Bring Your Own Business (BYOB): Entrepreneurial Tales From The North Country
This is the second in an occasional series on entrepreneurs and innovation in the North Country. If you have a suggestion contact: email@example.com
By Chris Jensen
LANCASTER – It was supposed to be Magdalena Randall’s triumphal moment: starting her own bakery. Instead, she wanted to cry – and she was a strong, determined soul with plenty of gumption. She was not accustomed to swooning.
She’d come to the United States from Poland in 2003, dreaming of having a business of her own. That was put on hold while she raised two boys, who were now adolescents.
For six years she’d been selling European-style bread at a farmer’s market. It was baked in her kitchen and the demand was so great that, in a kind of Manifest Destiny, it took over other parts of her house. Flour was stored in the dining room.
Her success was noticed by a Greg Cloutier, a businessman, who offered to rebuild a burned-out store on Main Street if she wanted to rent it and open a bakery.
Cloutier figured people loved her bread and he sensed an “entrepreneurial spirit of focus – she was just not going to fail.”
His timing was good. As Randall’s boys had gotten older, her thoughts had increasingly slipped back to having a business. Her husband, Herb, thought it was a good idea.
But she had jitters. What if she failed? And, there was the pesky little matter of money.
“My biggest fear was to invest a lot of money and lose it, because I didn’t have a lot of money,” she said.
Randall jumped at Cloutier’s offer. Then, she thought: “Oh, my gosh. What have I done?” She began quietly hoping Cloutier would change his mind. Her fear of failure had come back.
Then, she had what she calls “a moment of enlightenment.” It went like this: “If I am afraid of it, I will never be able to do it.” She wanted a bakery. She would suppress her fear.
But she wanted another opinion, which she sought from Jeffrey Hamelman. He teaches professional baking around the country and is the bakery director at King Arthur Flour in Vermont.
Randall had taken several of his classes and he was impressed.
“It was her dedication, initially, that I found most inspiring,” Hamelman said. “She seems to do everything with a real sense of humor and real commitment. She was always eager, was always curious and showed good skills.”
He encouraged her to go ahead.
“He gave me the last push,” she said.
Hamelman even went to Lancaster and spent a day helping Randall figure out where the equipment should be.
“I thought she was the real deal. She is committed and smart,” Hamelman said.
She also needed a financial plan to get a loan. She went to Stewart Gates, a business adviser for the federal government’s Small Business Development Center. It offers free counseling as part of an economic development effort in the North Country.
Gates saw several things in Randall he recognized as characteristics of a strong entrepreneur.
One is that she had a clear vision of what she wanted to do, Gates said.
She told InDepthNH she’d often daydream about waking up on a Saturday morning and riding bikes with her family to a neighborhood café for a bagel or pastry. That was the kind of place she wanted to create.
Then, there was determination. “She was willing to put in the effort, whatever it takes to get the job done,” Gates said.
She was also eager to seek expert help such as getting Hamelman to help with the bakery’s design – and working with Gates on the financial plan.
Careful with money
And she was careful with how she spent money, Gates said.
Randall got a loan from a local bank and the town of Lancaster dipped into its economic development fund for a $6,500 loan. It was paid off in the first year, a town official said.
But that fiscal caution had tripped Randall up and brought her to the verge of tears.
She’d purchased a used bread oven on the Internet. She was assured it worked, but there was no guarantee.
Since it was Cloutier’s building he’d stopped by for the installation. Now he and Randall were looking at $14,000 worth of junk.
Randall went to the phone, called the vendor and said: “Hey, my boss wants to talk to you.”
She handed the phone to Cloutier.
“I didn’t know what to say. I only wanted to cry,” she said.
Then, she went home.
“I was basically, crushed. I didn’t even open and I already lost my $14,000,” she said.
So, she had some wine, talked to her husband and began working on Plan B.
“I thought, if this is going to crush me, maybe I shouldn’t be running a business because things like this happen. So, I’m going to do it anyway. I will just do it differently.”
If she couldn’t bake bread, well, she could make pastries.
Ultimately she got a refund and bought another oven.
And in January 2015 The Polish Princess opened.
“I don’t remember. I know people came. It was like one big blur,” she said.
What she does remember is loyal customers and wonderful support from the community and other businesses.
Now she’s got three employees – one is full time and the others are “almost full time.” She added some tables and now serves sandwiches.
And she has some advice for others considering taking the entrepreneurial leap.
First, have a really good product and make sure there is a market for it.
“Then, just follow your dream. Just do it.”
InDepthNH.org is NH’s nonprofit news website published online by the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism. Veteran journalist Chris Jensen covers the North Country and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org(603-869-5451)