In the latest of our profiles of women who have reinvented themselves, we talk to Cat Beurnier who, after a career in advertising in New York, decided to bring American-style cupcakes to the Parisians. Apologies in advance if this post makes you peckish!
What made you decide to do what you do?
When I moved to France in 2003 with my husband, I was a new mom who had recently left the world of advertising. It was a lot of change to undergo in such a short time period, and I found myself in a new life without much sense of direction or meaning. I wasn’t sure that the stay-at-home mom thing fit me well, and I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to go back to the pressures and long hours of the corporate world with a new baby at home. As I started making friends, and venturing out to various playdates and the like, I fell back on one of my oldest passions – baking – and would often bring cupcakes, cookies, etc to these events. One Halloween, I was asked by a friend of a friend to make cupcakes for a party she was having. A few weeks later, I was asked by someone else for more. It was like that old shampoo ad “and she told two friends, and she told two friends, and so on.” Before I knew it, my cakes and cupcakes were in hot demand. I wasn’t so much looking for a new career as I just kind of fell into one. As my reputation grew, I was able to parlay my talents into a small home-based business (started in 2008), and later a larger retail operation (our shop opened in 2012).
Why did you wait until you did to make the change?
When I was a single 20-something in New York City, I loved my job in the fast-paced world of advertising. It taught me to think on my feet, work under pressure and challenge myself creatively and intellectually. I travelled the US, and to a few international destinations too, had lots of fun with my co-workers, and worked with some of the biggest and most interesting brands in the world. It was a tough job, but had great perks and was perfect for someone like me who was willing to work the long hours. Once I got married, and had my first child, my priorities changed. I think the move to a foreign city gave me the permission to re-invent myself and channel some of my long-dormant skills. It wasn’t so much that I waited to make the change as it was a new life presented new opportunities.
How did you make the change? What or who helped you?
I credit my husband for not kicking me out the door and back into the corporate world once I decided it wasn’t for me anymore! I created my business in much the same way as I do everything else in life – I dove right in without giving much thought to a business plan, strategy, financials, etc. I had already started getting wonderful feedback about the baked goods I was making and just knew it was something I wanted to do full-time. I’ve learned a lot on the job, and thankfully have a strong support network of people I trust to give me smart and honest feedback.
How did your family and friends react?
My family and friends have been a tremendous source of support, and also a frequent source of business! Seriously, my life sounds like the plot of a TV series – girl meets boy, girl marries boy, they move to Paris, she opens a cupcake shop. My friends are always asking about my most recent business adventures, and who wouldn’t want a family member or friend who is a professional baker?? They know they can always count on me for a cake, or a box of cupcakes or brownies when they least expect it, or have a last minute cake emergency.
How has your life changed having gone down this path?
I’ve often said there is nothing as challenging as running your own business, especially in a foreign country. I truly believe this experience has added a new layer and dimension to my life abroad. I have seen a whole other side of France that I would have never experienced had I remained a stay-at-home mom or worked for a big corporate entity. I have forged friendships with many locals through my business, and I am so proud of the many collaborations and adventures my business as taken me on. Sadly, my business has meant making sacrifices, especially when it comes to family time. But I hope my accomplishments set a good example for other people around me who have an entrepreneurial spirit, and for my kids who see that their mom has started something from nothing with a little luck, a lot of determination and hard work.
What advice do you have for women considering a similar life change?
It often takes a big leap of faith to change your life, especially when you are staring into the unknown. But life is too short to stay on a career path that doesn’t excite you – that don’t feel a real passion for. I am a big believer in persistence, and though I have been kicked down several times, I will always believe that if you want something bad enough, and you work hard at it, you will succeed!
What do you know now that you wish you’d known in your twenties? What would you tell your twenty year old self?
Not to stress so much; things just have a way of working out in the end, don’t they? I remember when I was just out of university, feeling tremendous pressure to do what was expected – you graduate, you get a job, you settle down, you climb the corporate ladder. I spent several years, hopping from one job to the next, not quite sure what exactly I wanted to do with my life, but feeling tremendous stress to just get on with it. Watching friends land dream jobs related to their studies was enough to put me in a tailspin for days. I should have been out there, enjoying life, learning and growing from the experiences I was having – in retail, in real estate, in hospitality, in journalism- but instead I was busy worrying about whether or not this was what I really wanted to do with my life, and why did everyone seem to be figuring it out so quickly – I was paralyzed with fear and self-doubt. In retrospect, I’m grateful for this time as it enabled me to try out several different career options, and definitely helped to build character, but back in the moment, I recall it being a very confusing and frustrating time in my life.
What are the most important business and/or personal lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
Anyone who knows me knows that early on I went through a very unpleasant and trying experience in my business. I had certain ideas about the way business worked based on my experiences in the US, and hadn’t taken the time to investigate whether all of the laws were the same here in France. As a result, the company name I had been using for several years, and that had been associated with me and my products on the market and in the press, was vulnerable to a competitor. She trademarked a virtually identical name and because she was first to file, had the legal right to use it (and had a lawyer write me to say I no longer could). This was one of the most heart-breaking times in my life. I had worked so hard to make a name for myself, and to have someone else come along and rip it away, was so so painful. Looking back now, I realize there was a silver lining – I rebranded with a company name that was more meaningful to me personally, and enabled me to widen the scope of my product offerings without being pigeonholed. But it was no fun to live through. It’s a valuable lesson that taught me to really focus on the important issues at hand. There are a lot of decisions that you need to make as a business owner – some should be made quickly so you can just move on, some require more patience, soul-searching and/or investigation, and it’s important to do due diligence. It could end up saving you time, money and even heart-break later.
Do you have a mantra that has guided you more than any other?
“This life is more than just a read thru.” It’s a song lyric by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and it speaks to me so much, I had it tattooed on my arm. It’s my own personal carpe diem and a reminder that we only get one chance at this thing called life so you better make the most of it while you are here.
Which woman do you most admire and why?
As they say in the Spiderman comic (or Voltaire, depending in who you ask!), with great power comes great responsibility. I really admire women who use their celebrity and/or affluence to give back and support those in need. To give a voice or the means to become self-sufficient to those who don’t have these privileges. In a world where people like the Kardashians use the media for self-exploitation, and to pad their piggybanks, it’s nice to see women like Angelina Jolie-Pitt, Oprah Winfrey, Melinda Gates, Ellen DeGeneres, Lady Gaga, etc. use the attention they can generate to do good and make real change.
That I can bake, cool, frost and decorate a cake in under 1 hour. Seriously!!! People are always incredulous when they come to the shop and don’t understand why they can’t get a custom-made cake that afternoon! But I don’t think that is the type of answer you are looking for! I think that one of the biggest misconceptions about me is that my life is smoothly choreographed and that I am on top of everything going on in the shop and at home. In reality, I am a bit of a workaholic; I stress about finding the time to get everything done. I don’t sleep much at night – I have nightmares about forgetting something, or missing the deadline on an order. I worry about whether or not I will make the rent in the shop every month. I worry about whether my employees are happy. I worry that I am a bad mom and not spending enough time with my kids, and my husband! I may come across as laid-back and cool, but inside, my brain is often buzzing – with all the things that need to get done, and all the things I feel guilty about not having the time to get done. And that’s when I need to go back to my reply to your earlier question: “Not to stress so much; things just have a way of working out in the end, don’t they?”
How can Mutton Club readers find out more about what you do?
I am addicted to Instagram so you can find daily updates from the shop and what we are working on there: @sugar_daze You can find us on the web and on Facebook. Or better yet, if you happen to be in Paris, stop by for a cupcake, cookie or hot fresh cup of joe. We are located in the Pigalle neighbourhood, just a hop, skip and a jump from the Moulin Rouge and Montmartre. Our address is Sugar Daze, 20 rue Henry Monnier, 75009 Paris, Tel: +33 9 83 04 41 77