Kimlinh Bui’s career trajectory took in several twists and turns before she founded Sacré Sweet! a dessert catering company in Minneapolis. She started out in the legal industry, switched careers to work in restaurants and bakeries and then became a stay-at-home mom.
When she returned to the workforce, it was for a second stint in the legal industry. However, her heart wasn’t really in it. Kimlinh harbored a dream of starting her own business. But she was enjoying the comfort of a regular salary and admits to being risk averse. She needed a push to get her going…..
The second time I went back to being a legal assistant it felt like it was a step backward. It was never what I originally wanted to do. It was always just a job. But it was good money and it paid the bills and it is kind of hard to get away from that. After being a stay-at-home mom for a couple of years, I really didn’t feel that financially, I could get back into cooking for only $10 or $15 an hour. So I went back to the legal profession and was grateful for the opportunity.
Were you comfortable doing this?
I was really happy being a legal assistant again for about the first year. I was able to build up some savings, but for the last three years in the job I was scheming and plotting my escape every single day. I wasn’t sure how I would get out, because every time I thought about going back to being a cook it brought me back to the same initial problem, which was that I couldn’t make enough money. So I started thinking about starting my own business.
Were you thinking about anything specific?
I kicked around a lot of different business ideas and took some small business courses on how to start your own business. I researched all the legalities, the business license and the health department requirements and the sanitation certification that’s required if you’re going to be a food manager. I did all those things, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. My business ideas all required more capital than I had. I didn’t have any partners or know anyone in the food industry in Minneapolis. I just figured I would have to make the leap somehow.
What prompted you to go for it in the end?
I was then thinking about what could be the lowest capital investment business I could possibly do, so I shelved all my more elaborate ideas and settled on my baking idea. And just as that was happening our law firm lost a bunch of lawyers and all of a sudden, they didn’t need as many legal assistants anymore. So they laid me off. And it was almost perfect timing. I knew it was coming and I had been making plans.
Once they laid me off, I was able to focus on getting everything done and getting the business set up, working on the logo, the website, figuring out the licensing and insurance and all that.
So redundancy gave you the kick, the impetus to get going?
There was that, plus I was conscious of getting older. I started to think, well if I don’t do it now I am never going to do it. I have always been extremely risk averse, but I think that after you have toiled away for years at something you don’t enjoy, all of a sudden the riskiness of starting a business seems less horrible. And I just really needed the reassurance of my husband and mum and the people around me. It’s not that I wasn’t confident of my abilities, it’s just that I’ve always been someone who takes the safe road.
It took years of kicking an idea around in my mind in order to really commit to it. Everybody has dreams, but there is that moment when it goes from being a dream to being a plan. There wasn’t any one thing that pushed me, it was a long road.
If it hadn’t been for the redundancy, would you have carried on with your legal career elsewhere and given up on your dream?
That did occur to me at the time. I was concerned, because the years go by just like that and I was afraid that if I went to another firm the years would roll by without me doing anything. And I didn’t want that to happen.
Did you have a mentor to help you?
Yes. I had a small business mentor. There is a free program here for people who want to be entrepreneurs called SCORE. They provide mentors and small business classes, which I took.
How did you learn to be a cook?
When I got out of college and took my first job as a legal assistant I was living on my own and decided to go to a culinary school just to learn what to do. I was getting tired of eating frozen food. I went to the first class and it was amazing. It was the most fun thing I’d ever done. Once that class was over, I decided to sign up to the next class and then I signed up for a two-year associate degree program.
It ended up taking me four years, because I was working full-time throughout the whole experience. When I got to the baking and pastry class, I thought this is what I really want to do. During cooking school there was an internship program and we all had to do 15 hours a week so I was working 40 hour a week with my day job. Then another eight hours of class and then 15 hours of internship at a big catering company. It was tough, but something I was really committed to.
And now, after the years of studying and working in other jobs, are you glad you finally made the leap to start Sacré Sweet!?
Yes, I am so happy. I am not pulling in buckets of money and our family has had to adjust to less cash, but honestly, I wouldn’t go back to being a legal assistant ever again. Looking back, I am kind of sorry I didn’t do this earlier. I do feel I wasted a lot of time just sticking with my old job, because it was comfortable. But at the same time, during the years I spent there I was able to save money. So now I have capital for when I want to pursue other ideas. I’ve got the money that I wouldn’t have had before.
So, you are making big plans for the future?
Looking forward, I am not afraid of starting anything new, not as afraid as I used to be. There used to be a really big dark void when I would think about what my life would be like if I stopped the 9-5 at the law firm. It was so hard to give up the stability and predictability of it all, but now that I’ve done it once, it really wasn’t that scary or stressful. And adjusting to having less money was not that hard, it was surprisingly easy.
So now, I am looking for a business partner to do a different idea. I think I am going to be starting more businesses in the future.