When I left corporate America after fifteen years, I knew what I was doing was hard, but that it would eventually pay off. I love shining a light on other women who have done the same thing, particularly when they’re as fun and delightful as Dana Loia, founder of Dana’s Bakery. If you and your tastebuds haven’t met Dana’s incredible creations (you can order them online from anywhere, and I’d suggest you do it today because DESSERT,) you’re in for a treat; the woman who left her cubicle to become a pastry chef is turning the world upside down with her inventive creations. From her addition to natural beauty and band t-shirts to how to leave your cubicle and follow your dreams, this is how Dana does it:
On how she started Dana’s Bakery…
“I went to school for photography at Parsons and worked as a photo editor for ten years at places like City Magazine, Quick & Simple, and Brides. My final corporate job was at Muscle & Fitness, which was was fun, but it’s where I reached a ‘light bulb moment’, almost a mid-life crisis at 30. I was sitting in my cubicle editing photos of men in Speedos and thought, “Oh my God, is this what I’m going to do with the rest of my life? Is this really what I want to do?” That’s when I realized I wanted to change direction.
I’d always loved baking, but never thought of it as a career direction until that point. I realized then if I was going to leave my career and make a business of it, I needed to get some formal training, so I started researching. Within a week or two, I’d quit my job and enrolled in culinary school at The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) and started the new journey. I went to school nights and weekends and worked at Abe & Arthur’s during the day, so I got a lot of experience pretty quickly. It was kind of intense, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I graduated about ten months later and got an award for “Most Likely to Succeed,” which was awesome. My parents were so proud.
I have always loved French macaroons: they’re yummy, and selfishly the photo editor in me loves that they’re so beautiful and photograph so well. But as they were taking off in the US, it seemed to me that you always got the same classic flavors: lavender, rose, vanilla, etc. I’m a total foodie and I’m pretty adventurous, so I wanted to create flavors that were more like my favorite comfort food: red velvet cake, breakfast foods, that kind of thing. That’s how the concept for my bakery was born. We’re gluten-free and kosher, too.
I believe if you’re going to do something, you have to take it seriously and make an investment, so I made the choice of renting a test kitchen in New Jersey to start the business. I started renting a couple of hours a month. Now, we’ve taken over the building and have expanded three times and in two and a half years. We now have a 3500 ft. facility and eighteen employees, not including the store at the Gansevoort Market, which we just opened a couple of months ago.
We started with online distribution for local New York City delivery, and the demand for nationwide delivery came pretty quickly. Everything is done through social media, and it’s unusual to have a bakery come out via online first as opposed to brick-and-mortar first, but social media helped us expand quickly because the flavors are so unexpected and good. Now, we’re available online as well as in New York City at our store at Gansevoort Market as well as 60 retail locations: all the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf stores in New York, Williams-Sonoma, Whole Foods, Dylan’s Candy Bar, and Fresh Direct. “
On her favorite flavors…
“It’s like picking your favorite band! I love Mallomac, which we just brought back for a limited time. It’s a Mallomar interpreted as a macaroon. Then there’s Fruity Cereal, which is made with real cereal, and Birthday Cake, which has edible glitter and tastes like real birthday cake. I love them all, but those are my favorites, and it seems customers really love them as well.”
On starting a business…
“Honestly, the business aspects were the hardest. I’m a creative by nature and not a natural business person, so no matter how small, there’s always a detail: legal, finance, numbers – all of the stuff I’d never dreamed I’d be managing. I’ve learned a lot in a short time, but I learn something new every day.”
Every day is different after giving up the cubicle life. I start every morning by getting up super early to go to the gym around 5 am because I eat macaroons all day, and I feel like it starts the day off on the right foot. Then, I get my favorite coffee: Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Iced Americano, three shots, two Sugar in the Raw packets. I love the flavor and they have purple straws, which is my favorite color (also the color of the company.) I check social media and news, then head to the kitchen where have a team meeting and then we’re constantly creating new flavors and working on production, or I’ll head into the city where I do tastings and outreach, or I’ll come to the Gansevoort Market location. Every day is a little different, but the workouts and the coffee are always a constant.”
About her favorite beauty products….
“I try to keep things natural and I don’t wear a lot of makeup. But I swear by Maybelline New York Baby Lips; I feel like I’m notorious for talking about them. I’m not a big lipstick person, but the fact that it’s a colored lip balm and it feels so good makes it one of the best things ever. I also love Josie Maran Argan Infused Creamy Chubby Concealer ; it’s made with argan oil so it’s really good for you. I’m also all about eye creams: La Mer The Eye Concentrate is my favorite. So, daily it’s eye cream, concealer, lip gloss, and mascara – YSL Beaute Volume Effect Faux Cils is just the best. There’s something magical in there. It doesn’t get clumpy, and the older it gets, the better it is.
I also make my own body scrub. I’m all about Italian extra-virgin olive oil, and I use it all over. I’ll do a scrub on my face and/or body that’s two parts rice flour to three parts olive oil and then I’ll let it sit for 10 minutes. If I’m not taking a shower, I’ll just do my face, but once you rinse it off, it leaves your skin so healthy and hydrated. I never get breakouts, and I never get clogged pores.
I love Aesop Equalizing Shampoo on my hair, and I’ll rarely add a little conditioner on the ends if I feel like I need it since my hair is so long, then I just let it air dry. I’m pretty low maintenance with my beauty products.”
On her wardrobe…
“I’m very much about a mix of high-low. I’m all about bags and purses and jewelry, which are my splurges that I mix with a uniform of flannels and band t-shirts, leather jackets, jeans, etc. I can dress the look up with heels or down with sneakers (I’m devoted to Chuck Taylor’s Converse.) I feel like I’m known for wearing a leather jacket: leather weather forever. I’ll find a way to wear it no matter what the weather’s doing. I don’t really spend a ton of money on clothes, but I feel like a good bag is a great investment. I’m obsessed with a good handbag, like the Celine Phantom or the Givenchy Nightingale Zanzi. I’m also really into the Balenciaga Paper Zip Bucket right now. I’m having a moment with bucket bags.”
How what she does to relax…
“I love to make brunch. If I could do a brunch meal every single day, I would. I love to have people over and do fun brunch or dinner parties. I also love music, so I will go to any concert at any time. Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Black Sabbath are some of my favorites. I also love The Ramones. Our kitchen plays a lot of my favorites now. I feel like I’ve turned everybody on to David Bowie.”
If she’s not eating macaroons…
“My favorite foods are Mexican and sushi. I could eat sushi every night of the week.”
On what makes her happy
“Honestly, just getting to do what I love every day. I get up every day and I love going to work. I know that sounds cliché, but that wasn’t the case for a long time, and I feel like I’ve found my purpose and people who surround me every day who bring me joy. I do something that makes people happy as well. I don’t know if that comes with age or finding something that you like to do, but I’m in such a good place right now and I’m so happy.”
If you’re sitting in a cubicle right now with a great idea….
“I would say really find out what you want to do, and then surround yourself with good people who are supportive and encouraging. On the opposite side of that, you’re also going to get a lot of opinions, so you have to know what you want to do and hold fast to what you believe in, the whole “why” of what you’re doing. Focus on what makes your idea different than anyone else, and hold onto that passion. Then, go for it!”
Dana Loia photographed at Gansevoort Market on January 16th, 2015 by Kristin Booker. All rights reserved.