Having a baby? Time to start your business! To many people that sounds counterintuitive, but women are doing just that and it is contributing to Brooklyn’s meteoric increase in women-owned businesses. According to the NYC Department of Small Business Services, women owned businesses jumped 77% in the last decade. New York City as a whole has the most women entrepreneurs nationwide at 359,000. Brooklyn has a higher percentage of women entrepreneurs than any of the other boroughs. Taking on a new business is a stressful experience, but second to having a baby. I am always in awe when I meet women who decide to do both at the same time. What motivates them to take on both the risk of business and a child? Who are these brave women who take on such a duel challenge? What advice do they have for other women out there who hope to hustle as they waddle? In this on-going series, we will speak to moms who survived babies in their business!
Our next moms have created their own unique recipes for success, literally. Joyce Quitasol is a trained pastry chef and owner of Joyce Bakeshop in Prospect Heights. Emma Graves and Molly Watman are trained herbalists with their own line of cleansing and skincare products sold at Brooklyn Herborium, in Carroll Gardens. They recently sat down with me to talk about why they started their businesses. In Part 1 of Babies in Your Business, the topic of work/family incompatibility arose, but these three women were driven by more idealistic goals. Joyce, Emma and Molly set out specifically to create different, more supportive work communities for themselves and their employees.
Before having children Joyce Quitasol studied pastry at the French Culinary Institute here in NYC. She continued to hone her skills at the River Café, Abigail Kirsch Catering, and Eleni’s Cookies, but she always envisioned herself starting her own bakery. Professional kitchens are not easy places for women to find a voice. It is an intense, male dominated world, especially in pastry. In the culinary world Joyce states, “Pastry is an afterthought. Women are an afterthought.” She also felt that a lot of kitchen workers did not get the respect they deserved. Kitchen workers take pride in their work, but it tends to go unrecognized because the focus in restaurants is in the dining room, not back in the kitchen.
Working in this world, Joyce also realized that it would be extremely hard to negotiate motherhood with a job that required working nights, weekends, and holidays. It would always be a struggle to find the right schedule. Plus, there was no maternity leave or health insurance available to her. In the restaurant world, if you leave, your job is simply given away.
Thus, Joyce anticipated that her desire to start a family would be irreconcilable with the demands and culture of a restaurant career. Armed with the experience and skills she developed, Joyce envisioned something more idealistic for herself,
“I wanted to have my own business to create a more equal environment. I wanted to create a bakery where all the workers respect each other. It’s idealistic. We hired a lot of good talent and really tried to respect the workers in terms of pay, attitude, behavior, and a lot of good communication between front and back. We’re a team and we all partake in it. A lot of that is forgotten in the restaurant world.”
She started Joyce Bakeshop with this vision in 2006 and waited two years for the business to stabilize before having a child. Joyce first created a community of invested, competent staff, so that when she had her first child she could feel secure. Joyce had experience in high stress kitchens, had a tenacity for planning, and possessed foresight about her needs a as mother few of us can muster before having children. In spite of this she says, “I didn’t know what stress was until I had a baby.”
She worked in the bakery until she gave birth and then returned one week later. Joyce thought she could keep up the normal pace of work and not sacrifice any time with her daughter. At times, she had the infant papoosed to her or sleeping in the office while she worked. “I had this idealized notion that I really could do it all, but I felt like I was failing at everything.” Her daughter was having trouble nursing and Joyce went through a brief period of postpartum depression.
“Having my first child was harder than starting this business. Everything was so unpredictable and I was so scared all the time. I was always wondering Am I going to get through this day?”
Thankfully, her husband and co-owner Mo Chin stepped in at the bakery and her valued staff rose to the challenge.
Eventually Joyce coordinated the new rhythms of motherhood with the dynamics of the bakery. She realized she had to choose her battles and delegate more responsibility. Joyce had always enjoyed the early morning bake-off, but traded that to spend mornings with her first child. She enjoyed being able to drop her child off at the Montessori school that is just above the bakery. Over time, Joyce learned to be more strategic and efficient, knowing what things to let go. Then she had a second and third child, somehow acquiring more balance in her life with each successive pregnancy.
“Now it’s really perfect. With my third child I’ve got a good routine down. I know what to expect with a child. I know what sacrifices have to be made whether it’s at the bakery or at home. And I’m much more willing to make those adjustments than I was with my first child.”
Joyce admits trying to be supermom the first time around, and advises other new moms who see themselves in business to,
“be prepared to be flexible and work really hard. There were times I really wanted to quit, but you just take it one day at a time. If you have a passion for what you are doing, you have to stick with it.”
Now 10 years and 3 children later, she reaps the benefits of being her own boss, particularly when it comes to flexibility around sick days. If her nanny or child fall ill, it is not a high stress situation because she or her husband can be there. Joyce also has the freedom to volunteer in her children’s school or attend an occasional field trip, something her own parents could never do as employees who commuted.
Through the Bakeshop, Joyce and her husband have been able to enjoy a kind of small town community. Her children really feel a sense of belonging between the bakery’s staff, regular patrons and the Montessori school. Walking into Joyce Bakeshop you can see why they have regulars. It is an oasis of tranquility and teacakes off busy Vanderbilt Ave.
Just as Joyce Quitasol created the work environment she desired, Brooklyn Herborium is the brainchild of two trained herbalists who believe in creating the reality that will best suit their needs as mothers. That meant including their children’s needs into the design of their business. Emma Graves was an herbalist and a licensed aesthetician with a holistic skincare line she created out of her home called Between You and the Moon. Molly Watman was a graphic designer who began making cleansing products out of concern for the chemicals contained in commercial products. They met in Baby/Mama Yoga and quickly connected on their holistic life philosophy.
That shared philosophy became a desire to connect other branches of their lives. As a result, Brooklyn Herborium is not just a store, it is a holistic business/life plan that incorporates their young families, their professional skills, and their healthy living concerns. Emma explained the goal was not only to make skincare products, but to forge a “simple peaceful existence to make the world a better place for our kids, for ourselves, for our clients. And to prove that doing right prevails!”
To that end, Molly became inspired to create the Baby Moon Collection, a holistic baby line that parents can feel confident is truly free of harmful ingredients. Babies in tow, the pair began creating tons of diaper cream, in addition to Emma’s Between You and the Moon line from home. Eventually Emma and Molly realized they needed to move production out of their homes. They could no longer tear their kitchens apart to fill large orders, particularly from Diaperkind, a business we’ll meet in Part 3. They decided to design a factory space and shop that incorporated their children’s lives on Columbia St.
Touring the Herborium facility, you can see how the families of Molly and Emma are totally part of the business. They created a space in the center of the store that was not only for the clients, but also the children. On your way back to get a private facial, you will pass this family space behind shelves of neatly place products. It is a mother’s refuge complete with a nursing chair and toys. There is always a stroller somewhere in the store, but customers don’t mind. Emma states, “Our customers know that our children are part of the business.” You even see their children’s images on the Baby Moon Zinc Ointment. Similarly, the factory next door is an impressive operation organized with bottles, scales and apothecary kettles. But there is a large separate play space where Molly and Emma’s 4 children can relax with books and toys.
Brooklyn Herborium is a constant flurry of activity, involving 12-15 staff as well as two nannies and various apprentices—a seemingly ideal work community. When I visited, Emma miraculously managed this community of staff between breast feedings. She cautions that what seems easy now did not happen overnight. Emma states, “We didn’t just wake up one day and decide to make soap.” Emma emphasizes that she and Molly are trained herbalists, who studied and researched their craft prior to starting their business. Emma is a NY State licensed aesthetician and trained skincare specialist. She hopes that before women dive into a business, they first recognize that it is a tremendous endeavor and offers this wonderful insight.
“The creative process really flows when you are in new motherhood and you can’t get your hands on all of the things that you have in your mind that you want to do. But your brain is screaming, I have so much I want to do! And during that time just try to capture as much as you can with papers and notes to self. Capture the ideas but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t physically get them into your hands yet.”
Molly, however, feels less cautious.
“Our society is ready for mothers and babies in business! Create your own reality and space where your can bring your child. Set priorities so they include family time, ask for help where you need it, and you will succeed.”
Creating a supportive reality is precisely what the women of Brooklyn Herborium and Joyce Bakeshop have done. Molly Watman, Emma Graves, and Joyce Quitasol sought to create the work community that would not only be compatible with motherhood, but also incorporate their ideals. Rather than compartmentalizing vital aspects of their lives, they incorporated them into holistic business plans. They included their families and envisioned the kind of work environment that would support their employees and keep them invested as well.
Next in the series, we’ll talk to two business owners who throw a wrench in the idea that opening a business necessarily leads to better work/life balance. Stay tuned for the next Babies in Your Business!