Romina Rasmussen, as a child, dreamed of being U.S. Secretary of State. After growing up in Utah, she left for college and some post-college time abroad. She always loved baking with friends but didn’t consider it as a career until she lived in Hong Kong. When she returned to the U.S. she spent some time working in a corporate environment but felt bounced around and taken advantage of.
At 33, she decided to pursue her passion and began attending the French Culinary Institute in New York. After school, she worked as a pastry chef at hotels and ended up in Florida. Back in Salt Lake, her brother owned a bar called Shaggy’s Living Room which did not have a kitchen. He secured a new space a few doors down with a kitchen but ended up moving the bar somewhere else. Romina’s brother offered her the new lease and, after seeing it, she said “Yes”. Unlike many people who start a business, she began with the space and worked out her plan afterwards.
When Romina opened Les Madeleines, a French patisserie, in Salt Lake City in 2003, it was the only from-scratch bakery in town. She put in 70 hour work weeks in the beginning and baked everything herself. Later, one of her biggest challenges was staffing, because she was doing something so unique and there weren’t many people in Salt Lake with a pastry skill set. During that time, she wished she had known that it was worth it to suffer a little while finding the right person, rather than hiring to have an extra body. She learned quickly that nobody cared for her business as much as she did. She dispels the myth that owning your own business means you do not have a boss. She says “I have hundreds of bosses; the people who come into my bakery every day!”
If she could give advice to women starting the journey of opening a business, she would tell them to:
Get some help. If there are resources, use them. She did not know about the free resources at the Women’s Business Center of Utah when she opened her business some 15 years ago.
Ask for advice. Find a mentor. Know your weaknesses and get help from the start. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or accept it. Be open-minded.
During Romina’s time working in a corporate environment, she learned the strategy of saying “No, but.” She recognized the importance of saying no, for her own sanity and in terms of knowing her weaknesses. But she doesn’t want you to leave her store empty-handed. She adds a “but,”; a suggestion of something she can offer. If you asked her to make you a cake decorated with fondant, she will say “No (fondant cakes are not her niche), but I can make you a platter of individual desserts called petits gateaux that will make us both happy.”
For Romina, the most rewarding part of running her own business is hearing people’s stories about what her baked goods mean to them. Whether it’s someone who has had a bad day and came into the bakery for a pick-me-up, or the person who comes in every week to get a treat before chemo. She’s heard of people using her kouign-amann to bribe their contractors to be on time. There are obvious moments, like being a part of someone’s wedding, but what she really loves are those subtle everyday moments of gratitude.
Visit Romina at Les Madeleines (216 E 500 S, Salt Lake City, UT) and http://lesmadeleines.com/.