Like a mound of fresh-made dough, Joanne Canady-Brown’s bakery business needed time to rise.
The Ewing resident carefully rolled out, folded, and layered that dough until it took proper shape. Using her own two flour-dusted hands, Canady-Brown baked The Gingered Peach in Lawrenceville from scratch. And her hard work has yielded delicious results.
Located off Main Street, the 1-year-old bakery tempts visitors with homemade specialties like French croissants, scones, brownies, olive oil cake, cinnamon buns, and cupcakes. From King Arthur flour to Callebaut chocolate, Canady-Brown uses top-notch ingredients and traditional recipes, just like Grandma used to make. “I’m a pineapple-upside-down-cake-in-a-cast-iron-skillet girl,” Canady-Brown says. “I wanted to make the Southern pastry I learned from my grandmother and share it with other people. I wanted simplicity to come back to baked goods.”
Canady-Brown’s love for baking developed early on while watching her Italian grandmother, Johnnie, work magic in the kitchen. “The household I grew up in, we didn’t buy birthday cakes or pre-made food,” Canady-Brown recalls. “Everything was made at home, so there was a real appreciation for cooking and baking that started at a very young age.”
Johnnie grew up on a small farm in Georgia, so she had to rely on creativity in the kitchen when resources were scarce. She taught Joanne that even when you don’t have the exact ingredients the recipe calls for, you can still pull it off. “She would say, ‘That’s OK, just ginger it up.’” Canady-Brown has used a similar “make it work” mentality to achieve small business success. In the beginning, she didn’t have the proper equipment, enough kitchen space, or easy access to capital, but she managed to pull off her dream job just the same.
To pursue her true passion, Canady-Brown first had to muster up the courage to leave her corporate job with a major home goods retailer back in 2008. She had past restaurant experience, as a general manager of Johnny Rockets and training supervisor at Panera Bread, and a degree in economics from Rutgers University, but not the proper tools to launch a profitable business. To boost her chances of success, Canady-Brown returned to Rutgers to pursue her MBA in marketing and supply chain management. By 2011, she felt armed and ready to build a bakery business called Let Them Eat Cake.
The business started out small, with the help of a good friend, Danielle Janelli, who was a French Culinary Institute alumna. Canady-Brown spent all but $500 of her savings to buy materials and equipment and to rent commercial kitchen space. To publicly introduce Let Them Eat Cake, they had planned to sell baked goods at theCommunity Fest in Ewing at The College of New Jersey in October 2011. “I told my husband it would be a great way to test the market and see if people like what I’m making,” Canady-Brown recalls.
They didn’t anticipate the freak snowstorm that would cancel the event—and dampen their spirits. “The only people we sold to that day were other vendors who showed up waiting to find out if the event was canceled,” Canady-Brown says. “It was heartbreaking.” She held back her tears, not wanting anyone else to perceive her fear that her dream was falling apart.
But just as her grandmother would do, Canady-Brown looked at the resources at her fingertips and made the most of the situation. Halloween was only a couple of days later, so she packaged up the baked goods and handed them out with business cards to parents. Not long after, she got a call to make a dessert display for a party. Through word-of-mouth marketing, Let Them Eat Cake grew its customer base. “The business didn’t generate a lot of revenue, but it instilled this sense of confidence that I could do it,” Canady-Brown says.
From there, she saved up enough money to rent a small space inside Arctic Ice Cream in Ewing in June 2012, and to build an even stronger customer following. She also formed a business relationship with Marco Cucchi, owner of Thomas Sweet, to provide baked goods for his Montgomery location. “That really gave me the working capital to stay afloat and continue to operate and hire someone,” Canady-Brown says. (She also hired an unpaid intern, Althea Marr, who has since become the lead baker at The Gingered Peach.)
When Let Them Eat Cake hit its 1-year anniversary, Canady-Brown reached a crossroads. She didn’t have the capital, but knew she had to move into a bigger space in order to grow the business. “We were turning orders away because we couldn’t bring in the equipment we needed to operate efficiently. We were rolling hundreds of croissants a week by hand with a wooden rolling pin,” Canady-Brown says. Cucchi offered her a temporary baking space at Thomas Sweet while she looked for a new location. “I had all these dreams of what the business should be and what I wanted to make,” she says.
A real estate company eventually reached out to Canady-Brown about a vacant building on Gordon Avenue in Lawrenceville, which had operated as a bakery for 50 years. The building was gutted and needed a ton of work, but Canady-Brown saw huge potential. She then shared her vision for The Gingered Peach with the landlords, and they settled on lease terms. Renovations began in July 2014, and the bakery opened its doors on December 6, 2014. Canady-Brown started out with four employees and 20 percent of her reserve money allotted toward labor. It was a big risk, but she wanted to be able to bake enough product to meet customer demand.
Measure of Success
With a small built-in following from the prior business, and some savvy social media skills, excitement buzzed for The Gingered Peach. The first day, the bakery sold out in 2½ hours. With some fine-tuning and practice, each day the staff churned out more product. When the shelves went bare, Canady-Brown would explain what it means to be a scratch bakery. “We’re not going to sell you old stuff from the day before. We bake this for you today so you can eat it the way it was intended to be eaten: fresh and real,” Canady-Brown says. “People appreciated that and were thankful.”
Canady-Brown also built up the wholesale side of the business to boost profitability. Among her customers will be Rojo’s Roastery, a small batch artisan coffee roaster in Lambertville and Princeton. They have the fancy equipment to brew the perfect cup of coffee, but they’re not bakers. On the flip side, Canady-Brown recognizes her own shop’s limitations. For example, all of her bread comes from Terra Momo in Princeton, because they are experts in their craft.
The Gingered Peach has since grown to 14 employees and continues to recruit new personnel. “Every time I added an employee, they paid for themselves,” Canady-Brown says. A bigger staff also meant she could pull back the reins and spend more time with her biggest supporters: her husband, Matthew, and their two children, ages 2 and 4. “If I was doing something that made me miserable, I would be furious with myself for substituting time with my children to be here,” she says. “But I’m doing something I love. I leave here happy. And I go home and I still get to enjoy time with my kids.”
She recalls one night where Matthew explained to their daughter, Zoe, all the exciting things he gets to do at work with computers, as a technical director for Lockheed Martin. When Zoe asked, “What do you do, Mom?” Canady-Brown said, “Mom’s just a baker.” She immediately regretted her poor choice of words: just a baker. “My husband said, ‘You’re not just a baker, you’re a businesswoman.’” Canady-Brown’s eyes welled up. “For a moment, I didn’t feel guilty,” she says. Later that night, she thanked her husband for his positive reinforcement. “He said, ‘I try to get them to understand that it’s not just about baking. It’s about running a business. There are people you take care of like you take care of them.’”
A savvy businesswoman, Canady-Brown knows the value of investing in people. Her ability to form meaningful connections in the community has paid dividends. Remember the woman who gave Canady-Brown a chance back in 2011 and hired Let Them Eat Cake for a dessert bar? The woman, who has asked to remain anonymous, recently wrote Canady-Brown a check for $24,000 so The Gingered Peach could afford an espresso machine. Canady-Brown accepted the generous offer, but only under the condition that she would pay the money back in small monthly increments. The Gingered Peach can’t compete with its new neighbor Starbucks in coffee sales, but Canady-Brown wanted her customers to have the option of enjoying both baked goods and coffee under her roof. The owner of Rojo’s Roastery also showed his support by training Canady-Brown’s staff how to make great coffee drinks.
The community support didn’t stop there. On the day Starbucks opened, The Gingered Peach had a line around the building. Sue Anne Steffey Morrow, school chaplain of the Lawrenceville School, had sent an email to all faculty, personnel, and students, reminding them not to forget the Peach. Morrow reminded everyone how the shop donated to the school’s library event and opened its doors to students on a snowy day. The Gingered Peach also had made a birthday cake for Morrow’s son, so she appreciated the quality of its products. It was an ordinary weekday, but the shop made Saturday numbers, Canady-Brown says.
Despite a solid business plan and strong numbers, Canady-Brown still can’t get financing from banks to continue to grow the business. “One in 10 bakeries go under, so we’re not a safe bet,” she says. “They might not get their money back.” The cost of equipment alone can break the bank—$9,000 for a walk-in box, $12,000 for a sheeter, $18,000 for an oven. “You can’t buy anything in the bakery world without dropping a leg to pay for it,” Canady-Brown says. “Even the money you’re making, it’s a constant reinvestment back in.”
Canady-Brown discovered a way around this roadblock with the help of mobile payment company Square, which has a cash-advance program for select small businesses that use Square technology to process payments. Square approved Gingered Peach for $25,000 in September, and the shop is almost finished paying the money off.
Just a few years ago, Canady-Brown couldn’t afford one employee at $9 an hour. Now, she has aspirations of opening an off-site baking facility and perhaps even a second location. “I go home at least once a week and say to my husband, ‘I can’t believe this is the life I get to live.’”
And she baked a name all her own.