We had the good fortune of connecting with Lauren Gaughen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lauren, we’d love to start by asking you about lessons learned. Is there a lesson you can share with us?
I have learned so much since starting my small business and continue to learn new things every day. I think the most valuable, and probably the most difficult lessons I’ve learned are knowing your worth, pricing accordingly, and learning that it is ok to say no to an order. In the beginning I charged so little for something that took so much time. I do not have any employees, it’s just me. I do all design research, the baking, making the icing, coloring the icing, decorating and packaging. I would take every order that came in because I didn’t want to say no or disappoint anyone. After all, sweets are supposed to make people feel happy right!? And because I was new and compared my work to bakers who have years of experience, I completely undercharged. I would be up all night working on orders and then have to care for my two young children during the day. I was running on empty, missing out on quality time with my family and wasn’t enjoying what I was doing. On top of that, when I took a look at my costs and how many hours I was working I was in absolute shock! I was making well below minimum wage! I knew things needed to change. I needed to realize that custom decorated cookies are not for everyone. The people who felt the need to compare my small business with large grocery store prices are not my clientele. I had to remember that what I am offering is something completely made by hand and my work is going to take a lot more time and individual attention than what you would find at a big box grocery store. Quality over quantity is very important to my boutique brand. I know the quality of my work, designs and ingredients and now know how to price accordingly for my time and talent.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I grew up in northern New Jersey and always loved baking. I have so many wonderful and comforting memories that revolve around it. My grandmother was always in the kitchen either cooking or baking. Everything she made was from scratch and most of the ingredients she used were picked fresh from her beautiful garden. Christmas was one of my favorite times to visit her. You would smell the cookies as you walked inside, and she would have dozens and dozens of tins filled with all different Christmas cookies. Another fond memory was from a birthday party I had as a little girl. It was a baking themed party and my grandmother handmade the most precious aprons for my friends and I to wear while we were baking. Such wonderful memories, I even still have the apron! Why am I sharing all this? It’s memories like these that I wish for everyone! Food, and especially desserts, should bring a smile to your face and make you feel happy. Celebrations big and small are meant to be remembered and if I can play even the tiniest roll with my decorated cookies, or other sweet treats it makes it all worth it. To help bring to fruition someone’s vision in edible art and be a part of their celebration is such an honor and I take so much joy in working with each person. The most gratifying part of my job is to see the reaction on my clients face when they see and taste their treats for the first time!
Before moving to Atlanta, I worked as a licensed Esthetician and educator for a global skincare manufacturer. I was privileged to travel to many different countries and work with beauty professionals from all around the world. After doing this for many years, I decided I wanted to focus on having a family, and my first son was born in 2015. Shortly after, we moved to Atlanta which is where my husband grew up and our second son was born in 2018. After having children, and working full time as a stay-at-home mom, I started to feel like I didn’t know who I was anymore. I felt a bit lost and identified only as “Mom” and not “Lauren.” I started baking, using it as much needed “me time” and as the creative outlet I so desperately needed. If I’m being honest, I never went into this with the idea of starting a business. It actually wasn’t until the reception of our youngest son’s baptism, when multiple people commented on how good the cookies I made tasted and that I should sell them! I thought to myself, “how amazing would it be to start a business doing something that brings me so much joy!” I did my research and started watching cookie decorating videos and practicing as often as I could. I fell in love with cookie decorating and creating edible pieces of art.
I started the Vanilla Bean Baker in 2019 and am still watching videos and taking classes to advance my craft and expand my menu. I take great pride in my bakes. I love working with different flavor combinations and exploring with seasonal ingredients. I really feel I put my heart into my work, from choosing to use high quality ingredients, down to the package presentation. Every detail matters. By the way, cookies aren’t the only thing I bake. My signature Vanilla Bean Butter Bunt is a customer favorite, as well as my newest addition, French Macarons!
My long-term business goal is to open up a bakery storefront. A place where when you walk in you can’t help but smile. A place where the sweet smell of fresh from the over cookies greets you as you walk in the door. Display cases filled with all sort of cookies, cakes, confections and pastries.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Atlanta is full of incredible places to visit and the food scene is pretty impressive with something for all. I think a few of Atlanta’s iconic institutions would be the places to visit first. Starting with the Georgia Aquarium, visiting the High museum, catching a show at the FOX and everyone needs to experience The Varsity at least once to hear those famous words “What’ll ya have, what’ll ya have!” Take a stroll through the botanical gardens, down the beltline or even Piedmont Park. Catching a game and a bite at The Battery makes for a great evening too. Ponce and Krog Street markets are great spots for lunch. Buttermilk kitchen for relaxed southern fare breakfast or brunch spot (did someone say chicken biscuit?!) LaGrotto for authentic Italian. In and around The Westside Provision District has got to be one of my favorite spots for food. There are a ton of wonderful options. Optimus, Eight Sushi Lounge, Taqueria del Sol, JTC and let’s not forget Jenni’s Splendid Ice cream! But, one of my favorite places is Marsel Restaurant located within Westside Provision. Now, this is a very special place and not somewhere I frequent often but it’s an experience. Order the Paris Brest for dessert, you won’t be disappointed. Since I am a dessert girl, a definite must is visiting A Cacao Affair out in Marietta, totally worth the drive from the city. This hidden gem is owned by a French pastry chef and chocolatier. It is a chocolate lovers dream. His pastries and macarons are incredible too. He is my go-to when I don’t feel like making anything and need a sweet treat.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would like to shout out to the entire baking community who continues to support, lift up and help each other grow. To the incredible female run businesses who have given me the opportunity to share my passion with them as well as their customers, clients and members. To the business owners who have been kind enough to answer my questions and guide me to expand my knowledge and better my business.
To my husband David, who’s continued support and dedication to our family has to allowed me to follow my dream (and get my orders out on time.) Not to mention sacrificing his waistline as my dedicated taste tester.
Brian Plus Lindsey Photography