Archive for the ‘Three Green Ducks’ Category

Another Chapter Comes To A Close

January 14th, 2012 | Rachel

Today marks my last day working at the Three Green Ducks (which, as many of you already know, is not the real name of the bakery).  If you haven’t read about how I ended up with the job, here’s the back story.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been a paid member of the baking industry for almost six months now.  Its even harder to believe that I haven’t done any substantial lawyer work (outside helping a few friends) in almost eight months.

I can’t say I’ve missed being a lawyer.  I guess that is a good sign that I am onto something better suited for me.  Don’t get me wrong, working as a corporate litigator was really interesting sometimes.  I know I loved the job when I first started.  I liked how mentally taxing it was.  At the end of a great day of work, my brain would be exhausted from processing and analyzing so much information.  When people asked what I did, I usually told them I was a professional problem solver.  The client would come in with their million dollar problem, and the partner(s) would divide it up into multiple layers of very specific problems, which were then assigned to us associates to solve.  As the case progressed, you got to see how your work product fit together with everyone else’s to solve the headlining problem.  Of course that was usually just saving one giant corporation’s money from another giant corporation, but it was still an interesting intellectual exercise.  It wasn’t something I could put my heart into.

In contrast, as I have mentioned before, I really believe in working at the bakery.  I believe in the physical product itself, and I believe in what it means for the people who buy it.  I believe that operating a bakery is a direct service to the community, and I believe it adds to people’s quality of life.

When I get sucked into wondering how my bakery will ever be as successful as the Three Green Ducks, I get overwhelmed and discouraged.  However, when I start thinking about the individual components — the recipes, the presentation, the message I want to communicate to the customers — and why I want to start my own business, I get excited and energized.

My only complaint about working at the Three Green Ducks — and I hope none of my coworkers take offense to this — but after a few months I did start to feel like my brain was starting to melt.  This shouldn’t come as any surprise.  After all, I was hired to be a physical body behind the counter… not a brain.

There were little opportunities here and there to think creatively.  I pointed out an inconsistency with the price of pie slices that led to a new pie-pricing scheme.  I made a protective shield out of shopping bags and packing tape to protect a stack of cake boxes that would get dirty every time someone emptied the coffee grinds into a nearby trashcan.  For a couple of months I tried to convince the Powers In Charge that putting everything in the cake case perpendicular to the window and leaving the case facing the window empty discouraged people walking by from stopping in.  If the first thing someone sees when they peak in the window is an empty cake case, its unlikely they are going to investigate further.  (The explanation I was given for not changing the placement of the cakes was that they didn’t sell as well when put in the case facing the window.)  On slow days, I recalculated what I thought the price of certain products should be.  For example, if you sell a 10″ cheesecake for $53 whole or cut it into slices that sell for $4 each (totaling $54 for a whole cake’s worth) even though it takes an employee a good 30 minutes to cut the slices, then you are making less money off of the slices and should keep more of the whole cakes in the case to sell.

Of course, it is easy for me to sit back at a distance and poke holes in my employer’s business model when I have no idea what goes on behind the scenes.

I’m excited to tackle these kinds of issues of my own, and I am looking forward to the intellectual challenge of creating and running a viable business.  There’s really no end to the subjects I am going to have to learn: building codes, food safety regulations, employee issues, advertising, finances, business-related technology, in addition to the chemistry of baking in bulk.

I’m sure I will continue to reflect on all of the things I learned while working at the Three Green Ducks.  It was very enriching experience, and I felt like I had a lot of sincere ‘goodbyes’ today.

Ok, where were we?

January 9th, 2012 | Rachel

Operation West Coast is officially in motion.

My last day at Three Green Ducks is this Friday.  Yes, kind of sad.

My dad (who is on break from his adventures in Afghanistan) is driving up in my new sweet ride (his old minivan) next Tuesday.

If all goes as planned, I’m renting a uHaul trailer a couple of days later and loading it up with the few pieces of furniture I am keeping plus as many boxes as will fit.

My friend Davina is then graciously driving with me down to Auburn, Alabama starting next Friday where I’ll hang out for a couple of weeks while Steve flies back from the ship and gets his own affairs in order.

Finally, at the end of January, Steve and I will drive to California and start that whole new chapter of life.

Piece of cake, right?

Hurricane is a-comin’. Better stock up on cupcakes.

August 27th, 2011 | Rachel

If you have followed the news at all the past week, you may have heard that there is a hurricane heading toward New York City.  Its name is Irene.

Although Irene is causing concern up and down the whole east coast, if it does hit NYC, it will present some unique problems and possibly cause quite a bit of concentrated damage.

In an abundance of caution, Mayor Bloomberg is shutting down our entire public transportation system starting at noon tomorrow.  Since the subways and buses are arguably the lifeline of the city, this is a huge deal.  Personally, I think everyone is going a little overboard, but after the national embarrassment New York City suffered this past winter when it was crippled by a series of snow storms, the powers that be aren’t taking any chances.

I worked the afternoon shift today at the bakery today.  Fridays are great because they are busy enough to be fun but not so crazy that you want to pull your hair out.

Since I didn’t have to be at work until 1pm, I ran some hurricane-related errands in the morning and stocked up on water and nonperishable food.  For all of you in the south who have done this drill so many times you could do it in your sleep… try doing it without a car!  I was lucky to find an old rolling cart in Steve’s apartment that I used to drag my fifty pounds of water and canned food up the hill and, thankfully, into the elevator of Steve’s building.

When I later decided to weather the storm at my own apartment, I had to pack one of my 2.5 gallon water jugs (carrying both was unthinkable) with my food in a large suitcase, drag it out to a cab, pay $20 for the ride, and sweet talk my friend Arthur into carrying it up the stairs to my fourth-floor apartment.

Soon after I arrived at work, I learned the bakery would be closed over the weekend due to the approaching storm.  The first order of business for the managers was to call all of the custom cake orders that were scheduled to be picked up Saturday and Sunday and tell them the bad news.  It didn’t help that we had so many orders for the weekend that we had reached capacity earlier in the week and had to turn people away.  Meanwhile, the four of us working out front were left to deal with the steady stream of people coming into the shop.

At first we thought it was just the usual Friday business, but then the line reached the door — and out the door — and never died down.  The orders were unusual as well.  Many of our regulars came in, clearly concerned that we would be closed for the next two days, and ordered two or three times as much as they normally did.  A higher percentage of people bought cakes and declined the complimentary inscription — a sign that they would be eating them at home rather than taking them to a birthday or anniversary party.

We quickly sold out of our chocolate cream pies and peanut butter chunk cookies.  The lemon pucker cupcakes and banana chocolate chip muffins soon followed.  All were purchased by worried customers.

A woman came into the shop late in the afternoon to order a cake for her dinner party on Monday night.  The manager politely informed her that the bakery would be closed over the weekend because of the hurricane and would not be able to make any custom cakes for Monday.  “But I have a dinner party!” the woman exclaimed.  “What am I supposed to DO???”

A few customers came in to pick up their custom cakes for events that had already been canceled.  One man in particular picked up two birthday cakes for a party that was supposed to be in a town in New Jersey that had been evacuated.  Sadly, Grandma Jean wouldn’t get to see her “Happy Birthday Grandma Jean” cake.  I hope they will at least send her a picture.  The cake was very pretty.

With an hour until close, we were sold out of most of our cupcakes, cookies, scones, muffins and pies.  Since our wholesale orders would not be delivered, we were able to sell those cupcakes as well.  During the final stretch, a customer asked for the last two red velvet cupcakes on the tray.  I told him the people in line behind him were going to hate him.  He said he had been thinking the same thing.  As I picked up those last two cupcakes, I could see a look of panic rise in the eyes of the woman behind him… and the man behind her.  “Are there any more?” she asked, desperately.  I reluctantly said no.  The woman and the man both scanned the rest of the store, considering their options.  Then I remembered the rest of the wholesale cupcakes.  I took the sad, empty tray into the kitchen and returned with it full of red velvet.  More than one person in line breathed a sigh of relief.

At 8:03pm the manager locked the door.  We bagged and boxed orders for the rest of the people in line, and then breathed our own sigh of relief after the last two stragglers finally left.  We ignored the couple with pleading eyes knocking on the door… and the man with the baby.  Sorry buddy, it’ll take more than a cute baby to get a cupcake from us once we lock that door.

I’m anxious to see what this storm is going to do, but regardless, I will be eating a chocolate mousse cake while I’m waiting.

Life As A Cupcake Peddler

August 11th, 2011 | Rachel

I’ve been at the new job at the Three Green Ducks for about a week and a half now.  So, what it is like finally living out my five-year-old fantasy of working at a bakery?  Honestly, it’s kind of awesome.

I’ve sampled about 15% of the products in the store — cookies, cupcakes, slices of pie, cake, coffee cake, and muffins (still need to try some scones and bars) — and everything is truly wonderful.  The owner, who is downstairs baking with the team most days, puts a lot of thought into the recipes, and most of them are pretty close to perfect.  The bakers are careful and consistent, and we don’t sell anything that doesn’t meet the bakery’s high standards.  Even if it tastes right but looks kind of weird, we’ll cut it up and give it out as free samples (or eat it ourselves).

I’ve had a slice of the cherry pie every day this week, and if we are slicing it again today, I just might have to have another one.  Its my favorite thing in the store right now.

Coming from my last job, it feels kind of strange to be involved in something I so strongly and personally believe in.  I know, it’s sad to say, but I’m not used to it.  At my last job, I was part of the general litigation group at a big law firm.  We usually dealt with contract disputes between large companies.  Our job was to help our huge corporate client protect their money whether they deserved it or not.

I’m not hating on the system.  If a huge corporation wants to spend its own money to hire sophisticated lawyers to try and get more money from another huge corporation that can also afford sophisticated lawyers, then fine.  Everyone knows what they are getting themselves into, and the lawyers all get paid at the end of the day.  The legal side of it can actually be pretty interesting at times… determining which rules and laws are relevant and strategizing about how to present the laws and facts in a way that is most beneficial to the client.  I rather enjoyed the intellectual side of it, and I never had any moral hesitations about the work I was doing.  I was only in the biz for three years, but I never saw any shady deals or unscrupulous acts by the lawyers.

However, at the end of the day, it wasn’t something I could really believe in.

I do believe in in cupcakes.

In the past week and a half, many people have asked me, “What do you actually do at the bakery?”  To clarify, I am not a baker, and I am not a decorator.  We have two separate teams for those functions, and they are awesome.  We also have a management team that keeps everything running.  The fourth team, of which I am now a member, is the retail and hospitality team.

We say hello and smile at you when you come into the store.  We ask you how we can help you, and we tell you about the wonderful things we are selling.  We help you decide what kind of cake you should buy and how big it should be.  We write complementary phrases on the cakes (well, I don’t, but I have been practicing my cake calligraphy) and tell you the best way to serve them.  We also put muffins and scones in paper bags, make lattes and cappuccinos, and run the cash register.  If you are a regular, we might ask you how the kids are doing or chat about the weather.

I guess you could say I’m a salesperson, but, honestly, the baked goods pretty much sell themselves.  One of the managers told me the other day that Living Social has been calling the bakery relentlessly trying to get us to be one of their daily deals.  For those of you unfamiliar with websites like Living Social, they offer special discounted deals every day for businesses in certain cities.  Living Social takes half of the voucher price (which is usually already discounted 50%), and the business gets exposure.

The Three Green Ducks gets all of the exposure it needs from people taking our baked goods to their offices and family get togethers.  People come in every day looking for something they tried outside the bakery.  I spoke to two women last week from Arizona who were in the city visiting and ventured up to see us because someone told them we were the best bakery in the city.

Going back to my original point, I believe in what I am doing now because my whole purpose is to make people’s days a little bit better.  Baked goods make people happy… I discovered that back in law school when I picked up cake decorating as a creative balance to my otherwise wholly academic existence.  Whether someone is buying themselves a treat or picking up a cake for a loved one, they all come into the store with a look of excitement and anticipation and then leave with a smile on their faces.  Most people are truly thankful when I hand over their bag of muffins and scones or box of cupcakes or pie.  They don’t come to us because they have to, they come because they want to.

Here’s a little bit of what I have to deal with everyday:

Selection of scones baked daily

Part of our huge selection of cupcakes

Decorated cakes

Everyone’s favorite cookie

It’s refreshing, to say the least.

By the way, thank you to everyone who has stumbled upon my blog.  If you haven’t done so already, scroll to the bottom of this page and subscribe to my blog.  That way you can keep up with my somewhat sporadic posts.  I promise I won’t spam you.

What’s This About A Bakery?

July 31st, 2011 | Rachel

First day at the new job

Last Friday afternoon, I had plans to meet up with my friend Arthur for a cup of coffee (since his job is cool and gives him half days on Fridays during the summer).  At the last minute, we scrapped the coffee plan and instead met for cupcakes at a bakery in the Upper East Side called the Three Green Ducks.*

I arrived first and immediately noticed a sign on the front door advertising an open position for a full time employee.  The thought of applying crossed my mind and I felt a flutter of excitement in my stomach, but the pragmatic side of my brain quickly brushed it aside and I blamed the gastrointestinal reaction on hunger.  College students work at bakeries.  People who are still paying for their law degrees do not.

When Arthur arrived, he mentioned the sign.  Again, I waved off the idea, saying it was too crazy.  We each purchased our mini-cupcakes and sat down.  The subject of the help wanted sign came up again.

Arthur, like many of my friends, has listened to me ramble about my bed and breakfast dream on many occasions and has always been supportive despite his otherwise very practical nature.  “There’s only one way to learn how to run a business,” he said over his red velvet cupcake.  “You just have to jump in there even when it means starting at the bottom.”  The wheels in my head were spinning.  He had a point.  He then walked back up to the counter and ordered two lemonades and an employment application.

The humbling part about filling out that application is it quickly revealed how under-qualified I was for the job.  Previous employer: Big Anonymous Law Firm.  Skills used: research, writing… and, uh, cite checking?  I was starting to doubt my odds of even being considered.

“Looks like another unemployed lawyer trying to figure out what to do with her life.”

“Toss it.  Let’s hire the high school student who actually knows how to work an espresso machine.”

I left the box for previous salary blank.  The pay discrepancy was nothing short of comical.

Nervously, I handed the application to a friendly-looking person behind the counter.  She looked it over and told me to wait.  She disappeared into the kitchen.  A few minutes later, one of the managers came out and asked if I had time to talk.  We sat at one of the tables, and I tried to explain that I wasn’t insane and actually had legitimate reasons for wanting to work there.  I told her about my future bed and breakfast and California and my love of baking and Martha Stewart.

Since the only employment experience I’ve had since college was in an attorney capacity, she asked a lot of questions about how my lawyering experiences and skills could translate into the bakery environment.  As I discovered while I was talking, there are a lot of ways.  I was getting a good vibe.

She asked if I could hang on a few more minutes and disappeared into the kitchen.  Moments later another manager came out, and I gave my I’m-not-crazy-I-just-really-want-to-work-here speech again.  He talked about the hectic pace, the ornery customers, the dismal pay, the working holidays and everything else that might make me change my mind.  He said he wanted me to have a clear picture as to what I was getting myself into.  In my head, however, I was picturing myself at my desk, the 5 a.m. nights, not being able to have dinner with Steve the night before he went back to the ship because there was a doc review crisis, the thankless partners, the neon lights, the coworkers that never said hello in the hallway, the stale office air…

Suddenly I felt a light bulb turn on in my head.  What was I afraid of?

I was afraid that taking a job at a bakery would ruin my chance of getting a job at another large law firm — something I didn’t even want to do.  In being scared, I was shutting out the myriad of good possibilities that could stem from having this job — a job I’ve actually fantasized about ever since I picked up cake decorating as a hobby in law school and discovered my knack for baking.  Maybe it will help me run a bed and breakfast.  Maybe I’ll open that pie shop I’ve always talked about.  Maybe I’ll write a book about it.  Maybe I’ll be a food writer.  Maybe I’ll work for Martha Stewart.  Maybe I’ll be the next Martha Stewart.  And whatever it is, it doesn’t have to exclude being a lawyer too. Maybe I’ll be a lawyer for small, creative businesses.  Maybe I’ll run a bed and breakfast and have my own solo trusts and estates practice.  Maybe (or, perhaps, probably) I’ll do something completely unexpected.

The second manager asked me to hold on and disappeared into the kitchen.  I turned around and apologetically told Arthur he could leave if he wanted.  We had been there for an hour at that point.  Arthur said he was going to stay.

Then the first manager came back out and said, “We’d like to hire you.”

A new chapter began.



*The bakery isn’t actually called the Three Green Ducks.  Out of respect for them I’m not going to use the real name because I don’t want my personal viewpoints to be mistakenly attributed to them.