A native California girl, Michelle Jaffee moved east to attend George Washington University. After an internship on Capitol Hill and two professional positions after college, she went to The Big Apple to put her English Literature major to work in the publishing industry.
The pace of Manhattan was thrilling and Michelle immersed herself in the culture taking a writing class and earning her keep with temp jobs, one of which turned into a full-time position. But Michelle knew she was not doing the kind of work she loved and felt like she was being swept along in the momentum of the city without a particular goal or focus. The problem was clarity of expectations. Michelle knew she wasn’t 100% happy but also didn’t know what she wanted career wise. Little did she know then that a natural talent, which also brought her joy, would turn into a viable business enterprise down the road!
How Sweet it Is!
After careful consideration, she ruled out graduate school, knowing it was not for her and continued to plug away at her job hoping for a break in the publishing world. A few years later she met her husband and in 1998 the happy couple moved to Fairfield, Connecticut to begin raising a family and establishing their home.
Michelle takes great pride in being the Chief Household Officer, a serious and full-time career that rarely gets the credit it deserves from those who work out of the home. Michelle believes that making a home is a career and an art. She cherishes her role as a mother and derives great satisfaction from raising her 3 boys who are now 8, 9, and 10.
She recalls her happy childhood, growing up in a hand-built cabin in Big Sur, California with its mountainous coastline and breathtaking views. Their rustic home had a wood-burning stove where Michelle’s mother baked fresh bread, cookies, and pies. I could almost smell these delectable treats as she relayed her fond memories to me by phone.
As a mother and wife, Michelle now continues the family tradition of being together and baking in her own kitchen with her kids. Her natural talent as a baker emerged and Michelle became well known in Fairfield for her delicious and beautiful cookies and cupcakes. A self proclaimed baking foodie, Michelle even loves to read about baking and authors a blog to connect with other baking types to share ideas, techniques, and inspiration.
Finding Your Sweet Spot
Two years ago things got serious for this baking maven. Michelle treated herself to a 6 month amateur baking class at the French Culinary Institute in New York as a special birthday present. For the first time, true clarity set in and Michelle owned her natural talent and realized how much joy it brought her to bake. She would eagerly anticipate each next class and baked up a storm in-between testing out new recipes and techniques from the course.
Her lucky friends were the recipients of these treasures and started to regularly suggest that she consider selling them. Michelle thought she could test drive her wares at the local Farmer’s Market but soon learned that she needed a Health Department permit and a commercial kitchen to sell her goods anywhere in Connecticut.
Where there’s a will there’s a way and Michelle’s entrepreneurial spirit emerged in full force. Her personal posse includes a friend who is a graphic artist and another whose kitchen co-op in Bridgeport offered space to food entrepreneurs where she did her baking early on.
Before you knew it – she had a logo: “Sweet & Simple: Baked with Love” and beautiful packaging to ensure that each treat looked like a special gift. Her signature daisy is a nod to her California hippie roots and the goodness and simplicity of family baking. And so, Sweet & Simple – a baker’s dream cottage business was born.
Before long, Michelle grew out of the baking co-op and sought a larger space at Ambrosia Bakery in Milford, CT where she rents a large commercial walk-in oven. This full-time Mom now has a full-time baking business that keeps her busy 40 hours a week (at least) baking, delivering, and handling orders for her delicious treats. Not to mention cleaning up after baking large batches of her famous goodies.
Since Michelle jumped through all the appropriate small business hoops and acquired the permit, trademarked her logo, and bakes in a commercial kitchen, her wares are now featured in retail shops throughout the Connecticut region.
Not one for preservatives, her cookies only have a 2 week shelf life and feature real butter to achieve her signature moist and chewy consistency. It’s rare that her cookies last up to 2 weeks on any retail shelf since they are in high demand and sell fast.
Several stores in the area carry Sweet & Simple cookies and Michelle has plans to sell certain products online this fall. The e-commerce site will be limited to products that are shippable so this will take some business planning to select her most suitable creations and navigate the new shipping component. It may require hiring some help to assist Michelle with her one-woman operation.
Made with Love
So how does the Chief Household Officer now manage a growing baking business in addition to her family? Michelle admits that work/life integration is a challenge. Her boys are all very excited about the business and in addition to being expert taste testers and home kitchen helpers – they enjoy seeing their mom gain recognition and achieve success with her business in their community.
Michelle’s husband is also supportive and eager to lend his business acumen as Sweet & Simple evolves. Since baking in the commercial kitchen first started during the non-traditional hours of 8pm to midnight – Michelle’s husband helped out with the kids and the house when needed. Happily, baking now happens during the day which has helped the Jaffee family keep a more regular schedule.
Before Sweet & Simple, Michelle admits to keeping a tighter, neater, less cluttered ship at home but she let go of that fantasy after the reality of her new life as an entrepreneur took wing. She has learned to relax if the laundry is not done as often as she would like but laments that she doesn’t get to play tennis or garden as much as she used to. A trained Master Gardener, Michelle created beautiful gardens for years before Sweet & Simple but now tends to her green spaces with benign neglect. But the trade-offs are worth it since she never imagined how exhilarating running her own business could be.
Sleep is something she is not getting enough of and as a one-woman operation; Michelle is now faced with the small business question of growth potential. Should she stay a boutique or grow the business to produce more volume? She is breaking even financially now and re-invests a lot of her money into Sweet & Simple to ramp up her marketing and promotional efforts.
Her cookies, cakes, and other desserts are delicious but Michelle was savvy enough to know that high quality photos were essential to showcase her baked creations. Melani Lust and Sandra Downie have styled and photographed Michelle’s baked goods so they are a visual work of art. This was a financial investment that has proven worthwhile since her delicious website will entice you to seek out a retailer that carries Sweet & Simple goods immediately.
Find Your Passion
Michelle has truly found her passion and is living it with Sweet & Simple. But she wants to keep the joy in her baking and keep the business manageable so she doesn’t turn into the “crazy lady” she knows could surface if things grow too fast. She appreciates the wisdom and counsel of friends and family who continue to offer sound business advice.
Her lifeline and support system has helped her through challenging times and Michelle believes in the power of mentorship and paying-it-forward to others in need. She wants other women looking to find their passion to seek out guidance and develop a personal resource team.
In addition to baking, delivering, filling orders, and running the administrative end of the business – Michelle understands the power of social media in making her business viable. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and check out her food blog on her website to pick up some great advice and recipes.
So whether you prefer cakes, cookies, cupcakes, granola, or specialty breads, Michelle Jaffee has got a treat in store for you that will always be baked with love. The publishing world in The Big Apple may not have unlocked her career passion, but Michelle came full circle from California to Connecticut to home-sweet-home to discover her true joy and a new career.
Michelle’s Advice and Action Steps:
- Take the time to listen to yourself so you can find your passion.
- Surround yourself with supportive people.
- Adopt a glass half full mindset. Positivity is crucial.
- Don’t get swept away in the momentum of life. Take control of your personal journey and own what you enjoy doing.
“If you wake up and think – it’s going to be a great day – it will be!” Michelle Jaffee
Sweet and Simple Website: www.sweetandsimple.com
Twitter: @ Michelle_Jaffee
Melani Lust Photography: http://www.melanilustphotography.com/
Photo Styling by Sandra Downie Event Designs www.sandradownie.com