Last week’s apple pie video got me thinking about the early days of my pie business and what an unlikely venture it was. If you would have asked me while I was growing up if I’d ever own a business, I would have laughed. Acting was all I wanted to do.
But, over the years, as my acting career has taken its many turns, I’ve considered opening all kinds of businesses – from decorating to restaurants to homemade ice cream. In 2005, after making an apple pie for more than 20 years, my husband dared me to start a mail order pie business. I remember my response so clearly, “what would I do if someone ordered one?” He replied that “it would be a good problem to have.” So I jumped in and took my pies from casual baking for friends and family to a real business. No, I didn’t have a business plan … wouldn’t even have known how to write one (and if I had, I might not have jumped in the way I did).
Looking back, the whole thing was fun – from the creative aspects of designing a logo and packaging, to negotiating deals with commercial kitchens and Williams Sonoma. I learned so much – most of which I would have never had the opportunity to learn or experience if I hadn’t just jumped in and said yes when the opportunity presented itself.
Much like me, my sister Debbie has had an unlikely path to entrepreneurship. She had been a private investigator for 15 years (that’s a whole other story), but when she had her two boys, she started looking at early childhood education and discovered the Montessori Method.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a quality Montessori school in her area so she decided to create her own. She got a Montessori teaching credential, then literally pushed the furniture out of the way and taught class in the middle of her living room. Fast-forward almost 20 years and she’s now the owner and head of Rancho Viejo Montessori School, one of Orange County’s premier Montessori schools. (Check out her video about the school)
Debbie’s determination to make it happen (whatever it is), doesn’t stop there. In 2008, when most of us were suffering the effects of a poor economy, some of the families at Debbie’s school were no different. Debbie needed to find some ways to diversify the business. “We had this large space, our Atrium, that wasn’t being used in the evenings or on weekends, so we thought why not open it up and host community classes,” said Debbie. “It would be a good expansion of the business for us, and it would give the community something too.”
Around this time, Debbie and her husband found a great house on Los Rios Street in San Juan Capistrano that really was the perfect solution to many of their needs. “For years we’d been looking for a property that would allow the older kids at school to connect with the land – where they could farm, build and cook,” shared Debbie about her search. “When we found this house, which was zoned both commercial and residential, we knew it would be a perfect home for us, as well as a place where we could extend what we were doing at the Montessori school.”
Like me, Debbie is an avid gardener and cook … it must be something in our upbringing. “Growing up our mother was ahead of her time. She believed in taking vitamins, cooking naturally and eating organic,” recalls Debbie. “Because of that, I’ve always been an advocate of keeping chemicals out of the food, reading labels to choose the least processed and using organic whenever possible.”
With all of this in mind, Debbie and her husband purchased the house, started planting food, put in raised garden beds, and planted fruit trees, berry patches and lots of roses. They even had their students design and build a chicken coop – the preschoolers care for the baby chicks and then the chickens move to the coop (remember those beautiful blue eggs from last week’s video!).
Today, in addition to being their home and a place for the students to connect with the land, The Farm School on Los Rios is also a cooking school for the community and a beautiful event location.
“We had this great property with a big commercial kitchen, so we started doing classes Thursday evenings and every other Friday night, as well as opening it up for events and parties,” shares Debbie. “The classes are wonderful, but the best part is the humanity we embrace – everyone who comes in seems to find a connection somehow. And, it reminds me of growing up with Mary Beth and our sister Carrie, sitting around the kitchen with our Mom and Grandma Fox – peeling, shucking, chopping and stirring. That was, and still is, the best time to visit!”
My sister, Debbie, is a little camera shy, so she asked me to lend a hand in creating a video about The Farm School and I thought I’d share that with you.
I wanted to share Debbie’s and my stories with you because, while they’re different, they have so much in common. Both of us took extremely unlikely paths to being business owners. We both started from pretty much nothing and took advantage of things that were available to us – talent, passion, experience and opportunity. Sure, neither of our businesses is likely to ever be on Fortune 500’s list, but we’re both happy and fulfilled by the experiences we’ve had. And in many cases, driven to do more. So, whether you’re looking to get your creative juices flowing, fulfill a passion or meet some financial need, take a look around – you’ll be surprised by the path’s you’ll find when you open your mind, and combine your talents or passions with hard work and determination.