As ex-magazine editors, Juliette and I have worked with a plethora of models, but few stood out like Marla Boehr. On-set she was professional, kind, and showed an appreciation for the yummy, catered food that was laid out for lunch. As a fellow food-appreciator, she was one of my favourite models. So, when we heard that she had launched a food blog milkandhoneypieco.com, we couldn’t wait to speak with her about how it all came about.
1) What was your ‘aha’ moment when you realized that the culinary arts were your jam?
Baking has always been a passion of mine but having children was my ‘aha’ moment career wise. When my kids were babies, I was often at home and consumed by diapers, sleep training, and meals, but I was also thinking ahead as to what sort of legacy I would like to leave. I started baking more, following food blogs, visiting pie shops in Toronto and abroad, and researching what it would take to follow my culinary vision. In the end, I decided to create a pie company that was dedicated to sourcing the best local, seasonal ingredients and experimenting with flavour combinations.
2) Were making pies something that you grew up doing?
My mother’s culinary skills and entrepreneurial spirit have influenced me from an early age. My sisters and I wanted to go to horseback riding camp, but in Alberta it was expensive for my parent’s budget so my mom thought we should try selling unbaked, frozen pies to the neighbours to raise money. My sisters and I thought she was a bit crazy, but the pies were a hit and we ended up going to horse camp. It was such a fulfilling endeavour — to make something with our own hands and sell it to appreciative friends and neighbours. I still remember sitting around the table peeling apples with my sisters (and sometimes my dad too!). Later on, my mom and dad ran fundraisers where we made hundreds of apple pies in a day.
3) How did you officially enter the pie-making business?
While I knew how to make a pie, I had very little knowledge of the business of food. Having friends who just started a successful food delivery service, I quizzed them on how they did it. I searched online and found a commercial kitchen space to rent by the hour in the city. It was called “Food Starter” and it functioned as a food incubator, helping food businesses get off the ground in Toronto. I signed up for their 10-week business bootcamp course. I almost quit because of all the daunting tasks associated with starting your own business as well as the high failure rate of food businesses. On the flip side, I was thrilled to be in such a stimulating environment with other food entrepreneurs and excited to be starting something new. While I decided to take the long view in my head and on paper, I started small by selling pies at local markets.
4) Did modelling prepare you at all for running your own business?
It’s hard to believe that I have modelled for over a decade! After a long time being self-employed (but represented by agencies around the world), I find it difficult to work for someone else. Modelling requires a high degree of independence — travelling around the world, meeting and working with many different people who may or may not speak your language… You also have to possess a very thick skin if you hope to stay in the fashion industry (which is also true of the food industry). There is risk in both industries: in modelling, there would be very busy and very quiet months. Learning to remain level-headed in the ups and downs of life and business was an important lesson. Modelling also taught me to dream big. I’m from a small town in Southern Alberta and I couldn’t have imagined that I would be walking down some of the most famous runways in the world or shooting with renowned photographers.
5) What are some things you’ve learned while launching your business?
Selling my first pie to a total stranger was definitely a thrill. Farmer’s markets are a great place for direct customer feedback. And, during the busy times, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, my challenge was figuring out how to produce a big volume at certain times of the year. None of it was easy…I don’t know that I have worked physically harder than when I was making pies, packing pies and hauling them to the market. More so than patience, I found the baking business to require grit and hard work. I am thankful to have such a patient and loving husband who not only helped me with the financial end of things but also watched the kids on the weekends. My parents pitched in when I needed them, and I had so many supportive friends who helped at markets and in the kitchen.
6) What’s the best business advice you’ve been given?
- Never give up.
- Start slowly while you have young kids…don’t miss out on their childhood.
7) Any advice for other start-ups?
Starting a business is harder than I thought, but also more rewarding than I initially imagined.
When you start out, you are doing so many tasks on your own and it is easy to get worn thin and give up. I found that surrounding myself with supportive people and learning to outsource certain tasks was key to preventing burnout. I was also determined that my children didn’t sustain collateral damage so I could reach my business ideals. I worked very hard, but I also took some weeks off from the market so I could spend time with family. I also decided to start by producing seasonally instead of year-round. But even now, it’s still challenging.