While winning TLC’s hit show, Cake Boss: The Next Great Baker with Buddy Valastro, gets a baker a lot of media attention, Chef Dana Herbert uses a number of strategies available to all bakers, pastry chefs and cake decorators to expand his business. Chef Dana’s possesses an extensive education with a bachelor’s degree in hotel, restaurant, and institutional management from the University of Delaware, a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts from Johnson and Wales University along with an additional associate’s degree in pastry from Johnson and Wales. All of this and a hunger for success has taken Chef Dana from a phone line in his brother’s bedroom with a small oven to a successful and multifaceted business owner with a brand that continues to grow.
The Road to Success
Upon graduation, Herbert started with Marriott on the savory side as a chef in one of its kitchens, and since the beginning he’s worn more than one hat. “I literally started my Desserts by Dana business the same day,” he says. When a pastry chef position opened at one of Marriott’s convention center properties, knowing that he had his own dessert business, his bosses approached him about “straightening out the pastry shop.” Herbert took the opportunity and made the best of it by continuing to learn about the pastry and the business. “It challenged me to produce volume as well as making sure everything was nice and classy,” he says.
After he left Marriott—and continuing to run and grow Desserts by Dana—Herbert took a job with the government agency, The Delaware River and Bay Authority, taking care of its cafe and catering operations. Also, he competed in, and won, Cake Boss: The Next Great Baker. Clearly, a strong work ethic and vision have played a major role in the success and growth of Chef Dana Herbert’s business ventures, but there are some other things that enabled these traits to grow his business.
Getting more sales means more orders and getting more products out of the door, or getting one or more larger orders on a regular basis. Wholesale accounts provide a great opportunity for regular, larger orders. Providing desserts for other businesses in the foodservice industry is one way Chef Dana has increased volume. “What I’ve basically done is partnered with some of the convention centers, country clubs, hotels and so forth,” Herbert says. “I’ve been moving a lot more desserts that way, doing mini pastries, doing desserts for their plated functions in addition to their wedding cakes.”
While perseverance and hard work always pay off in some way or another, gaining these contacts and jobs often requires good timing. But, knowing what is going on in the field is a way to create timing and a little bit of your own luck. “Sometimes when you’ve heard about bad experiences at certain places, that is a good time to approach some of these different businesses with other options,” Herbert says.
Retailers will often carry baked goods from outside vendors as well. Herbert has cultivated a relationship with a retailer close to his Delaware shop as another avenue for selling his desserts wholesale. “We’ve created a partnership with the Kenny Family ShopRites of Delaware recently,” Herbert says. “They’ll be selling all of our products at all the ShopRites in the area. We’ve basically trained their staff to produce a line of Chef Dana products.”
Those who are looking for easy and convenient ways to grow their bakery business needn’t look further than educating others and demoing some of their own methods that others might not be familiar with. “You can really add another 20% to your bottom line just by being out there and demoing and traveling a little bit,” Herbert says. “Especially with some of the nicer conventions that are out there, whether it’s IBIE or IDDBA, there are ways to grow that bottom line.” And conventions are not the only opportunity.
Small classes in your own shop or guest teaching at institutions can prove to be lucrative as well. “I hold classes from time to time, I travel and teach classes,” Herbert says. “I also like visiting other culinary universities and colleges. These kids are clamoring to know more, so you bring them more,” he adds.
Assembling your team
With a lot of growth, comes a lot of work. While Chef Dana prefers to take care of the dreaming/planning of where he ultimately wants his business to go and be, he also understands that a good team is essential to getting all the work done. How you choose your team means knowing what you want. To grow a business means going after that growth tenaciously and maintaining a vision. You want people that you feel good about, but also those who will get things done. “It’s really just finding those people that are hungry, focused and have their eyes on the prize,” Herbert says.