Miriam Rieder, Founder of Taste by Spellbound, has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. The young entrepreneur started her first business at age 11. Miriam told Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price about her journey from a young girl who loved cake decorating to a successful small business owner.
NAN PRICE: At age 18, you were discovered by Elvis Duran and The Morning Show, which led to the nationwide launch of your web-based truffle business. Tell us about that experience.
MIRIAM RIEDER: I had started making red velvet truffles for friends and family—they loved them. I had set up Taste by Spellbound—it was a simple, no-frills website for friends and family across the nation to order them and pay through PayPal.
On a whim, I decided to send some of my truffles to The Morning Show. I wasn’t really doing it to get my product talked about, I just wanted bragging rights to be able to say I sent my truffles to Elvis Duran on The Morning Show!
After I sent them, I got a call from one of the team members telling me Elvis loved the truffles and wanted to talk about them on air.
From that small plug, our website probably got 5,000 hits. Prior to that, I had only done maybe 10 orders. So getting that many hits in one day—I was blown away.
We got about 100 orders, which isn’t a ton, but going from about once a week to that many, I remember thinking: What do we do?
I was dipping and shipping and everything while working a full-time job. We pulled in a fair amount of money from that push. It did kind of have a residual effect—for a few days people were still searching for the truffles because it was up on The Morning Show website. So we were continuing to get orders for a good week or so.
NP: But it didn’t end there?
MR: Right. A month later, I got a call from someone on The Morning Show telling me one of the ladies on the team was getting married and she was thinking of using my truffles as wedding favors.
I was invited to meet The Morning Show team. As soon as Elvis and I met, we had an instant connection and he wanted me to go on air with him. So that April I went on air for eight minutes at 8:00 in the morning on one of the biggest morning shows in the country.
We got 23,000 hits on our website that day. I walked into my job the next day and quit.
NP: Were you afraid the momentum would drop off?
MR: That massive push sustained me for a while—Taste by Spellbound was still being Googled and sought after for quite a few months.
I went back on The Morning Show in September and then again in the beginning of November. That took me through the holidays. After the holidays, that’s when I said: Can I make a career out of this or do I say that was kind of cool that that happened and move on and go to college?
That’s when I decided to open a brick and mortar in Avon and see what happened. I had no culinary experience.
NP: So you don’t have a business background, you’re learning as you go?
MR: My mom is co-owner with me. So she does all the business and accounting stuff. I do all of the front of the house bakery stuff.
NP: How was funding in the beginning?
MR: I pocketed everything I’d earned from The Morning Show pushes. I think at age 19, most people would have blown the money on a car or gone to Europe. I thought: I’m going to keep this and use it for something bigger.
So that was the biggest chunk we used to invest in the business. And then, because I was 19 when I started the company, my parents took out two loans for me.
A lot of people that start into the food business spend $50,000 to $60,000 on a kitchen. My mom and I said we have $20,000 and that’s all we had to work with. So what are we going to do to maximize the space? What do we need?
We learned that going in, starting small and growing bigger when you have the money is the best way. Because we’ve been so frugal, we were able to get the whole entire business paid off in two years. That’s pretty much unheard of as far as a startup business goes—especially in the food industry.
NP: You’ve grown a lot since you opened your first store in Avon five years ago. Have you had to hire people and manage them? How has that learning curve been for you?
MR: Trying to balance how to be a boss without being a tyrant at a young age has definitely been a learning curve. There were some mess ups in the beginning, but over five years I’ve kind of learned how to balance it and develop trust and communication with my employees. It’s important to just be one on one with them and not let things escalate into massive problems. So yes, becoming a boss was one of the biggest hurdles.
NP: Speaking of hurdles, what else has been a challenge for you?
MR: Cracking into the community was a hard thing to do. Avon is a very different community—the sidewalks roll up at night.
Finally, after five years and we have a very steady clientele. But we are a first-come-first-serve bakery, so in the morning is when we have the most product. By the time we close, nine times out of 10 we are either sold out or we don’t have much left.
In the beginning, that was hard for people to understand. For example, they would come in at 3:00 and wonder why there weren’t any cupcakes left. Well, if we close in two hours and we bake more and there’s a lot leftover, it’s not worth it. So we would rather lose maybe $30 in one sale then lose $120 to $150 product.
NP: So managing supply and demand.
MR: Correct. Which is a hard one to do. You have to go back and look at your sales from the prior year and say figure out what it was like last year at this time. Weather has a lot to do with it. Sometimes on a snowy day you think it won’t be busy, but it is. So we try and bake a general amount we think we’re going to sell.
Our other shop in Windsor is open until 9:00 p.m. So managing the supplying demand is one of the challenging things, because if they run out early, we have to bake in Avon and take it over there.
NP: Did you plan to open a second shop? Why South Windsor?
MR: Things have changed as far as my goals and dreams. I’ve learned to take things day by day. My original goal was to get into New York City in three years. Five years later, I haven’t gotten there. My next plan was to get into Fairfield County to kind of have a line down to New York. And I honestly don’t know if I want that anymore. New York is oversaturated.
Why South Windsor? One of the management team members of the Promenade Shops at Evergreen Way in South Windsor comes to Taste in Avon because she lives in Simsbury. The team was having a meeting about potential talents, and she brought up my name. They called to ask if I was interested. At first I said no. That’s the opposite way I wanted to go.
The more we thought about it, it made sense because it would enable me to have a second location 30 minutes away instead of an hour and a half away. So this gave me a chance to have a second shop and test my business assumptions.
NP: As far as competition and marketing, there are obviously quite a few bakeries in both areas. What sets you apart?
MR: I would say taste and uniqueness in flavors. We are fully from scratch and we bake fresh daily, so our menu changes our daily. That keeps people interested because they know they can always try something different. It’s also something my employees love—they don’t have to do the same thing every single day. They get to have fun with flavors.
NP: Tell us something we don’t know about what it’s like to really be an entrepreneur.
MR: Sometimes women who come to me tell me they love to bake and they want open up a bakery someday. I tell them: It’s not what you think it is. Not that I would change my life. But I can honestly say if I knew some of things that I’ve learned over the past six years, would I do it again? I’m not sure I would.
But I look back and I’m amazed that at 25 years old I have a team of 10 people. They wouldn’t have these jobs if I wasn’t here. So it’s a much bigger picture than just me.