Leveling Up: Three Daughters Baking Company Opens Café
As Garden State Kitchen celebrates its first year open for business, another important milestone approaches. One of the first entrepreneurs to sign up and cook in our shiny new space is about to move on to a kitchen of her own. Congratulations Erica Leahy – we can’t wait to see where you take Three Daughters Baking Company! Here’s her story.
A Curious Kid with a Sweet Tooth
Like most kids, Erica Leahy had a sweet tooth when she was little, but she took it a step further. “I’ve always been mesmerized by sweets,” she says. “I always looked at cake boxes and I wondered ‘how did they get those perfect layers?’” Now that she’s a pastry chef with 18 years of solid restaurant experience, Erica has answered that question many times over.
From Garden State Kitchen to the General Store Cooperative
Erica launched Three Daughters Baking Company just as Garden State Kitchen opened doors. The timing was perfect. Working in the baking kitchen, she’s been able to grow her customer base and scale up her business enough to support a move into her own space. Erica is opening a new café at the General Store Cooperative. While designing and building the kitchen is her responsibility, she will split rent and utilities with other local entrepreneurs who share the retail space. Many moments – and lots of hard work – led up to this exciting new venture.
Becoming a Chef
It all started with an unfulfilling office job. Looking for something fun to do, Erica signed up for a recreational class at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School (now the Institute of Culinary Education). This led her to the professional program which culminated in an unpaid externship – and a pivotal decision. She quit her desk job, gave up her apartment, and moved back in with her parents so she could work for free and gain fine dining pastry experience. “I was terrified, but I went for it,” she explains. “If I hate it, I hate it, and I go do something else.”
She didn’t hate it – she loved it. Her externship landed her a fulltime job and she started moving up the ranks, working for star chefs Daniel Boulud, Karen DeMasco and Tom Colicchio. Over the years, her hustle, talent and knack for organization earned her promotions and eventually senior positions. As the pastry chef at Craft, she created the dessert menu and trained her sous chef and cooks how to make and plate her dishes during service.
Running a Commissary Kitchen = Priceless
At one point, Karen DeMasco tapped her for something different. Crafted Hospitality was opening a huge commissary kitchen to support their new ‘Wichcraft stores as they rolled out across NYC. “I really had to figure all that out, which is great because a lot of that has transferred to my work now – what we can make ahead of time that will hold, how to portion and batch to keep track of inventory, how to set up systems that make sense,” Erica says. While there, the number of stores rose from two to six as she ran large-scale production for special events like New York Fashion Week.
Family and Time for a Change
Along the way, she married another chef who also works crazy restaurant hours. They have three daughters, the namesakes for Erica’s business along with the two sisters she grew up with. After starting a family, she wanted to work closer to home, so she took a pastry chef position at Jockey Hollow Bar and Kitchen. It would be her last time working in a restaurant. With Thanksgiving on the horizon, she left her job and emailed everyone she knew offering holiday desserts for sale.
A Business Plan and a Name
Demand for her sophisticated, not-too-sweet desserts picked up through word of mouth and Facebook. “People I didn’t know were reaching out to me about cakes,” Erica says. “That’s when I realized that this isn’t just friends and acquaintances anymore.” Inspired, she took a class at the Women’s Center for Entrepreneurship and started working out her concept and writing a business plan.
Next, Erica started doing pop-ups, which is how she met her future business partners, and the reason she joined Garden State Kitchen. Access to commercial baking space enabled her to also sell at the West Orange Farmers Market this year and to take on large special orders. One involved 1,000 custom macarons. Another, hundreds of pear bars that kept her busy for six weeks. “I couldn’t have done everything without Garden State Kitchen,” Erica says. “Honestly, it really helped me take my business to the next level.”
A New Home and a Bigger Menu
Opening her own kitchen has Erica excited and a little nervous. “You are going to have times when you feel like you just made the biggest mistake,” she says. “I keep reminding myself that I have a lot of experience, and my husband has a lot of experience, and we can figure it out.”
Once she moves into the café, she looks forward to experimenting with interesting ingredients like lavender and rosemary and offering new items by the slice to see how they are received. She also plans to draw on her husband’s expertise and add soup, sandwiches and other savory dishes in the new year. Stop in for a taste at the General Store Cooperative, 1875 Springfield Avenue in Maplewood, or follow Three Daughters Baking Company on social media.