Kate Wheatcroft, an Explo alumna featured on the Forbes Magazine "30 Under 30" list, co-owns Bien Cuit bakery (literal translation: well done) in Brooklyn. Together with her husband, Wheatcroft offers fine bread and pastry "rooted in the traditions of long fermentation and classical techniques, with a modern twist." She shares her experiences of the highs and lows of starting a business and offers some key career advice to students.
Did you always know what you wanted to do?
My parents were in business growing up, so I was pretty sure I wanted to run my own business. That said, my experience prior to opening Bien Cuit was pretty varied. I left college and re-started and directed the business development for a poetry magazine called Poetry Northwest. Then I did some consulting on e-commerce for a fashion company and launched several web-based viral marketing campaigns in fashion and food businesses. Then I moved on to re-design a fashion magazine’s web presence. Mixed into all of that, I spent a lot of that time traveling through Southeast Asia, Europe and the USA and parts of Central America.
20+ Explo Alums Crack Forbes' 30 Under 30 List
Every year, the editors at Forbes Magazine feature individuals who are the most innovative in their fields in their 30 Under 30 issue. To date, 20+ Explo Alums are among their number. To all of them, we'd like to offer our most enthusiastic congratulations!
How did you get involved in the food industry?
I had some experience with marketing for food businesses, but the main impetus was my husband. He knew since he was a kid that that he was passionate about baking. I was working on other people’s businesses and somewhat involved in the food industry so when he left his job we got the idea to open our own bakery together.
How did you come up with the idea for Bien Cuit?
The name literally translated means "well done," but in France, it is a term used to describe bread that is baked dark, which is a style that Zach, my husband, felt drawn to. We opened the bakery based on the baking skills he had developed in his career and my experiences helping other people set up their businesses.
How did you make opening a bakery a reality?
It was pretty serendipitous. We had just moved to Brooklyn, and Zach was looking for jobs baking while I was doing some consulting work. Almost every week we would explore a new neighborhood to get to know Brooklyn. I think somewhere in the back of our minds we had the hope that we might find a spot to open a bakery. One day we stumbled upon this old bookstore going out of business and it just felt right. We looked it up on craigslist and found the person representing it, and everything seemed to fall into place. Three days later we had signed a lease!
What was the biggest challenge that you faced when you were starting out?
We were very underfunded. Our construction went way over budget, as it usually does, so by the time that we opened we had only two weeks worth of payroll in our pockets! That was frightening. Luckily we hit the ground running with a great early mention in the New York Times and a really receptive neighborhood.
What is it like being in business with your husband?
In the first years while the business was small and we had to work really closely together it was quite difficult. It was pretty hard to leave the business at the business and keep home at home. As the business grew, Zach became less involved in the day-to-day management, as did I, so it has gotten much easier.
What is your favorite thing on the menu? How often do you actually eat Bien Cuit food?
Even after almost five years I still like snacking on the pain au lait buns. I am also a sucker for the pain au chocolat when I am in the right mood. Besides that I mostly just try the new items on the menu. There are certain things I burned myself out on like the turkey swiss even though they remain customer favorites. We constantly have a miche or pain de mie in the house for our family. And I probably snack on something from the bakery at least every other day.
What is the best part of your job?
Having grown something to the point where it functions without us has been amazing. It has allowed us to pursue other projects such as tying the bakery into sustainable agriculture which is an issue that we are both really passionate about.
What has been your biggest failure and what did you do about it?
I would say that almost all of my large failures in the business realm have stemmed from not following my gut and pursuing new projects or expansions even when I knew that it didn’t feel quite right.
What advice would you give to Explo students today?
Don’t be in a hurry to grow up. Find good mentors. Take the time to make sure you are acing what you are doing before moving onto the next step.
What do you wish that you could have told your Explo self?
Don’t pierce your belly button!