An interview with Michela Sorano, owner of Baked by Michela. She is a Bucks County, Pennsylvania based pastry chef, baker, and dessert extraordinaire. Michela found a love of baking when she was just a child. As she grew up and became a working professional, she found that her talent for baking sweet treats grew as did her passion for doing it. She continued to work in corporate professional cooking for several years and had dreams to open a bakery one day. She knew that it would become a reality if she kept her head down and continued striving towards what was in her heart. While only in her twenties Michela is already making a name for herself in the culinary world. Michela’s business is now growing faster than ever, and she is offering pastry and dessert catering for weddings, anniversaries, private events, in-home services, as well as attending a host of neighborhood events. Even at such a young age, Michela Sorano has an impressive list of accomplishments and is known by many around her as an old soul – someone that has truly grown and learned from the trials and tribulations she’s faced. Her pastry business is better than it has ever been, and perhaps a brick-and-mortar bakery is in the near future.
What inspired you to start Baked by Michela out of your home?
When starting Baked by Michela, I honestly never knew if it was ever going to be as big as I hoped it would be. When starting your own business, especially when it comes to food and making people happy of course, there is going to be some insecurity and self-doubt. I still struggle to this day to feel if I am good enough and if every customer would be satisfied with what they purchase. Sometimes I am just too hard on myself, and I always feel like I could be better, and it is a work in progress. Over the last four years, I have built a large customer base and have had amazing feedback. Success in such a short time has truly helped me to have less self-doubt and recognize my skill when in the kitchen.
When I think about what inspired me to go down this path, when it comes to my career, it honestly started when I was younger around the earliest age, I can remember I have always wanted to be in the kitchen.
After high-school, I decided to take a year off and work as a shift lead at my local Dunkin’ Donuts. This was my first job and I felt I excelled extremely fast. After a couple of months, I became a shift lead at the age of 16. At this job I learned how to train others, work in food service and over all learn how to be a leader. I loved it. While I was working and taking time for myself, I knew I wanted to enter a culinary program. Eventually I found Bucks County Community College and I enrolled in their two-year pastry chef apprenticeship, while working at my second job as a cake decorator at my local Acme markets. I would have never thought that I would honestly have any interest in cake decorating, but once I enrolled in the pastry chef apprenticeship, I noticed that pastry and decorating go hand in hand. It was an amazing skill to learn, and I am grateful for the opportunity of working while also learning during this time.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
When I first started my business page, I knew I wanted to offer cookie trays during the holidays. While growing up around my mommom Rosemarie Burke, she worked for the sisters of Holy Redeemer in Meadowbrook, PA. She ran the kitchen and they also baked cookies, loaf cakes, and other desserts during the year. Every year they would make cookie trays to give away as gifts to friends and family for the nuns that they worked for. There are ten different cookie recipes that have been passed down for decades. While also making these trays at work, my mommom would come home in December and start her cookie production for our family. It is something that not only me, but my cousins and everyone in our family absolutely cherished every single year. I knew that other people would absolutely love these cookies, so that is what I decided to do.
Taking the skills that I have learned from my mommom and the recipes (of course with permission asked first) I created these cookie trays and started posting them on my page in December. I believe I only sold about 20 trays that year, but it was amazing to me. During my first year of running Baked by Michela I started experimenting with cake flavors, icing flavors, a full recipe book of my own that would include everything I would like to show case. My recipe book ranges from cookies, loaf cakes, cheesecakes, brownies, and plenty more. I never just focused on one type of baked good, I always loved to have variety.
With the help of family, coworkers, and all of their friends, Baked by Michela had around 300 likes on Facebook in the first year. As of now, Baked by Michela is approaching 1,100 likes on Facebook and growing. Follow Baked by Michela on Facebook.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a pastry chef? What was the lesson or takeaway you took out of that story?
A memberable story that I love has to do with a customer met my mommom at one of the events I was at. It was the first time that I ever met her, and my customer asked what the best thing I had on the table was. At the time of the event, my mommom was visiting my spot and I made sure to say the loaf cakes. I offer Jewish Apple Cake, Banana Bread, and Zucchini Bread and these are all my mommom’s recipes. I think that really stuck out to my customer and for the past year she has bought from me at every event that I am at. Also, she never forgets to say, “Say hello to your mommom” and she always makes sure to have a loaf cake in her hand. Over time, I have learned that these recipes are special to use and lots of people have loved them. It was definitely a memorable moment marking the first time I have built a relationship with my customer and seeing the bond behind my business is something really special to me.
A little lesson I take away from my previous story is I think most successful businesses out there are the most authentic ones. People like to see genuine passion the like to support small and local business or even the ones with stories behind them. The most authentic and real businesses are the ones that have the biggest following with genuine loving customers that want to see you succeed.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My dad, being 100% Italian from a town in Naples, Italy, he loved to cook and be in the kitchen. I was just born with this gravitational pull to be in the kitchen with him. When it came to baking, that stems from my mommom Rosemarie Burke. I always knew I loved the kitchen and I also enjoyed cooking, but baking was my passion, my happy place. With my mommom growing up, I was always around fresh homemade baked goods and most of the time, I even got to stand side by side with her to see the skill and passion she would put into everything she created. When I entered high-school I was a good student, but I never found anything I loved more than being in the kitchen and especially baking. I loved making people happy with the sweets I could create with my own two hands.
What skill would you say is most important for you to have to be a pastry chef?
Important pastry chef skills would include attention to detail when decorating cake and desserts. Another important skill would be organization of ingredients and packaging when keeping stock of what you have and what you will need. When you are busy, it is worthwhile to keep good organization of orders, availability, and upcoming events in a calendar. Also, a big skill would be the actual process of correctly mixing batters and ingredients together. Baking is like a science, over mixing or under mixing something can totally change the texture and outcome of the dessert you’re trying to make.
What are your top three tips of advice for any aspiring baker?
- Learn as much as you possibly can even if that means following hundreds of accounts of people all around the world, any bit of free advice they can give is worth it for you to apply in the future. Also, you can try working for small businesses that can teach you simple skills learn and how it feels to be in a bakery setting.
- Test out your recipes before starting your own business. It is important to let people taste your sweets for free and get feedback even if that means constructive criticism, it will make you a better pastry chef in the long run. I have been baking my whole life and I still learn new things and take any feedback and apply it to my sweets.
- Never listening to anyone who doubts you and this career. I know it may sound cheesy, but ‘Rome was not built in a day’ and that applies to your skills and your career in the pastry world. It is important to always push for what your passion is because it is 100% possible.
What happens when you get a customer who is rude to you or demands that they get something for free because they did not love your work?
When dealing with hundreds of customers, I have always hoped that I would try to appease as many customers as possible and luckily that has been the case, but with any business there is always the possibility of someone being unhappy. In the very few situations that someone has reached out to me, of course it is upsetting, but I always make sure to do what I can to make the customer happy even if that means a refund or offering them something different to try. In any of those situations I always make sure to ask what the problem was or why they disliked the sweets they purchased, so I can note if there is anything I can change or improve. Every situation I take as a learning experience, but I always make sure to keep the customers benefit in mind.
What advice would you give to other bakers to thrive and avoid burnout?
I think the best way to avoid burnouts would be taking at least a day or two off during the weeks that you can. A key component of a successful bakery is to rest, especially after going 24/7 during busy holidays and back-to-back events. Also, keep what your creating interesting, find new desserts and treats to offer even if that means working on something you may not be 100% computable with, such as experimenting and trying new ideas.
Thanks Michela! This interview was awesome!
You can follow Michela and her adventures with Baked by Michela here: