to learn how to ramp up the agricultural side for higher volumes and create a more diverse market for sales. I took on a partner, and started a separate company that would become the pioneer of the fresh herb category.
What began with 2 employees on 1½ acres, would grow over 10 years to a 200 acre operation with 40 acres of greenhouses! I visited any and all farming operations that welcomed me to learn about soil, irrigation, plant science and pest management. I had great strawberry growers surrounding me and learned a lot from them. However, conventional ag production is wrought with chemicals, so I had to find natural alternatives. (organic methodologies and products were few and far between!)
I would grow during the day, and peddle the wares at night! I developed unique first of its kind packaging and we created an entire sectional program for the supermarkets. We connected with top chefs from across the country to educate ourselves and customers on how to use fresh herbs. The bigger the business became, the more challenging it was to create top quality, with shelf life and fast dependable logistics for a highly perishable product. Fed Ex actually had to add planes and routes for us! Even our greenhouse designs were unique! Great Experience!