In 2004 Norrinda Brown and her mother were both feeling a little empty: Norrinda had just started practicing law and missed the creativity of school; her mother and father had split up after more than 30 years of marriage. Baking became their sweet weekend escape—then their business plan.
The basic ingredients: Many of our products are based on my grandmom's recipes. We wanted to see if our cakes would sell, so for months we held tasting parties for friends and family. We asked guests to write comments anonymously on cards. Mostly, people said nice things, but they also said "too moist," "too sweet," and "needs to be more pineapple-y"—which sort of got my mom's back up.
Sift gently: My mom worked on the recipes until people thought the cakes had just the right amount of moistness, sweetness, and flavor. Now she's meticulous about her instructions—down to the number of minutes you mix things and how much you sift them.
Set in a cool place: We took out a home equity loan to buy equipment and rent a space [for the Brown Betty Dessert Boutique]. We picked the Northern Liberties area because we could afford it, and it's the Philadelphia neighborhood that's supposed to grow the most in the next 10 years.
Watch the dough rise: My mom and I are both very risk averse, so she has kept on teaching and I still practice law. She works in the bakery after school and we both work on weekends. We're tired a lot. Four employees hold things together when we're not around. It's working. Last year we were voted "Best of Philadelphia" by a city magazine and a newspaper.
The icing on the cake: Opening the business gave everyone in my family a new way to talk to one another during a difficult time. Even my dad helped out with construction and finance.