Chef Amanda Schonberg, Chef Schonberg’s Sweets
Phone: (225) 590-0364
Facebook: Chef Schonberg’s Sweets
When I sat down (over Zoom) to talk to Chef Amanda Schonberg at about 2:00 P.M., she was preparing for an evening class with her Baking for Business students. She’d already finished all of her baking for Chef Schonberg’s Sweets – her main cottage business – as well as cleaned the house, eaten, and found the time to read for an hour. After we’d met, and after she’d taught her virtual class, she was planning to do paperwork for her bakery clients, follow up on orders, have dinner, and relax with her husband for an hour before bed. When I asked how she’d been able to cram so much into her day, she replied, “I’m a big fan of time-blocking” – the practice of focusing on one activity for an extended length of time, rather than bouncing between tasks as they require – “it’s all about balance and block scheduling.”
Chef Schonberg wasn’t always a chef, of course. When she was young, she helped her aunts and mom cook – her mother’s famous dish was a pound cake imbued with a liqueur like Disarrono – but she originally went to school for medical coding. She realized fairly quickly that wasn’t for her, though, and went to culinary school instead. Afterward, she decided to make alcohol-infused cakes her unique selling proposition, and Chef Schonberg’s Sweets was born as a cottage bakery. She became quickly successful – “I baked cakes for some celebrities, Food Network stars, musicians, authors,” she told me – and other chefs started noticing. “People were like, ‘Well if you can do it, I can do it too, will you help me?’ And it’s not like I don’t mind helping for free!” she laughed. “But when I noticed it picking up, I realized that this in itself could be a business also,” so she started Baking for Business, a virtual learning platform to help other cottage bakers realize their potential.
Cottage bakeries are poised to become more profitable in the current economy, says Schonberg. During, the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s been able to stay open when so many other businesses have had to close. In fact, her business has doubled during lockdown, because she’s been able to “put on my gloves and my Lysol and have contact-free delivery.” And she thinks this is only the beginning. Although a sense of normalcy will eventually return, she thinks many of the changes in the past year will be permanent. “We’re going to look back when we’re 70, 80, and it’ll be like when people talk about the stock market crashing. I see this as being the big boom for online businesses, or businesses that offer delivery.” And in fact, evidence of the economy’s move to online shopping is evident even now. Chef Schonberg shared the news that Godiva, the famous chocolate brand, is closing all of their storefronts, which she says is going to increase the demand for cottage bakers.
However, when I asked if she’d ever thought about moving out of her house and into a storefront, her answer was an emphatic “No.” “I love baking from home,” she says, both for the tax and storefront savings, and because “for me personally, it’s more exclusive. People like knowing they’re getting something that’s personalized for them,” that was made by someone who they can see, even if socially-distanced.
Of course, because she doesn’t have a physical store for people to drive or walk by, marketing is all the more important. Chef Schonberg is a maven at marketing, which she attributes to her previous experience managing retail bakeries, as well as a lot of reading from the library, which she makes sure to tell her students. “I was just telling them about the library last night,” in a class called “Idea to Income” – “Y’all have so many great resources, from SCORE, to SBA, even validating recipes.” She also told me that she gets all of her marketing books from the library’s shelves, and encourages her students to make its use.
She also stressed the importance of community: a mantra of hers is “serve the same area that you sell.” She’s a member of the Mid-City Makers’ Market and Partners One, which facilitates local bartering, which Schonberg regularly takes advantage of. “Last week, I locked my keys in the car. And I called the mechanic, didn’t have to pay for it because I used trade, and he said, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it, but for Valentine’s Day, I need a cake for my wife and my mother-in-law.’ And I said, “Deal!’” She credits her flexibility as a cottage business and the vibrancy of the Baton Rouge small business community for those smaller successes.
As our interview came to a close, I asked her what advice she’d give to a budding entrepreneur. She had two: “Use all the resources that are readily available,” whether that be the library, other entrepreneurs, or your community, and “begin with the end in mind.” She plans all of her moves, and that’s brought her success.
Article by Case Duckworth