We love to see women bounce back from pitfalls and create the lives of their dreams! This is exactly what our Shop Crush, Kyra of Kyra’s Bake Shop, did! We so admire her for her incredible journey! From being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease to being a three-time winner of Cupcake Wars, she has really taken the leap, leading her to the very successful, healthy, and happy life she is living now! Today, we’re sharing her amazing story with you:
You were diagnosed with autoimmune disease when you were 20 years old. Can you tell us a little bit about how that really drove your interest in gluten-free living, and how that ultimately lead to the start of Kyra’s Bake Shop?
After my diagnosis, I spent 8 years in and out of the hospital. I was on steroids for much of that time, getting chemotox infusions every 6 weeks, and when that failed to keep my inflammation and digestion symptoms under control, I was put on class D drugs and having to get my brain and liver function tested every 3 months to be sure they were still working. Not only did I not feel a whole lot better, but it was scary! I continued to decline and finally my gastroenterologist wanted to do surgery to remove my intestines. I was in my late 20’s at the time, and this meant I would have a colostomy bag for the rest of my life. The prospect of this scared me, so I suggested that I try going gluten-free to see if it would reduce the inflammation enough that I would respond to my medicine. My mom has Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (an autoimmune disorder affecting her thyroid) and controlled her symptoms with a gluten-free diet, and had been pushing me to try being gluten-free. It wasn’t until I was faced with potential surgery, which wouldn’t even be a guarantee of a cure, that I seriously considered changing my life.
So I cut gluten out of my diet. I immediately felt a ton better, but at the time, there were not a lot of delicious options that were gluten-free. I had always loved to bake for friends and family and decided to go to pastry school to learn how to bake professionally. One thing I learned while in school was the function of specific ingredients and what role they played in baked goods. I used this knowledge to start playing with gluten-free ingredients: amaranth flour, millet flour, tapioca starch, rice flour, etc., and began figuring out the properties of each grain and flour, and more importantly, what tasted good to me. I spent 2 years creating recipes I was proud of, and I continue to play with them to make them better, healthier, more flavorful.
I did all this on the side of my normal day job, just hoping to have a handful of recipes for pastries I was excited to eat and share. In the early days, it never crossed my mind to open a gluten-free bakery. I was working in local restaurants and started getting orders on the side from people wanting me to make their gluten-free wedding cake, baby shower cupcakes, or birthday pies. It was very much word-of-mouth marketing at first, and spiraled from there.
Congrats on being a three-time winner of Cupcake Wars! What advice would you give to Get It Girls who are just starting their business and wanting to get some extra PR exposure or added credibility for their business like you have done for Kyra’s Bake Shop?
Cultivate relationships! Being on the Food Network certainly helped my business both locally and nationally. But being pleasant to everyone I meet, whether or not I can help them with what they’re looking for, has probably carried me even further. I have a policy where I always like to say yes, whether it’s to an interview, or speaking engagement, or donation request. But because I don’t have the time and budget to follow through with everything people request of me, I try to figure out what will work for me, and make a counter-offer. An example: I receive a handful of donation requests every day, and while I can’t gift every cause, no matter how worthy, I often have a little leeway where I can offer a discount for product purchased for the event. Then, the decision to proceed (or not) is theirs.
What was the scariest part of starting your own business and what advice would you give Get It Girls who are afraid to take the leap?
The scariest part is just leaping in and doing it. I think it’s a different process for everyone, but for me, I needed to think through the worst-case scenario (what if I invest my money and time into this project, and it fails?), and then come up with my plan as to how I’d deal with that. In this case, I figured I could always get a job with a local bakery or restaurant. I’d actually be more employable because I would have had a focus on inventory, ordering, cost analysis, HR, etc. If we couldn’t pay our bills, my husband and I could move in with the in-laws. Having a supportive husband who encouraged me when I started chickening out really helped as well. I guess it boils down to surrounding yourself with people who believe in you and what you’re doing so that when you forget, or start second-guessing yourself, you have that support network reminding you why you are fabulous and uniquely qualified to do what you do! Know that you can handle the worst-case scenario and the world will still go on. And something I like to remind myself of: there really isn’t failure, there is only feedback as to what doesn’t work as well. Tweak your plan, dust yourself off, and get moving again.
What and when was your “ah-ha moment,” when you decided you wanted to start Kyra’s Bake Shop and what advice would you give our readers who are looking and waiting to have that same moment, but are unsure what their passion is?
Shortly after my wedding, my husband was reading aloud Steve Jobs’ commencement address to Stanford University. In it, Jobs’ states something along the lines of: “You spend too much time at work to hate what you are doing. If you are unhappy more than half the time, change what you do.” This really resonated with me and I had tears streaming down my face. At the time, I had a desk job that wasn’t fulfilling or creative but I didn’t know what I was “supposed” to do with my life. My husband said, “Quick, without stopping to think about it: if you were graduating today, what would you want to do?” I blurted out, “I’d go to pastry school.” He shrugged and said, “So go to pastry school.” I protested that we had a mortgage and bills to pay and he was finishing his doctorate, but he encouraged me to sign up and said we’d figure it out along the way. I enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu the next day.
Right now, there is no “typical.” Some days I’m in the kitchen, working on recipe development. Some days I’m focusing on PR, doing interviews, or writing for my next cookbook (my first cookbook was published by TenSpeed Press: “Sweet Cravings: 50 seductive desserts for the gluten-free lifestyle”). Some days I’m simply meeting with staff and training them on new protocols. Some days it’s all about accounting and making sure bills are being paid. And some days are a mix of these.
How do you balance owning and growing your own business with your personal life, and what advice would you give others who are struggling to balance pursuing their dream while maintaining personal relationships, day to day responsibilities, etc.?
Honestly, there isn’t a balance. It’s about choosing what to prioritize. My business has completely taken precedence over my social life. Luckily, I have a supporting husband who has left his day job (he’s a chiropractic physician) to run operations at Kyra’s Bake Shop. It’s the only way we ever really see each other and we’re both having fun with him involved in the business. The laundry and dishes at home pile up. I don’t vacuum as often as I should. We sometimes (oftentimes) don’t have a real dinner: it’s either takeout or what I call “picnic dinner,” where we eat apple slices, cheese, gluten-free crackers, and some sort of vegetable, or a box of gluten-free macaroni and cheese. But we’ve made the decision to focus on the business right now and put our efforts in that direction. Most of my friends are people who also own businesses so they understand what it takes, and where we are mentally and energetically. And the older I get, the more I find myself cultivating relationships with people who get it,and who don’t guilt trip. But instead maybe send a quick message letting me know they’re thinking of me so that when I have a chance to breathe, I can message them back and plan a time to get together.
What’s next for you and for Kyra’s Bake Shop? Where do you see yourself and the business in two years?
That’s a great question. I’m not sure what’s next. We just opened up our newly-expanded bake shop and cafe in November, and added new product lines to it (sandwiches, cocktails, savory items like quiche and pretzel dogs, all gluten-free of course). We have discussed opening more locations across the country. I’m working on cookbook #2. And I love doing television, so having my own show would be phenomenal! But as for what’s next? I’m not sure!
What is the most important piece of advice you have ever received? What is your favorite inspirational quote?
I love Goethe’s quote about boldness: “Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now!” Have the courage to just begin. You don’t need to know the whole path before you start and you don’t need to know how to do everything you want to do– you just need to go do it. I heard Elise Blaha Cripe speak at a conference once, and she said she learned a lot by watching her toddler learn to walk. He didn’t sit back and read about how to walk, then observe people walking, and then get up and do it perfectly. He took a step and fell. He got up, took another step, and fell. Eventually, he was taking two and three steps before he fell, and each time he’d just get up again. That’s how he learned to walk. He didn’t quit after he fell the first time or the second, but when it comes to business and doing the things we want to do, so often we have this attitude of, “Oh, it didn’t work perfectly the first or second time. I fell so I am going to give up.” That’s not the way to succeed. Try something. See how it works. Tweak it and try again. And again. That’s the way to succeed.
Styling by Jessica Wilcox