One year later, Brandi got that storefront. And her story is here to remind us that chasing your dreams, having confidence in your abilities, and pushing forward with persistence will get you where you want to go.
Did we mention that she’s also been interviewed on USA Today? While all of these accomplishments are beyond impressive, it’s Brandi’s desire to show others that anxiety and depression can happen to anybody, that you are not alone if you struggle, that’s truly remarkable.
Read first hand how she’s made it all happen because of her tenacity, skill, and relationship with God.
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how brandi got started
Before I entered culinary school, I used my baking skills as an outlet to overcome my anxiety and depression.
In high school there was a lot of pressure to fit in, and one of the ways that I felt safe, or that I had a sense of belonging, was when I would go home and bake. Culinary was my safe haven, and my dream job has always been to open up a bakery! In class, I would often times find myself planning my dream bakery. I would even draw what I wanted it to look like on the inside! I initially wanted to call it “Muffin Top,” and I had it all planned out.
I would go home and show my parents these drawings, but I always heard the horror stories about how difficult it is to start up your own business, so I was intimidated to get it started. In the meantime I would hold bake sales for others, like for the track team, or I would bake cakes for my friends. When I did this, I was able to decompress.
I also wanted to be a Pediatric Cardiologist because I wanted to treat kids with the same heart condition that I have. I just thought baking would be my hobby, but as I kept baking through high school, I realized that I wanted to do it full time. So one day I approached my parents and told them that I would be kidding myself if I didn’t go to culinary school and learn how to bake professionally. I really wanted to make my hobby my career.
So I went to culinary school, but as time went on, I think my parents realized that there was no real progress being made. There wasn’t exactly a need for pastry chefs in New York. Once they realized that there wasn’t a demand for this profession, it was my parents who made me go to Clemson University so that I could find a job after graduating. Looking back, I know that they did this out of love because they wanted me to achieve a degree that would help me live the lifestyle that I want.
I’m from Long Island, New York and I went to culinary school in New York as well, so I chose Clemson because I really wanted to go South for the warmer weather! Once I got accepted, I knew that this was the college that I wanted to attend. I’m now 22 and in what would be my senior year of college, but I recently made the decision to take a couple of semesters off to pursue my businesses full-time. And I also want to pay off more of my student loans before I go back and finish my degree. I was initially pursuing English as my major with a minor in Secondary Education, but now I feel like I have something really special here, and I’m not ready to go back to school just yet!
her heart condition
I’ve had a heart condition since the day I was born, called Supraventricular Tachycardia and Micro Valve Prolapse.
This basically means that my heart races uncontrollably and it can happen at any moment of the day. I can’t have caffeine; my heart just can’t handle it. If I ever tried a Red Bull drink, for example, I would more than likely die. I have to be careful of all the caffeine that I eat or drink, whether it’s chocolate, coffee, or tea. I also have to be careful about putting myself into situations where my heart would race, so sports were really hard for me and I would have to sit out a lot.
But thankfully, as I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten better!
on starting Clemson Confectioneries
I remember the first moment when I realized I wanted to pursue Clemson Confectioneries full-time.
I went onto Pinterest one day and saw this picture of ice cream social cupcakes that looked absolutely delicious, and I told myself, “I want to bake these!” I was so happy with how they turned out, that I went onto Pinterest again and started looking at more cupcakes that I wanted to make. Eventually, I started an Instagram account for my baking that was almost like a food blog where I could share my recipes. This is how I started, just putting my creations on Instagram.
Shortly after that, it blossomed into a very-booming business! My viewers would ask to buy what I was posting. The people that knew me were already aware of my culinary background, so whenever they needed something special, like a cake, I was usually the one that they went to.
There isn’t a bakery like that in Clemson, so I was able to fill their need this way.
That moment she realized she had something special
On my 21st birthday weekend, I was driving back home to New York. I’m very religious, and I was praying a lot about what I should do. I just knew that my calling in life was to open up a bakery… I just had this feeling.
So on the way home I called up my parents and told them, “I know you’re probably not going to like this, but I’m going to open up my own bakery. I don’t know when I’m going to do it, and I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to do it. Just so you know, when the opportunity arises for me to open up my own bakery, I will drop out of school.” I think they kind of took it lightly, that I didn’t mean it, so they went along with it. But I was being very serious! And, surely enough, I was right.
Now I wake up every single day and say, “As for me and my bakery, we will serve the Lord.” I know everyone has this verse in their house, but I wake up and say it because I want everything that I do to be for the glory of God. I think it’s important to be an example for other women out there and to show them that they can follow their dreams, too! God is undeniably the most important part of my life.
her first experience giving a business pitch
My culinary school final was pitching a fake business to a bunch of investors, and this is when I presented my idea of a fake bakery. So when I heard about this event called Pitch Smackdown at Clemson (it’s just like Shark Tank!), I thought it was a great opportunity to give a pitch for real this time.
And this time, I won! It all happened last year, the Fall after I told my parents that I was going to open up my own bakery. I did it because I believed in my vision, and sure enough the judges believed in it, too!
Going into this experience as a woman was scary. Other than that final in culinary school, I didn’t have a lot of experience with building business plans, and here I was standing in front of a panel composed of a majority of middle- to upper-aged men.
The cupcakes that I make are rather girly, so I needed to find a way to market them to everybody. I had to really tap into that “masculine business mentality.” As a woman, it was tough. I mentally prepared myself, and I had to know my business inside and out. My business is almost like my child, so going in there I had to show them that I knew the numbers, the right terms, and everything else that they could throw my way. But I proved to them that I was serious, dedicated, and that I could hang with the boys!
winning pitch smackdown
I won a prize to Silicon Valley, sponsored by Clemson. They sent us there to meet with start-up companies and other successful venture capitalists, angel investors, and founders. Going on that trip helped me secure an internship with Clemson where they paid me to start Clemson Confectioneries. They paid me $10 an hour to physically sit in class, write a business plan, and to get it started. This gave me time to really focus on the business side of things rather than just the baking side of it all.
the highs and lows of owning a business
The biggest low for me is what I have had to sacrifice, and I tell people this all the time. People aren’t kidding when they tell you to prepare to give up a big part of your life when you start your own business. But one of the best parts about sacrificing your time is that, when you love it, you don’t realize what you’re sacrificing. It’s only when you’re looking back and you count how many events or friends that you had to turn down. But in hindsight, I know that I also gained so much in the process!
The highs for me are the little moments; something as simple as a review on Facebook that says “these are the best cupcakes that I’ve ever had!” I love the fan feedback. This is what makes waking up at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning worth it for me. And moments like this, where I’m getting interviewed or when people tell me that I’m inspirational, that mean so much. I feel like I’m just a little baker, but it’s so cool to feel success for the first time! It’s really nice.
what her day looks like, and how she keeps it all together
Well, I keep it all together through God! If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know how I could do all of this.
A typical day is very, very, very busy. I normally work 17 hour days by the time that I wake up to the time that I get to bed, and my schedule mostly consists of keeping up with product. Right now, it’s just me. I answer the phones, do the deliveries, answer the emails, put the orders together, bake all of the cupcakes, and answer the door for my customers. I’m pretty much the nucleus of the whole day!
Every morning starts the same: I bake all of the cupcakes that need to be made for the day. While they’re cooling, I answer emails and do other things to start the day. And then, once everything has been decorated and put away, I fill the orders that need to be filled. By the end of the night I’m working on my second company and making sure that’s ready to go. Then it’s off to bed, and then I repeat these steps the next morning!
sprinkles, icing, & student debt
My student loans are what’s really holding me back right now… they really stink. It’s been very hard for me to get started just because of that student debt, so I can’t really look for a new store front because of that. I’m looking for angel investors right now because I can’t secure a loan from a bank, so I’m still working out of my apartment until I can cut down on some of this debt.
I was able to move into a new apartment, though, and it’s really cool! It’s set up like a bakery, so there are racks, sprinkles, icing, ingredients, three refrigerators, and all of the cold storage that I could need! I basically live in a bakery now. The second floor is comprised of a bedroom and an office, which is slowly being converted into a room where I can compile everything for my second business, Brandi’s Bark.
her newest business: Brandi’s Bark
I am so excited about this! Since I’m from New York, I’ve had a lot of friends asking for me to ship some of my products to them. But by the time it would get there, the cupcakes wouldn’t be as good, especially since they have to be refrigerated! So I had to think about something that I could bake; something that would be true to my personality, but that I could also ship all over the world.
That’s when I realized, chocolate! Even though I can’t have much, I’m a big chocolate fan. So I started making beautiful chocolate pieces to go on top of the cupcakes, and this is when I realized it would be a good standalone item. So I started making elaborately designed gourmet bark with beautiful themes and different flavors, and this became company number two. This is the new side of my business: I can now ship beautiful chocolate bark and cookies worldwide!
to the women feeling afraid to follow their passion:
I want to tell you that no dream is too big! Hands down, you can do absolutely anything that you put your mind to.
One of the things that I struggled with in the beginning was that I wanted my business to be a big success immediately. But I learned to start out small after starting my second business. Get a feel for it. Don’t assume that you have to do anything outrageous. If you want to start a clothing line, buy one shirt. See how it sells. If you want to start a blog, start with one entry. For me, I started with one cupcake. And I think that once you start, you’ll find a way to make it grow.
For me, I know that I put everything into God’s hands. If it was just in my own strength, I could have never done any of this. But praying about it and putting it into His hands day by day helps me to not worry too much about tomorrow. Before you know it, you’ll be a bigger success story than you could have imagined!
Put your faith in God and start small.
her personal weaknesses, and how she overcomes them
I still battle with anxiety and depression. This has by far been the hardest part in opening a business, and this is something that my parents were most worried about.
They even sat me down and asked me if I would be able to manage my anxiety when the business gets big. And to be honest, that was really hard, because my first instinct is to run home whenever I have an anxiety attack. Even last year I had a lot of anxiety, so I would hop on a plane to New York to be around family that could calm me down. But when you own a business, you can’t just hop on a plane and go home. So the biggest obstacle for me is battling this sense of doubt, or that sense of I can’t do this. I have to sit here and say I can do this. His strength is in me and everything is going to be ok.
When I was going through my journey with anxiety and depression, I always thought that it was just me going through it. I even told my parents that I felt like everyone looked so put together from the outside, so that it was a problem with just me. But thankfully they’re the ones that reassured me that there are more people going through this than I thought.
Everyone gives the illusion that they live a perfect life, but that’s not the case. I recently released a video about my anxiety and depression (watch it here) because I want everyone to know that I still struggle with it and that my life isn’t as perfect as it might seem.
I don’t want anyone to think that they’re alone. If I’ve helped any one person know that, I feel like I will have done my job.
in it to win it: her short-term and long-term visions
Short term, I want to try to find a space to move into. I’m looking to pay off my student loan debt and to find that investor who sees the same vision that I do. I need to focus on moving from an apartment into a storefront!
My long term goal is to open this same type of business in other college campuses across America. I want to make this its own brand, and to even franchise it! I want to grow Brandi’s Bark into a bigger, nationwide company too.
Personally, my goal is to buy my dream car. It’s been a joke between me and my parents, but it’s always been something I want to work towards. My goal in 10 years is to own a black Mercedes G6. It’s my favorite car! Whenever I see it on the road, I point to it and say I’m going to own that car, no matter who I’m around. That’s definitely in my ten-year plan.
But in the meantime I would love to get married, that would be nice! I don’t want to live in a bakery forever, so buying my own house would be great, too. Since I live in my bakery now, it’s rather difficult to invite other people over. I want to help other women and maintain my relationship with the Lord, too.
what she wants others to know
What I really want people to know about me is my relationship with the Lord. Through all of this, I want others to know that opening up your own business is difficult and lonely at times. With social media being a negative aspect in all of this, sometimes you can feel like you’re losing your own identity. But in spite of this, there really is a higher power that is there. Saying a little prayer, even if you’re not a believer, or asking for help or to build a closer relationship will help. God is such an important part of my business, and he can be an important part of your life, too. Even in ways that you won’t even know.
Without Him, my business would not be the success that it is. I want everyone to know that it’s not just me running it.
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