"It's a hard, dedicated life, and it's very easy to get burned out, but you have to love what you do. I love baking, and I love that people love what I bake, so there's so much gratification."
Our guest today is Teresa Velazquez, co-owner (with her husband, Tony) of Baked and Wired, a popular bakery in Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown neighborhood. Velazquez has seen the rise of coffee and cupcakes, and adjusted her business accordingly (pie, incidentally, is next). Here, she tells what it's like working alongside her husband, and reports that Barack Obama may soon be a fan of her cupcakes.
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BizBox: Tell us about Baked and Wired's origins.?Teresa Velazquez: We opened in April of 1991. At that point, we were, I think, the first bakery/coffee house [in D.C.], cause after us Cake Love opened. Our concept when we opened was more on the bakery side than the coffee side--we weren't very educated in coffee. I think coffee was still pretty new then. As the years progressed--I would say in the last, maybe, two years--we really got serious about coffee: we got a new roaster, a new espresso machine, we trained people in espresso. Also, about a year and a half ago we expanded the space.
We originally had a graphic design place. It was kind of my idea to say, Can we cut out some space for a bakery? And we just kind of did it--I had never cooked anything before besides a pan of brownies!
Then, more recently, we expanded the space, and opened a new lounge area, put in a marble bakery top.
You're saying "we". Who owns the business??My husband and I both own the business. He has his own architectural practice, too. He oversees all the money aspects--which is great, because I just kind of want to be in the kitchen and bake.
What is it like working and owning a business with your husband??We've been together for like 24 years. I started working at his architectural firm, and about a year or so later, before we were even married, we opened the coffee shop. So we have worked together every day, and lunched together every day. For us, it's not a hard thing. He still has his architectural practice, and he handles the money side, and we have a meeting every morning, to decide what we're going to do that day, to talk about long-term strategy. I guess we've done it for so long that it would be weird not to work together.
Sometimes it's hard to turn off your business life--becuase you have kids and family, and you have to not always talk about business.
We know about our strengths. He's a very organized person--he knows how much a cookie costs to make. And I'm more the producer. There's always a lot of stress involved, because it's hard to run a business, but we've always worked together, so I think we've managed to have a life, have a business, and work together and raise our kids. It would be weird if we weren't working together.
What made you want to be a baker in the first place??I was just always the one at grandma's helping her make cakes. My mom owned a bookstore, and my dad worked, and there was always a list of household jobs, and my job was usually to make dinner for everybody. I always had a real love for it.
But what made you want to open your own bakery??You just kind of start looking for holes in the market. We'd been in Georgetown, so we knew that there was a need, because the only place we had to go was the quick deli across the street with frozen muffins and bad coffee. We thought, "We can't be the only ones who want a fresh piece of banana bread."
Have you seen Baked and Wired grow substantially??Even over the last six months, it's become this kind of destination place for people to go. People come in to try cupcakes, which are so incredibly popular these days.
How do you market the bakery? Do you advertise??We have never marketed Baked and Wired. We opened. Thomas Jefferson Street is tucked away, but everything around it is a business district. We just opened, and people came. And we got written up in the Washingtonian, in the Post, and people start hearing about you more and more. Everything's growing and moving so fast that we haven't had time to [advertise]. You have Yelp, which everybody gets on, and spreads the word--Yelp is probably our biggest marketing factor out there right now. It's totally free.
A while ago the Post had a thing called the Cupcake Wars in the food section, pitting two places against each other each week. And we had the higher score. The Post came out on Wednesday, and I swear, from Thursday on through we couldn't produce enough food.
Our big competitor these days is Georgetown Cupcake. And there became this sort of cupcake war between the two of us, but really only between the bloggers. Which helped people who hadn't heard of us before hear about us! The whole computer/blogger age has been our greatest advertisement.
How has the slumping economy affected your business??It hasn't affected our business at all. We know a lot of people who own restaurants, and their businesses are down. I think that for us, since you can get a pretty latte with a heart on it, and you can go buy yourself a cupcake or a slice of pie, and you've spent eight bucks, and then you can say, "I deserve that, I had a really crappy day"--I think because of the price range we're in, it's not much to make someone's day better.
Our profit margins are less now, because our produce costs more, our supplies are more, you get hit with gas surcharges--in that area it's hurting. We really can't raise our prices anymore. What we have to do is just tighten up, make sure our staff is tight, make sure there's no overflow, no waste. We're just really conscious about how much we can do. But business has been great.
Have you been able to secure necessary financing??Everything that we have done in the store, like when we did the whole expansion, we pretty much labored ourself--I was painting the walls. But we financed that all ourselves, so we never had to go out and get a loan. I think that would be a lot harder these days.
What do you like about owning your own business??I think for both of us, it's being in control of your own destiny. Especially these days: we've had a lot of good customers, whom we've had for many years, and one woman--she just got laid off.
You're in charge of making sure you can pay the mortgage and you can pay the kids' tuition. But then on the other hand, you're not relying on anyone else.
I come from a family who owned their own businesses, and so did Tony. We'd much rather be in control of what we do. Out of my six siblings, almost all of them own their own businesses. My little brother works in the corporate world, and he wants out of it so bad. He doesn't feel fulfilled--he needs to have control over his own life. We're really hard workers. We work probably seven days a week. It's a hard, dedicated life, and it's very easy to get burned out, but you have to love what you do. I love baking, and I love that people love what I bake, so there's so much gratification.
What's Baked and Wired's next move??Since all of us are so sick of this cupcake craze, we are going to really market the pie scene. We're going to get homemade pie out there!
Our new super-big news is, one of our customerss works for the Daily News, he's the White House correspondent, and his office is down the street. He is going to deliver a couple boxes of cupcakes to the White House this week. He said they told him it may take a while to get to Obama, but he's going to give it to the staff, and hopefully it'll make its way to him.
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