It all started with an idea and a dream she expressed to her daughters, and then her daughters wouldn't let her walk away from it.
After falling in love with baking and always volunteering to make the baked goods for the kids' events, Daphne left a successful career in law to pursue her dream of owning her own bakery. This also came after a nudge from her daughter reminding her that she had encouraged them to live their dreams, but she was still sleeping on hers.
Daphne launched Subarz and found herself submersed in an Entrepreneur 101 class, but she's been loving every minute of it. She talks about what it took to grow her business, and how Goldman Sachs' 10K Program helped her to work on the business versus in.
She also talks about some of the growing pains along the way, and why she doesn't have a single regret about finally following her own dreams.
Podcast transcript is below, but click here to listen!
Courtney Radloff: They say small business is the backbone of America, so what's the best way to support small business? It is to learn more about them and share with your family and friends. We interview founders from across the world who have started and scaled their business through the ups and downs, long hours, and the rewards that come from sacrificing their time to build their business. Welcome to First to Arrive, Last to Leave. The Journey of an Entrepreneur.
Erin Gregor: All right. Welcome to another episode of First to Arrive, Last to Leave. I'm Erin Gregor.
Courtney: I'm Courtney Radloff.
Erin: Today we have a very nother special guest. We have Daphne Subar of Subarzsweets. Daphne, are you based out of LA?
Daphne: I am based out of LA.
Erin: Okay. That's what we thought we were looking for it. Yes, thank you from California. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Daphne: Thank you. I'm really excited to be here.
Erin: As I mentioned before we talked, I have a selfish side to me that I really want to dig into your story because I'm a secret baker by heart or secret baker at heart. I want to hear this story. You're in law, you have a career, and you decide that you're going to run a bakery or bake shop. I want to hear all of this. Can you tell us what was happening in your life and then you decided to completely do a 180?
Daphne: Of course, ye, and it was a 180. I was practicing law for about 25, 26 years. Same time I'm raising my daughters. I love to bake. I actually love to eat baked goods. I felt like if I baked them, it justified eating them, whereas I felt guilty if I bought them. Through the years, I did a lot of baking. One of my daughters had some medical issues and was on a special diet for a while. Another one of my daughters had some severe food allergies. I was able to take some recipes of things that I thought they'd like and tweak them. I became very comfortable in the kitchen.
I always volunteered to bake for the school potlucks or the soccer games or any of that, and people always said, "Oh, you should really try to sell some of your baked goods. They're really good." I always said, "Well, I don't really know. I don't really know how to run a business. I don't really know what I'd be doing. I'm happy practicing law," which I always was. There was really no real push to do it. However, when my youngest daughter was in third grade, she had a school project and she had to come up, design a flyer for a business. She said, "Mom, I think you're going to have a bakery one day."
She designed this flyer and it had a picture of me and again a picture of a cookie and it said Subar without the Z back then. All bars, one bakery. It always stuck in the fridge because I was proud of it. I put it on the fridge. It was there for years. Always, I would look at it every time I went in the fridge. Fast forward probably 10 years after that, my oldest daughter is in college and she decides she wants to become a theater major and work in stage management. She called us up, she was all excited about that. I'm like, "Great. You found out what you wanted to do.
Perfect. I'm really happy for you. That's your passion." Then got a lot of unsolicited advice from people saying, "Theater is not really practical. Will she really be able to make it?" All sorts of things. I'm like, "You know what? She'll be 22 when she graduates. Let her try. If she finds out it's not what she wants to do, she can change." I kept saying this over and over again. It was my younger daughters that said to me, "Mom, that flyer has been on the fridge now for over 10 years. You always said one day and now it's your time."
Daphne: Then I did the excuses again to them. I'm like, "There's a mortgage, there's a this, there's a that." They were just innocently saying, "So what? You can figure it out," like you do to your kids, "You can figure it out." They reversed it on me, and I ran out of excuses, and I'm like, "You know what? You're right. Let me try it and figure it out." June 2016, so seven years ago, I left the practice of law and decided to launch a bake honestly, not knowing what I was doing at all.
Erin: All right. I love this. I'm getting teary-eyed.
Courtney: Same thing, aww.
Erin: I know. I love the belief from your daughters. I read too, you did this to prove to them, give them that foundation that they could do anything they want. You start a bakery, so talk about what you decided to do, how you decided to sell what you sold, and just the whole process of starting this business. Let's be honest, it probably had to be very terrifying walking from a law career because it's not like you're walking from a minimum wage job, but a law career into building this on your own. I know that's a lot of questions there, and I'm sorry, but we got a lot to unpack here.
Daphne: No problem, and I'll try to get to them all. Yes, it was very scary, especially because I didn't know what I was doing. It wasn't quite as scary at the time because, in some ways, I didn't know what I didn't know if that makes sense. I did keep my law license active, and I still keep it active always as that safety net just because I worked so hard to get it, worked for so many years, I didn't want to give it up. Okay, so when I started, I had been making Mandel bread for years, which is like a biscotti. That's what people were asking me to sell because I had taken a traditional recipe that a lot of times has nuts, and I had tweaked it a little bit, so I knew the product I wanted to start with.
However, when you make a Mandel bread, it's like a biscotti, so none of the pieces are uniform. I knew I had to come up with a product that I could package and somehow sell. When I started, I wasn't thinking about shipping. I really was just thinking, I'm going to have a bakery. I decided to come up with something a little bit creative. I wanted to take the Mandel bread, combine it with the sweetness of a cookie, and that's what Subarzs are. It takes the crunch of the Mandel bread with the sweetness of a cookie. Then I had to figure out the right shape to fit in the box.
There were so many things that I never thought of. I started simple. I started with one flavor. I had traditional chocolate chip. Then the first year, I added a flavor every month, and that was great. That was advice another business owner gave me, which was, start simple. As I started, I'm like, "No, I want to bake this, and I want to bake cupcake." I was so excited, but I kept it simple, and I've still kept it simple. I have one product but in about 21 varieties.
Erin: Wow. Did you rent a space?
Courtney: Yes, that was my question.
Erin: Did you bake out of your-- Was it a-- I don't know what the cottage industry law or cottage law is.
Courtney: Is it like you have a home baker thing, and then you have a commercial?
Erin: Yes. What did you decide to do for that?
Daphne: Exactly. I think that differs state by state. California, I was able to start out of my house, which was great.
Daphne: I really didn't have a big investment. I would almost bake to order, and that was great. I probably stayed out of my house under my cottage license more than a year, maybe a year and a half. Then I found a commercial kitchen that I can go to and bake from there. That was great. That was a game-changer. At home, I could bake about maybe a couple hundred a day. At the commercial kitchen, I can do a couple thousand in four hours. It really was a game-changer.
Erin: Whoa, yes. How did you start growing this? I'm just so curious. Obviously, there's the farmer's market, stuff you could do locally, but I'm so curious how you started building this to a national brand where the shipping came into play.
Daphne: That was hard because I also didn't think it through. That was another thing where I didn't know what I didn't know. I thought, okay, I'm going to have a bakery and then people are just going to come to me. I didn't think any of that through. A lot of it was social media in the beginning and really just email blasts, social media, a lot of networking. Again, my daughters, I had been on Facebook, but I had never been on Instagram before launching in 2016, and they were like, "You need to go on Instagram." I'm like, "No, I don't."
They set me up an Instagram and that was also a game changer. Just getting the word out there, really helped. The great thing is people that receive Subarzs just the way they're packaged. They come beautifully packaged in this pink box, and they're individually wrapped in a doily. If they're a gift, they come with a handwritten note.
Daphne: Once people received them, they actually really liked them, and they started becoming clients and sending them to others. The other thing I realized a couple of years into my business, I kept thinking myself as a bakery, and then I looked at who was buying my product and 90% were as gifts. I thought, "Wait a minute, I'm more of a gifting company." That's when I started reaching out to corporations who are looking for creative ways to gift. I work with them. Let's say they want to figure out a way to show all their employees how much they appreciate them.
Let's just get them a box every couple of months. Either it was delivered to their desk and then it got delivered home during the pandemic. There was a lot of creativity there. When I looked back at my business and realized it was really more of a gift-giving service that also provided the product, it really took off.
Courtney: I love that so much. Where did the aesthetic come from? We looked at the box there, it's gorgeous and it's very thoughtful, and you have to piece each piece. Is there- sorry, there's going to be multiple questions in this one too- an assembly line, or they're obviously being hand-done?
Daphne: A lot of that part is still done by me because we customize a lot of our boxes. While I have a couple of employees in the kitchen that help me, I'm really the one that still puts it in the boxes, which isn't really great. I need to outsource that, but I like them placed perfectly. Every box looks very homemade. For the aesthetics, when I started, I just randomly picked a pink box, which was interesting. I had my logo designed, and it used to be on a sticker, and I would put it on each box. Now I have the boxes made, but some of it I fell into like the doilies.
I just tried in the beginning just to see what it would look like, and people loved the doilies. I wouldn't have thought about that. The handwritten note, when I started, because I was so small, I would handwrite the notes, and that was actually something that everyone commented on. They really like a handwritten note. Very few people get a note that's handwritten and they don't know that I'm writing it or someone on my team. They could think the actual sender. I have several smaller clients, and I think the recipients of their gifts think that they write it. Some of those things I just tried in the beginning because I didn't know, not thinking they would actually become part of the brand.
Courtney: When did you, go to Goldman Sachs? When did you start that program? What was the transition for you?
Daphne: I launched in 2016. I did Goldman Sachs in 2021 and it was I guess five years almost to the date. I started in the summer, and I started Goldman Sachs program in the summer.
Erin: Amazing. Describe your company going into Goldman Sachs and what it looked like coming out? Where were those massive shifts for you as a business owner?
Daphne: A lot. Goldman Sachs was amazing. We were actually a virtual cohort. I'm still connected. I actually saw one of my co-cohort members, I don't know what they're called, yesterday actually at an event that she invited me to. it was great. Going in, the business was growing, and I knew it had a lot of potential, but I didn't feel focused on what it would take to grow. I think I was always working in my business, trying to keep up with things, but never stood back and worked on my business. Honestly, before Goldman Sachs, I was scared to look at my financials.
I knew them generally, but I never went in deep. Coming out of Goldman Sachs, first thing I did was I hired a bookkeeper, so that was key, who can do it so much better than I ever did it. Everything is better there, and I don't have to stress about that. Also, I work on my business more than in my business, and I'm trying to remind myself of all those things I promised myself coming out, like, I need to sit down every week for a couple of hours and really just go back to my growth plan and go back and see what I want to do because when you lay it all out, it's pretty simple, but when you do day to day, you get distracted all the time. Actually, I should probably focus on that more today, but no, yes, I came out really feeling confident, and I came out also feeling like I had a great network, a new network to work with.
Courtney: Do you have a storefront or is it all just you ship, you'd products all over?
Daphne: Yes, we ship nationwide, which is great. We don't have a storefront. We have had various stores that have carried our products throughout the years. They haven't been big moneymakers, honestly. It's more of a marketing thing. Someone sees my product in the store, they may buy like a three-pack of it and then come online and order, or a couple local stores, in the beginning, to get the word out, I would partner with them. If somebody wanted to order my product, but not pay for shipping, I would drop them off at a local coffee store, and then they could pick it up from there. It would help the coffee store because it would get new clients walking into their store to pick it up, and inevitably, they'd buy a cup of coffee.
Erin: Oh, I love it. You talked about, there's just a lot you didn't know, and I'm going to assume it hasn't been, once you figured it out, it was super smooth sailing. Maybe it was, but what have been some bumps along the way that you've had just in going into an industry you didn't have experience in and now running your own company in that industry?
Daphne: There's been a few bumps. One, and it was more of a self-imposed bump, was getting out of my kitchen and getting into the commercial space. There was a lot of imposter syndrome that kicked in there. Even I still remember vividly driving to that kitchen the first day, and I was going to stay, it was a test day, and feeling like I'm going to walk in and they're going to know that I'm a fake. They're going to know that I'm not a baker, all that. It didn't happen, but all that. There's some of those bumps that were self-imposed. There were some issues during the pandemic with supply chain.
I had to actually pull a few products because I couldn't get some of those supplies, and then the cost of my supplies went up tremendously. I ended up not increasing my product price because I felt like people were dealing with enough. I could cut it a little bit on my end, at least temporarily, because I didn't want to pass that on because I felt like people just have so much going on. They don't need to be paying more for a treat.
Erin: Shipping costs too, shipping costs went through the roof. How did you deal with that also because you can only cut so much, right?
Daphne: Right. Shipping costs have always been an issue. That was something I didn't realize in the beginning. I just thought shipping is a no-brainer. It was hard in the beginning. I used to actually charge my clients the straight shipping price. It would just pass through, but probably more than half of my boxes are shipped to the East Coast and that shipping is expensive, so I had to come up with a plan. Then I also have people complaining about, they wanted to know the end cost before they hit Submit, so I did come up with a flat rate shipping that model that's working and then free shipping over $100.
Shipping was really hard and I had to fool around with, do I do UPS, USPS, a different shipper, and all that. Unfortunately, it's a little bit complicated by Amazon who gives free shipping because people don't want to pay for the shipping. Now, I think it's in a good place. There's a flat rate shipping on all orders up to $100 and then it's free. People seem happy with that because they know what they're getting. Generally, they want to support a small business, which is nice. They know with a small business, you sometimes have to pay shipping.
Erin: I think mentally too, I know for me, if something is $10 with $10 shipping, I get really pissy. If something was just $20 for a free ship, I'd be like, "Okay, whatever, it's $20." You see that shipping tag, you're like, "I don't want to pay 15," but especially when you're an Amazon Prime member and you're used to $0 shipping. It's just, I know those costs have just continued to go and go and go up. I just can't imagine when your whole business is shipping, trying to manage that too.
Daphne: Yes, it's been tough, and I'm actually the same way. The other day, I was ordering some clothes. I bought an extra item of clothing because I wanted that free shipping.
Erin: Yes, do it all the time. All the time.
Courtney: Yes, that happens. That's every time, right? Because you're like, "I'm going to offset it. I'd rather have something than pay."
Daphne: Than pay the shipping, exactly.
Courtney: You started just as you, and now how many team members do you have?
Daphne: Right. It's ebbed and flowed over the years. Right now, we're a little bit leaner. Right now it's me, I have an admin, and then I have two individuals in the kitchen that help me bake. They're technically not my employees. They're employed by the kitchen, and I rent them out for the time I'm there, which is great. Usually, around the holidays I'll bring on a couple other people to help.
Erin: Then where do you want to go next with this? I guess another part to that is, how do you grow a business that it really does require a taste, right? You've got the word of mouth, I'm giving this as gifts, but how do you continue to grow that business where I almost feel like there is almost that requirement that they've got to come in the store? I know it's not true, but I'm just curious how you grow it and what's next for the business.
Daphne: It's a lot of networking. I think the next step for the business is really expanding our corporate gifting because that's really, I love my individual clients, we also have a membership program, so some people get a box a month, but it's really the corporate client is going to be the way to scale because that's one person who may order 1,000 boxes for all their clients for the year or their employees. That's the future of the company.
Erin: That's just through networking? Do you have a game plan for that?
Daphne: It's a lot of networking. I am a woman-owned business, but I was just certified as a WBE.
Daphne: I think that may open some doors.
Courtney: We were just in Tennessee and met so many women-owned businesses for WBENC, and it's amazing. There's a lot of corporate gifting, women-owned. I think that's such a good opportunity for you.
Daphne: Yes, I have several, actually, they were Goldman Sachs people that I met that had encouraged me to get certified. Yes, I finally did it.
Courtney: Good. Incredible. Okay. Now are you going to move into other products? Are you going to stay within the lane that you've created for yourself? What's the plan with that?
Daphne: I think I'm going to stay within the lane. I think we're going to keep it with the barz, B-A-R-Z, but we can always expand on the flavors. We started with the 1, we now have 13 or 14 original flavors, plus we have about 8 gluten-free.
Daphne: Really, the next expansion would be to get a few more gluten-free out there. I can basically do every original in a gluten-free, I just have to create that recipe. Then we could do some more flavors, we could do some fun flavors for the holidays. We did start with the chocolate peppermint, our first holiday season. It was so popular that now we have it all year long. There's been a few I introduced for a holiday and then they took off. I think the next step would really be expanding the flavors a little bit more.
Courtney: What are your top sellers?
Daphne: Depends on the time of the year. Holiday is chocolate peppermint. Apple Trilogy is really popular around the holidays. Overall throughout the year, I think lemon thyme and traditional chocolate chip are the two big sellers.
Courtney: That's awesome.
Erin: I'm curious, you took this leap, it's been several years now. I can't believe 2016 was eight years ago, was it?
Daphne: I know.
Erin: Seven years ago. I'm curious, how do you feel about this move? Do you ever look back and say, "I miss law."? Do you ever look back and say, "Crazy move."? I just would love to know where you are right now and how you feel about taking this massive leap and starting this.
Daphne: I loved it, and I'm so glad that I did it. I never ever thought I would have a business. I never wanted to have a business. I liked law because I worked for a law firm. I went in, I got the cases, I could do what I wanted with them, and then I could go home. Then I took them home with me, but it's a whole different thing. I never thought I would love this. There's so much learning involved, which I didn't realize. I started the business in my 50s, and it was actually really invigorating to learn a lot. I had to learn about social media, and marketing, and packaging, and shipping, and the finance.
There's so much, but I actually really enjoyed it. The only two things that I missed about practicing law when I started, the first was vacations because you're always thinking about your business. It's really hard to take a break. The second thing initially was people, like the camaraderie, because I worked in a law firm. I would go down the hall to get my cup of coffee. I'd see someone, we'd chat for five minutes, I'd go back to my office, I'd go to lunch with someone. Suddenly at home, I'm walking to the kitchen, I say hello to the dog, I grab my cup of coffee, and then that's it.
It was a little lonely in the beginning. I did do some networking, and then pandemic hit, and in some ways, that was actually nice though because I felt like everyone was on Zoom, and I was able to network and meet amazing people across the country who I wouldn't have met if it weren't for the pandemic. I would only have gone to local networking events, which were great, but suddenly, I joined a couple online networking groups, and there's, everyone has a great story. That's another thing that I love about starting my own business. I've met so many business owners that are so inspiring, and that are just lovely, and they all have a great story. It's just great to learn from them.
Courtney: No truer words have been spoken about the two things that you've just mentioned. Communication and camaraderie, and I'm like, "Oh, yes, absolutely."
Erin: All right, rapid fire?
Courtney: Sure, let's go.
Erin: All right. Let's do some rapid-fire.
Daphne: That's the part that always scares me, so let's see if I can do it.
Erin: That's good.
Courtney: Your favorite beverage?
Daphne: Alcohol or non-alcoholic, or both, or either?
Courtney: Oh, you go both. Go both.
Daphne: Okay. Non-alcoholic is probably either a really good latte or just a really good seltzer. Alcoholic lately, you're asking me this summer, is probably an Aperol Spritz because it's just been really hot in LA.
Courtney: Yes. The best advice you've ever been given?
Daphne: The best advice I've ever been given was probably from my kids, to say, follow your passion, which I would not have done. I would not have stopped and actually intentionally done that.
Courtney: Do you ever talk about the art? Do you still have it? Do you have it up in your office?
Daphne: I put it somewhere, and honestly, I can't find it. I need to find it because I want to frame it. I know one of those times where you frantically clean, like there's a bunch of stuff in my fridge and I took it down, but it's somewhere. I know I didn't get rid of it. I just don't know where it is.
Erin: Aww, that's awesome that you still have it.
Daphne: Don't tell my daughters.
Erin: I won't.
Erin: Secret is safe. Just don't show them this podcast.
Courtney: If you could have dinner with anyone?
Daphne: Probably my mom. My mom passed away before I started my business. She passed away about six, seven years before I started my business. I think she would have been shocked, surprised, and proud of me. She immigrated to this country, her and my dad did, and they started a couple of businesses. She worked really, really hard, and they really were an inspiration to me. My dad was alive, and he was able to see me start the business and grow the business, but she didn't get to see that, so it would be great to have dinner with her and just check in on the business. Also, my kids were so little, and just let them know everyone is okay.
Courtney: I love that. What does your morning routine look like?
Daphne: It's always a hard one. It really depends. Generally, I'm up fairly early, and I try to get a quick workout in the morning, meaning a quick walk or something fairly quick. I've learned that if I don't do it first thing, a lot of times it doesn't happen. Then it's the cups of coffee, the checking the email, and then I'm jumping right into work.
Erin: I'm curious--
Daphne: I also do--
Erin: Oh, go ahead.
Daphne: Actually, I'm not very good at it, because I think I forgot this morning. I also really try to practice gratitude when I can remember. I try to, first thing in the morning, think of three things that I'm really grateful for, from, they can be really small, like I got a good night's sleep, or they can be really big, but I really try to start the day off with gratitude.
Erin: I love it. This isn't a rapid-fire, but I'm curious, as you bake, what kind of shelf span do you have on your cookies, from when they bake to when they're out the door? How much wiggle room do you have?
Daphne: A lot. Also, a lot of this, I'm telling you, I didn't know what I was doing. I use oil, not butter, which I think helps. From the time they leave the house, really, in the box or shipped out, it's probably six day a week shelf life.
Erin: Wow. Oh, that's wonderful.
Courtney: They have a great-- That's why they're perfect for gifting. Honestly, I didn't have anything to do with that, and the first year, I didn't even know what my shelf life was. I shipped out a box beginning of December. Beginning of February, it was returned to me because it had the wrong address. I made my husband taste them, and they were exactly the same.
Erin: Wow, and he didn't get sick? Okay.
Daphne: He didn't get sick.
Erin: I love it.
Daphne: They looked fine, and they smelled fine, but I told him he could take the first bite, and they were fine.
Erin: That's a good husband right there.
Daphne: He is a good husband.
Courtney: What are you currently reading?
Daphne: I just finished a book called The Measure, and I'm starting another book that I already forgot the name of. The Measure, I just finished, which is a great book.
Erin: There's so many books after this now that I have to read.
Courtney: Oh, yes.
Daphne: I know. There's never enough time.
Courtney: Your top bucket list item?
Daphne: My top bucket list item is probably I would love to travel to Africa.
Courtney: That's a good one.
Erin: It's on mine, too.
Courtney: What's your guilty pleasure?
Daphne: My guilty pleasure is probably a massage, some kind of self-care, which I don't really do. Then whenever I do it, I'm like, "Why don't I schedule these regularly?" You just don't. I know that hour that I block out does wonders for me physically and mentally, but I just don't do it.
Erin: I can only imagine how badly you need them. Last Friday, my daughter had a little friend over. We were baking all day and it hurts, standing and moving. I'm mentally tired, but physically done after just standing for, we were up for six hours or so working on that stuff. I can't imagine doing that day in and day out. It's got to take a toll on you.
Daphne: It's interesting that you say that because I didn't realize how physically demanding it was. The first year when I was still at home, I was baking a lot slower, at the end of the day, I could barely move my arms because I was carrying big pans and then they're twice baked. You bake them once and then you cut them, you flip them on their sides, they go in a second time. That's what gives them the unique texture. I literally was in tears one night, and I called my daughter out. I think there's only one living at home at the time. I'm like, "Can you help me?
Can you just cut these?" because the thought of lifting the knife up, I couldn't do it. Since then, that's another reason why I try to exercise every day, I realized I really need to make sure my core is strong and do all those things because you don't realize how much goes into standing. One pan is not heavy.
Daphne: Two pans are a little heavier, but doing it all day long really takes its toll. I had no idea.
Erin: Yes, so get those massages on your every-month list.
Daphne: You're right [crosstalk]
Erin: All right. Daphne, thank you so much. If somebody wanted to get a hold of you, order your bars, learn more about what you're doing, where is the best place for them to go?
Daphne: The best place is the website, which is www.subarz, S-U-B-A-R-Z, sweets.com.
Erin: Awesome. That'll be on our notes page over at firsttoarrivelasttoleave.com. Daphne, thank you so much for joining us today. I'm so glad we had a chance to talk. I love your story. I love the over-50 side of it. I love that your daughters pushed you to do this. I just love so much about it because as you get older, you think you'd get more confidence, but to your point, there's just more excuses not to do it, right?
Erin: I love that you took the leap and you're happy you did.
Daphne: Thank you. Thank you. This is great. This is a pleasure to meet you both.
Courtney: Thank you.
Erin: Thank you so much again.
[00:31:08] [END OF AUDIO]