Welcome to Trading Places, a small-business series which takes a look at entrepreneurs who have successfully transitioned from working in the corporate world to founding their own business. If you have such a story you'd like to share, please email me.
At 25, Amy Berman found herself sitting in on creative meetings with seasoned writers for
Will & Grace
, traveling to New York to help out on shoots and mingling with celebrities and screenwriters in a world run by big brands like
At the end of the day, she wasn't taken by Tinseltown.
"I know how many hours it takes to survive in the industry and I wasn't passionate enough to devote my whole life to it," Berman says.
Instead, she left it all for a lifelong love: Baking.
In 2004, Berman quit her job and joined culinary school. Three years later, she still works crazy hours but loves every minute of her new life as the owner of a Santa Monica pastry shop.
: Writer's assistant
: Founder and owner of
Vanilla Bake Shop
: Berman, now 30, went from sitting at an office desk for eight hours a day to never sitting still. During the opening week of her shop, she was only getting one or two hours of sleep a night.
"Getting our systems into place was the hardest part," she says. "As much as you research you just don't know what you're getting yourself into ... or how you're going to make cakes."
As the kinks work themselves out, Berman says starting the shop was the best decision she's ever made.
: A big chunk of money goes into rent while a store is being built out and going through volumes of boxes and equipment can get expensive she says.
"High-end ingredients don't come cheap," Berman adds. "We use real crushed vanilla beans and our chocolate is from Belgium."
Her company's edge
: "We're not a huge assembly line," Berman points out. "Everything is the best quality because it's made fresh every day."
In addition to serving scrumptious sweets, Berman takes care of her customers. "When customers want something specially ordered or designed we try to give them what they want," she says.
What she wishes she knew before
: If a
contractor seems too good to be true they probably are.
"Pay a little extra and get somebody that has a thousand references and can crank out a store quickly," she advises. "It's expensive when you're postponing your opening, paying your rent and dealing with somebody that's incompetent."
: "Anybody who likes sweets," the baker says. "We have a lot of repeat customers and neighborhood regulars who like to have coffee and hang out."
Some famous visitors have included Mel Gibson, Brad Garrett and Kristin Davis.
Some product favorites
: Vanilla Bake Shop's cupcake babies -- bite size cupcakes -- are the most popular, Berman says. Among these the Mom's Birthday Cake, a yellow butter cake, is a big hit, as are the Southern Red Velvets made with cream cheese frosting.
: Stay true to yourself and your ingredients, says Berman. "Never, never give up and don't compromise your quality."