Monday, August 15, 2011


I've always been told that one of the best assets of a Notre Dame degree, aside from the ability to get football tickets really easily or all the "soft skills"  I learned in the College of Arts and Letters (read: I am doing nothing with my psychology degree), is the network available to alumni. I had my first real taste of this recently. About a month ago, I attended my first Irish Entrepreneuers meeting, after gentle prodding from both the ubiquitous Chicago Notre Dame Club emails and my friend Patrick, who regularly attends. And am I glad I did. The meeting a month ago featured a speaker from the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago (ICNC), who provides business development, advocacy and consulting services for free to area companies and small businesses. The speaker, Denise, their Director of Small Business Development, told a story about helping two sisters open a restaurant. The sisters came into the ICNC and said, "We want to open a restaurant," and Denise helped them from square one - business development, signage, sanitation, marketing, etc., all the way to success - opening their SECOND location. So, the ICNC/Denise obviously knows their/her stuff. I felt like I had hit resource gold from attending this meeting. Thank you, Notre Dame network. Tucking that card in my back pocket.

But another good development came from this meeting. I noticed that the meeting organizer Mike Moran had arranged for Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins (donut balls/holes) and coffee to be delivered to the meeting; I had also noticed how hardly anyone touched the Munchkins, which are garbage compared to the Donut Bank Bakery in Evansville, my hometown (and probably garbage to anyone's hometown donut bakery). Whenever Munchkins are at meetings or in the office break room, I never touch them, as the deliciousness they fail to deliver is not worth the calories they deliver without fail (60-80 apiece - just looked it up). Clearly there are better, worth-the-splurge breakfast options out there. Lightbulb: MY breakfast options.

I asked Mike Moran how he felt about me catering the next meeting, and he gladly accepted (duh, freshly baked pastries > Munchkins any day). Wooo! I was so proud of my business savvy to recognize a business opportunity and seize it. Now, what to make?!

Fast forward a month (or rewind two weeks, however you like to look at it - and yes, I know I am behind on posts): the next month's meeting. I couldn't believe a month had already gone by, but then again, summer is almost over, and where the hell did that go? Time to menu plan. I considered making scones and quiches, but I didn't think quiches were representative of my regular menu, and I wasn't sure if everyone liked scones as much as my mom or I do (my dad and brother only like a version I make that resembles an icing-drenched cinnamon roll). So, I decided on muffins - who doesn't like muffins? And since I wanted to make more than one thing, but wanted the attendees to also get a taste of my desserts, I thought of the idea of doing an item "for now" - a muffin - and an item "for later" - a cookie.

For the muffins, I went with a lemon-blueberry variety, in order to use seasonal ingredients. To jazz it up a bit, I added a cream cheese middle and a cinnamon-streusel topping. They turned out extremely moist and delicious, with plump blueberries throughout. The sweet, crunchy streusel top contrasted nicely with the slightly gooey cream cheese middle. These muffins could easily pass as dessert, especially if the streusel were subbed for cream cheese frosting.

For the cookies, I went with a newly found recipe for chocolate chip cookies that instantly became my standby. It's a variation of the famed "Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookie", and, even though it doesn't resemble the actual recipe (or so they say...), it's pretty damn good. This recipe makes those perfect, ball-like, chunky chocolate-chip cookies that I've always strived for. I first made them for my grandma's birthday a few weeks ago and found them to be so perfect that I knew I had to make them again as the "for later" treat for the breakfast. I wrapped them up with some plastic wrap and a Dolce + Decadence label to make them easily portable for the meeting's attendees.

My arm wanted to fall off as I carried the freakishly heavy box of muffins and cookies (who are we kidding, it probably contained 10 lbs of butter alone) the next morning to the meeting, my Starbucks sloshing dangerously the entire way. Finally, I made it to the Church basement where the meeting was held, and setup shop. Attendees gave lots of compliments, both at the meeting and via email later; a few even loaded up extras into bags to take into their offices or home. Good conversation abounded as well - one man discussed the advantages of running a business out of a food truck, and another woman said her husband has been wanting to open a bakery, but needs a baker (still waiting for that email.... ;).

The best response, however, was interest for an order not even two hours later, from the wife of one of the attendees. After trying a cookie and muffin brought home by her husband, she instantly emailed me to see if I could make cookies for an upcoming baby shower she was hosting. I was elated! Unfortunately, my friend Kelsey is getting married that same weekend, so I had to turn the order down (her wedding is also overshadowing my 25th birthday, which I'd probably rather forget anyway - just means I'll turn 25 next year and can enjoy one last year as less than a quarter-century old ;). But, just the idea that events like this can bring referral orders that easily makes them definitely worthwhile!

Look for my next post about my FIRST REFERRAL ORDER!

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