When we’re not working with clients or designing new products, we can usually be found trying a new restaurant, perched on a bar stool at our favorite winery, or indulging in a dessert or two somewhere around town. Simply put, we’re foodies. Not only that, but we’re foodies with an appetite for just about anything sweet, savory, or salty. Being in Sacramento, we have access to a smorgasbord of tasty treats and eats, especially in the dessert realm. While we prefer a rustic loaf of french bread over a chocolate cake on most occasions, we can’t help but crave one of our favorite cult classic dessert shops, Ginger Elizabeth.
Located in the swanky, sun-soaked midtown Sacramento neighborhood, Ginger Elizabeth has a feminine French feel, lending well to the aroma of chocolate and spices always pouring out of its glass doorway. Lucky for us, we got front row seats to the chocolatey action with Ginger Elizabeth herself.
How did Ginger Elizabeth come to be?
From a very young age I loved food, and I worked in hotels, chocolateries, bakeries, and restaurants through high school, college, and after college. I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and on my 24th birthday I got my business license and used that, along with a $2,500 line of credit to open a wholesale business that I ran out of a space I rented at Mulvaney’s.
About a year into my wholesale business I met my husband Tom, and a year after that the two of us opened up the retail store on L Street. Two years ago we moved our kitchen to an offsite location in West Sacramento and have continued to expand the business since then.
What challenges did you face starting a business of your own?
“Honestly, I think my age was a bit of a challenge. I was 24; people didn’t take me seriously. Most thought I was going to fail, and few thought I was really brave. They just didn’t think I had enough life experience under my belt and so everyday was a new lesson.”
I did a lot of research on government regulations and work to make sure everything was in compliance. Accounting was another new and big task for me. When you have nothing but a credit card to pay your bills with, being in business can be very daunting. Before Tom, I was sharing a house with five girls and building my business every morning and then working a 12-hour day shift at my job as a pastry chef just so I could make it work.
Why was Sacramento chosen as Ginger Elizabeth’s home base?
Well, I’m from the Apple Hill area originally, and when I moved back here from Chicago I was in debt from student loans, staying with my parents, and working a full-time job. I didn’t have the money you needed to start a business in San Francisco, but I knew in Sacramento I could start with what I had– access to some of the best fruit (and food) in the country, and I had passion.
“Back then, locally sourced as a relevantly new concept, and there was no chocolate shop in town. I felt like Sacramento needed us. We got to create something new, and it worked.”
What inspires you to create new recipes and products?
I get inspired by what’s around me, but especially fashion, traveling, and of course some of the world’s greatest pastry chefs. I love growing my own food at home in my garden, cooking, and staying connected to the industry.
When I feel a creative week coming on, I really dive in. I don’t ask for them, they just sort of show up and I’ll stay in that space to create. Sometimes when I’m visiting a farm I’ll find an off-crop that they don’t sell to the mainstream or in Farmer’s Markets, and I’ll be inspired to use 40 or so of something I find there. I love finding creative pairings and ways to make something new, and using ingredients that are as locally sourced as possible.
The sourcing is important to me. I care about how the food was grown, how far it traveled to get to me, how the laborers were treated, and the work culture of the companies and farms I partner with. Every detail from the ribbon on my boxes, to the fact that my bags are 100% recyclable, and especially the chocolate we use, matters.
“The little details are what makes the product amazing.”
What is your personal favorite creation offered at Ginger Elizabeth?
The Gateau Maison. It’s a classic chocolate cake with no frosting, no filling, and no frills, but it makes chocolate taste better than chocolate!
The Gateau is a very pure form of decadence, and every time I eat it, it reminds me of why I got into the industry. You have to be very skilled to m ake this cake; it’s very fussy and particular and is simple and indulgent at the same time. And, it reminds me of the kind of cake a French family would sit down and enjoy in their home, which is how it got its name (house cake).
What advice would you offer to small business owners looking to get a jump start on their ideas?
My father was an entrepreneur, a contractor, and when I was 15 I worked a 17-hour day with him out in Nevada at an Air Force base. I got to see what it would be like to be in his shoes, self-employed, and what kind of work that took.
I’ll never forget when we left at the end of the day. He was exhausted, and it was so late. He hopped in his car and as we drove across the exit he noticed that there was some gravel that had kicked across the ground. Instead of just closing the gate and going home, he got out of the car and got his great big heavy wire broom and began to sweep. He swept until everything was perfectly tidy, and I’ll remember that kind of dedication for the rest of my life.
“I’m lucky I saw firsthand the amount of work it takes to own your own business, and that I got to spend years in the industry before I tried to open my own place. Being a sole proprietor can be so much more work than people bargain for. To survive on your own, you’ve got to be willing to put the time and energy in, and to know your trade. You can’t expect to be successful in a business you know nothing about; go work for other people first and learn from them. The effort and commitment you put into your business at its foundation is what will allow you to grow later.”