Inspired by growing up watching shows on the Food Network, Pennsylvania native Shana Goldberger started experimenting with baking when she was just 16 years old. Like most young entrepreneurs she primarily educated herself by watching YouTube videos and searching Google for culinary tips and practices. “The thing with the Internet is that you can kinda teach yourself anything,” grins Goldberger. She loved creating sweets from scratch, but soon her growing interest in baking was put on hold while she pursued college in New York City. I saw Shana slump a little in her seat as she reminisced about her previous vocation. She knew that it wasn’t the right path, but sometimes knowing you’re an entrepreneur only comes from knowing what you are not.
Rather than continuing with her youthful passion for baking, as a graduate of NYU (New York University), Goldberger instead she worked in the costume departments of several Broadway productions, feature films, and network TV shows. “It sounds a lot cooler than it actually was,” she laughs, slightly ruefully. I was surprised because that really did sound cool! “I just got burned out. It was a really rough business. The hours… the people… I just realized that it didn’t match my personality. So, I moved to Vermont and started a bakery business instead,” Goldberger laughs again, this time more upbeat.
The true passion of her working life began when she started selling pastries, muffins, scones, cookies and pies at local farmers markets. Following this, as a natural progression, Goldberger went on to be a vendor at the Burlington Wine and Food Festival. She was approached by many retailers, such as Natural Provisions of Williston, Commodities, and other natural grocery stores that attended the festival to find new products, and they always came back for more! Soon the budding baker was being flooded with orders and her wholesale business was thriving.
“That made me realize that there was a demand for [my products],” Goldberger was onto something. This realization transformed her business from a seasonal farmers market vendor to a year-round wholesaler. In addition to this, Goldberger envisioned a “dessert bar” where people could pop in for a well-deserved treat, while she could continue to fulfill her wholesale line in the back. The very place where I was sitting, I realized, was her dream come to life. It was quaint yet lively, with a long table in the middle and smaller tables to the sides. The place was bright and welcoming, without feeling forced or artificial. It looked the perfect spot to sit and relax before a meeting or in which to catch up with an old friend.
“There isn’t really a place to just sit and have dessert. It’s more of a European idea that you would come and sit and have an espresso and a dessert while enjoying the ambiance. The vibe is very mellow and the lighting is very warm and inviting, and you can sit and enjoy a piece of cake. I’ve been calling it a dessert bar,” Goldberger enlightens me, grinning at her classification, before going on to mention “I do try to have one vegan and one gluten-free option, just so nobody feels excluded.”
There’s probably a lot of people like me that are not in ideal financial situations, but have great ideas for businesses … It’s so amazing that [Opportunities Credit Union] makes that possible”
She then shared a piece of her cheesecake that we used for the photoshoot. As a man that knows his way around desserts, I would have to say that I was slightly excited, giddy even. It looked similar to a New York style cheesecake, but fluffier and more noticeably puffed. She christened the top with a healthy dollop of homemade creme fraiche whipped cream. Just below the very whipped, whipped cream, the cheesecake was drizzled with an even and flowing layer of raspberry cardamom compote. Little chunks of raspberry lightly textured the sweet sugary gelatinous sauce and provided a smooth but enticing dash of excitement to the first bite. Below the raspberry goodness, the fluff (and I mean this in the best possible way) awaited me. Cheesecake, it has to be said, is generally synonymous with heaviness. However, lo and behold this treasure of a cake transcended all other cheesecakes in content, context, and texture. The central yellowy cheese is light and almost fluffy. Not in a way that takes away the good parts of the consistency of cheesecake, but rather in a way that complements the experience. It felt perfect for a hot summer day in Vermont. And, only after a single bite, the morsel dissolved, causing an immediate recurring need for another taste. Finally, I came to my favorite part of any cheesecake; the crust. The crust, as in most cases, offers stability and sometimes crunch, but in this instance, it was also slightly chewy and sweet — a surprising innovation that added originality and a dash of verve to a perennial regional staple. The next bite finally hit the dollop of whipped cream. It was reminiscent of eating a cloud if indeed a cloud could be eaten. My fork cut through the center of the round sweet nimbus and straight down the center of the slice like a lightning bolt through stormy skies. This was, of course, the best bite. Overall, the intensity of the experience seemed to dull the lights around me, and a radiance of pure joy exuded from the cheesecake. It is truly a delicacy to die for.
Goldberger, with a big smile of satisfaction on her face, adds proudly, “I want to make comfort food that is exciting at the same time. [However], everything in moderation. It’s okay to eat a little cheesecake once in a while. I eat chocolate every day.”
Goldberger had attended CWE (The Center for Women’s Enterprise in Vermont) and was mentored by Gwen Pokalo. Pokalo, the director of the program, has mentored many other women like Goldberger, providing guidance to those wishing to pursue their dreams of entrepreneurship.
“It was a pleasure and honor to work with Shana,” said Pokalo. She went on to mention that she started working with Goldberger when she first started her wholesale business. “She was very strategic in her growth… and used all the [business training] resources available to her.” Pokalo also jokingly went on to say, “her chocolate mousse has given meaning to my life.” I laughed aloud as I too shared Paklo’s sentiment concerning Goldberger’s treats.
Because Sweet Babu was a start-up, securing a loan would have been more difficult through traditional financing channels. But, armed with weeks and months of business training with Pokalo and the CEW, Goldberger could now take action with confidence. Goldberger needed a loan to purchase small equipment, build up an inventory and have some working capital for the storefront that she’d been working toward at the time.
“They are known for working with people with unique financial situations,” affirms Goldberger. “I went to art school and had no business experience, so getting a loan was scary, but Laz [Manrique] [business lender at Opportunities Credit Union] walked me through all the points that I needed to understand so that it was clear… [to me], Goldberger states confidently. This artistic entrepreneur had a drive to make her business successful and was happy to have Opportunities Credit Union on her side.
“I was very enthusiastic about working with Shana,” Laz Manrique quickly answered. I spoke to him over the phone. “It was a good fit because she had so much training from CWE, and she really knew what she was getting into.” The Opportunities Credit Union business lenders are often on the road visiting client’s workplaces. Manrique pulled over and took the time to make sure his client was represented well in the blog post. “Make sure you try her products, “ his tone shifted. “I can’t say enough about the products! But, you know, she did such a great job gearing up for the loan and that it made it easier for us to help her get the lending she needed. It was a great relationship from the beginning because of it [the training]. I look forward to continue working with Shana as Sweet Babu grows,” said Manrique.
“There’s probably a lot of people like me that are not in ideal financial situations but have great ideas for businesses. Those people should be able to see what they can do. It’s so amazing that [Opportunities Credit Union] makes that possible,” smiles Goldberger. But not everyone can pass muster. Even though Goldberger was a start-up, Opportunities Credit Union still has to make good investments.
“It’s incredibly important. This whole community is about small business. And we don’t want big box stores and chain stores coming in and taking over, and the only way to do that is to enable small business owners to grow their businesses,” claims Goldberger. Shana hit a nerve that sent a shockwave through my thought process regarding business in Vermont. As Vermont entrepreneurs continue to strengthen the validity of our own economy and wealth, they will always be codependent on lenders with a vision.
Goldberger’s words vividly bring Opportunities Credit Union’s mission statement to life. It is their members from all walks of life that are building a community based not just on numbers, but, more importantly, also on values and principles. She had followed her passion, and through the help of community programs like CWE, she discovered her inner entrepreneurial spirit. Who knew that business lending could have so much heart and soul?
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