Erica moved to New York City to work in fashion, but eventually became the founder of Sans Bakery. Today Sans products are found in coffee shops, stores, and cafes across New York. The bakery is known for being the best gluten-free and allergy-friendly baked goods. Erica told us about what it means for her to be powerful, her first job in New York, how to manage a team, and developing a business you are passionate about.
Erica, how did you make your way from a small town to New York City?
I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and it was rural and very conservative, which was hard for me since I wanted to go to school for fashion design. When I was getting ready to go to college, I realized it would be better to leave and head to a larger city. I decided to move out of my small town and into Philadelphia. I had a great experience and got a job in fashion.
What was your first job?
Norma Kamali! I learned a ton there and I always tell people it was like fashion boot camp! It is a high end, smaller company, so I worked closely with Norma. I had lots of interactions with different people and learned how to navigate dealing with “large” personalities. Later I worked at Ralph Lauren, Paper Denim, Alice and Olivia, and Converse. My last place to work in fashion was Haute Hippie.
“At times it is so hard with the competition but you should help other bakers and others around you.”
When did you decide to stop working in the fashion industry?
I was too tired, and I felt like I was just not having fun anymore. It started to turn into an unhealthy environment. You were expected to work seven days a week, at night, and fly overseas to make sure clothing was created fast and cheap. It was all just for clothing! I had always baked on the side and people said you should do this. After some thought it turned into a side business, and I knew in order to make it work I would have to quit Haute Hippie. I did some freelance during the day so the bills would get paid and did baking at night. Fast forward to now- no more fashion and full-time baker!
What was the biggest thing you learned during your career?
Being able to stick up for yourself and make sure people understand you are there to work, but you aren’t there to work like a dog. Being able to respect yourself and understand your boundaries will help you in the long run. Stand up for yourself and be positive. It will create a level of respect that might not be realised at first but will make you feel good later.
One thing is being able to deal with crazy, high-stress situations. People are yelling at you because of a random reason, but we can problem solve and work backwards. If you come at situations calmly, everyone else will be calm and you can fix it together. There are stressful times, but be calm and take it one step at a time.
Tell us about the start of your baking career. Were you always gluten-free?
I always was baking. I wasn’t gluten-free my whole life, but I have only been gluten-free for the past 15 years. After working at Converse, my husband and I moved to New Zealand for a year. I worked at a small gluten-free bakery there for fun. I said you don’t have to pay me, and I learned a lot. It was fun. That’s where it kind of clicked. I could be there for eight hours and not be tired at all because I loved it. I had a great day even when I was tired when I left work.
How did you first expand your business?
Back then there wasn’t anything gluten-free at a coffee shop. I think Think Coffee was one of our first bigger clients. They are super cool and have a great message. They were great at delivering and ordering. I did everything: the baking the delivering, the accounting. Eventually we transferred it over to big systems. At one point I realized we were doing great and making all of these things, but not making any money, so I had a business consultant talk to us and she helped us with pricing and how to talk to clients about pricing. She said this is totally normal. Her suggestions worked and allowed us to expand.
How big is Sans now?
We have a team of about 15 people. We have a lot of baker’s, people packing the product, and people delivering the product.
Where can people find your baked goods?
They can be found at coffee shops all over New York City. Also Juice Press and Juice Generation. We are going to launch on Amazon soon. You can also order on our website: https://sansbakery-nyc.com/.
How did you develop your branding and name?
We did initially come up with a logo ourselves, and had an outside graphic designer help us tweek it. My husband helped us. He designed the website.
What did you learn from managing a team and business?
It is hard to make everyone happy all of the time. You will always have bumps and hurdles. Making sure everyone is happy is hard because if someone isn’t happy it makes the whole team feel bad. You try to make sure everyone is in a good place and create a positive environment and know that everyone is there for each other. I don’t want anyone to cry in the hallway if the muffins get burned etc. I keep that in the back of my mind.
What does it mean for you to be powerful?
As a female business owner, I feel powerful helping other women. In the industry and on my team, to give the advice that people need, it is super nice. In fashion before, I was just turning out clothes. It is nice to pass it on and pass on the advice. At times it is so hard with the competition but you should help other bakers and others around you.