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So You Wanna Start A Microbakery with Chelsa Smith from Bread By Chelsa B

Welcome to our So You Wanna Start A... series, designed to give you a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at the journeys that went into creating some of your favorite local brands.

Today's guest is Chelsa Smith from Bread By Chelsa B, a microbakery in Des Moines, Iowa. 

Our favorite piece of advice: "Be brave, ask for what you want, and say thank you." You'll never know unless you ask and there are so many willing souls out there who would offer up their help if you'd just ask. Be gracious and open to learning and your business can move so much further.

If you're curious about starting a microbakery, learn a little more from Chelsa and connect with her using the links below!

1. What do you own and why did you start this business?

I own a microbakery and everything is made in my home. I specialize in artisan sourdough bread, so I make any type of sourdough bread you can think of. Everything is naturally leavened with a sourdough starter, so there's no commercial yeast in anything I do. I use all organic flour that's sourced from Breadtopia in Fairfield, Iowa. I'm really passionate about using local grain economy and regionally sourced grains, so we're keeping all the good nutrients that are within our region in the breads that we're consuming.

There was about a six month gap between when I realized that I wanted to make this my career to when I actually left my full time job. I was baking on the weekends and working 50 hours a week, while also being a partner and a parent. As we rolled into January, I was doing both and it was a lot and I was going in so many different directions. As the world started to open back up, I realized that I couldn't do all of it. I couldn't be a really great employee to my company 50 hours a week, a really great baker, a really great parent, and a really great partner. I felt like I needed to make a choice. I knew the bread thing had legs because it was growing on its own. There was effort behind it, but it was also a natural progression. I surveyed a lot of people around me before I made the decision to finally quit my job. When I did, I didn't look back.

2. What is an early win you had that made you feel like you were on the right path?

Our mutual friend Amy owns BOCS DSM, which is a locally curated gift boxing business. She wanted to do a date night box, and she came to me and asked if I could make 100 focaccia. At that point, I was only thinking 12-15 focaccia, and I was like can I do 100? It wasn't something that seemed overwhelming, it was something that I thought I could do, but I needed to figure out how to get there. I got out my spreadsheets and blocked off time to figure out how many pans I needed and how much oven time I needed. The response from the date night box was huge, and people started reaching out and asking about the focaccia. This was also the first time I thought about what my product looked like from a packaging perspective and thought about what the cost of wholesale would be if I wanted to do that more often. It was exciting and I became enthusiastically obsessed with it for like two weeks when I was problem solving. 

3. What's one of the biggest challenges you’ve had?

It's the lesson that I've had to learn over and over again, which is just because I can do more doesn't mean I should. I'm an ambitious person by nature, I'm an enneagram 3, and I love to grow and succeed. Being in this space and allowing the moment to be is something that I keep having to learn. I can make more bread, but how does that impact my family and my energy? That has been the biggest challenge for me.

4. What are three pieces of advice you’d give to aspiring local business owners in your industry?

1) Make sure there is room for you in the marketplace. There's always enough space for everyone and I'm definitely a person that believes in abundance. When I was looking at the market, I loved finding all these new businesses starting up during the pandemic and I realized that no one was doing bread. I was like wait a minute, I could be the person doing bread! But that's not to say that just because there's 50 macaron makers, doesn't mean there can't be one more. Survey the market and figure out what your niche is.

2) Utilize your community. The baking community, the small business community, the maker community, the farming community, the small business association, the Des Moines Partnership, etc. All of these entities have been my foundational to my business launch. I made a goal to meet with one woman-owned small business a month, and that quickly became almost once a week because I had so many people I wanted to meet with. Even though we have different businesses, there's a lot I can learn from them. I'll ask them about how they handle insurance, how they block a schedule, who they utilize for their local resources, etc. The people I met with would end up recommending me for events and other things because I had taken time to network. Put yourself out there. 

3) Ask for what you want. I have been friends with Jenny Quiner, who owns Dogpatch Urban Gardens, for a long time, and I asked to meet with her when my business was about two months old. It's not like I met with with her so that I could sell bread at her farm stand, I really wanted to talk with her about how she got her business started because I've watched it evolve. At the end of the meeting, I told her if she ever needed bread at her farm stand to let me know. I also sent her an email two weeks later telling her to let me know if she needs bread at her farm stand when summer rolls around. As I progressed through the summer and had more success, I told her about it and she was super generous and allowed me to continue to bring bread to her farm stand every week. She took a risk on me, but I also kept asking for it and that was really scary. I just knew that was somewhere I was supposed to be. There's also a sourdough baker in Mount Vernon and I had never been in anyone else's kitchen before, so I emailed him and asked to bake with him for a day. He said yes and that he would teach me what he knows. Be brave, ask for what you want, and say thank you.

5. Where is your business heading next and what are you excited about?

I will probably work out of my home for as long as I can until I start to physically and mentally grow out of this space. I have two more ovens coming to my house that are meant for microbakers, so after I get those hopefully I will be able to produce more bread for more people more often. I usually do one or two pop-ups or pick-ups a month at my house. I have an email newsletter and it's the quickest and easiest way to find out about sales, pop ups, and what's going on in my business.

Find Chelsa & Bread By Chelsa B:

Instagram: @breadbychelsab

 Want to be featured in our SYWSA series? Fill out our contact form here to get the ball rolling.


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