Nathalie Shtern

Founder, DoughNats Bakery

Finalist,

Start-Up Award, EAST

 

Nathalie is a licensed criminologist who holds three university degrees but feels her true calling has always been in the kitchen. Prior to becoming a chef and entrepreneur, Nathalie devoted 15 years to leadership in her community. She founded and ran the Comfy Cozy Fund — a charity that raised over $1 million for the Montreal Children’s Hospital. In 2017, she launched DoughNats Bakery, selling bite-size gourmet doughnuts as well as a growing line of delicious mini baked goods.

 

My first job ever was… working at a summer day camp while I was a student.  Although I was not pursuing a career path, or working in a related industry to my studies, I had the most magical times working those summers. I discovered that I loved children, that I loved organizing and that the skills acquired managing others would prove very valuable in my career. I realized then that my job was to model good behaviour and be someone the kids can look up to. I ended up running the camp, as the director by the time I was 18 years old and continued to do so until I entered into my professional field during the summers while in university.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I never decided to be an entrepreneur. It just happened. I came from a professional and academic world, where my previous career was governed by rules, code of ethics, forms, policies, theories and research.  When I started my bakery after culinary school, I viewed myself as an artist and a creator, but initially, I did not consider myself an entrepreneur.  What I do and the way I lead comes naturally to me. I was just being true to myself and my values. The company and brand that I created is a reflection of who I am, not a set of best business practices or rules that I followed.  At first, when people started to refer to me as an entrepreneur and ask me for business advice, it took me by surprise. I do not believe that one can simply decide to become an entrepreneur. There is no manual, theory or training that can prepare you for this world. You become an entrepreneur because you follow your passion, vision or dream and you are prepared to take a risk and fall on your sword for what you truly believe.

My proudest accomplishment is… I have been blessed with many accomplishments throughout my life that I am incredibly proud of and extremely grateful for. My proudest accomplishment is definitely my family. More gratifying than anything I have ever done or accomplished or awards or degrees that I have received.  First off, my husband and the relationship I have with him. We have been together for 25 years now and have built an oasis in our home. A place of love and safety and lots of action-packed days.  We have 5 incredible children, each special in their own right. Raising them has been my life’s work and anything I have done outside of raising them has been icing on my delicious cake that is my kids. They are 10, 16, 19, 21 and 23 years old. They make me proud every single day and this pride follows me wherever I go and is imbued in everything I do.

I surprise people when I tell them… a lot of things. I guess the biggest surprise is that I have not been doing this my whole life and that I had another career before I decided to go to culinary school and start over.  I am a licensed criminologist and hold 3 university and post-university degrees. After having a career, I decided to focus on raising my children. During that time I ran and founded a charity, I held leadership positions on civic and educational boards and served as president a couple. In fact, I was awarded a Jubilee medal by the Queen of England in recognition of my community work. I decided that my career goals should keep evolving alongside my personal development. Being a woman, I have always felt that I can accomplish anything I wanted to- that there was nothing ever holding me back. So jumping into the culinary world felt very natural to me.

My best advice to people starting up a business is… to surround yourself with qualified advisors who are willing to assist you and leverage their time very seriously. Gather all the information you can by researching all aspects of the market into which you are entering and test your product or service thoroughly before exposing it to customers.  Preparing yourself adequately prior to launching is critical to success. Although you may not be able to anticipate everything that will arise after you launch, once you dive in there is no looking back. You must be prepared to roll up your sleeves and do whatever it takes to build your business. You have to be prepared to fall on your sword and tweak and adjust as you go. Do not lose track of who you are and what you believe in. Let your internal voice serve as your guide when making a decision. If you have strong, clear intuition, listen to it. My inside voice has always been my guide and has allowed me to proud of every single decision I have made, even if some were not traditional paths to follow.

My best advice from a mentor was… from a woman mogul and business owner. Her words were so powerful as they resonated with me as a business owner, as a mother, and as a member of my community. She said “do not build your business to take you to places that you are not comfortable with. When planning, instead of planning for what seems right for the business only, plan for what feels right for you and for the people that you love, as well as for the business. So when looking back at your business in 5 years, look at your life and make sure that your life can accommodate the plans you have set or your business.” Especially as a woman, this was wonderful advice, as I was able to reject offers that would have grown us too fast, too soon and in turn, would have made my loved ones pay the price for my absence. I do not see this advice as a limitation, but rather an opportunity that enables me to remain in control of my destiny.

 

Do not build your business to take you to places that you are not comfortable with. When planning, instead of planning for what seems right for the business only, plan for what feels right for you.”

 

My biggest setback was… at DoughNats has been in keeping up with the increasing demand during the hypergrowth phase that we experienced since opening. The challenge of scaling production and increasing quantities while not compromising quality, while hiring more people, while expanding to a bigger location, while continuing to innovate and create new flavours and recipes and products, while training staff and developing systems and protocols… all at the same time! Since we needed to hire quickly, I was focused on hiring people with specific training and skillset to keep up with our growth and to move us along. I was looking for staff with a certain amount of pastry skills, academic certification, training and bakery experience. I put personality and character on the back burner and figured the environment would adapt to this person’s approach, work ethic and outlook. I was mistaken.

I overcame it by… recognizing one valuable thing: that skills are teachable but attitude, accountability and loyalty are innate. If you hire people with great attitudes who want to learn and grow, you can teach them everything. You can mould do-ers into leaders, you can develop experts with time and careful attention to detail. The one thing you cannot teach is character. You cannot teach values and integrity. Now my hiring is governed by the following: I can teach anything to someone with the right attitude, similar values, integrity and a solid character; however, I will never be able to teach integrity, attitude or character to someone even with the most talented skillset.

I stay inspired by… my immediate surroundings. While at the bakery, watching my staff in our uniforms, listening to them laughing while they work, or gathering in the staff room to taste something, during our staff meetings, and especially watching them interact with the customers, offering samples or enthusiastically describing flavours and seasons. I am also inspired by our customers; our first-time customers who have visceral reactions to tasting our DoughNats or cookies and our returning customers who continue to come back and marvel with pride at our brand, at our esthetic in the bakery and at our innovative flavours. It validates that I made the right decision to open and keeps me inspired to continue to work, to expand and to innovate. At home, I am inspired by my family. By the way, they look at me with pride that I was able to successfully pursue my dream. It has helped reinforce the notion that they too can do anything they want. And in some way has reduced the pressure on them to be everything they need to be right away. They now recognize that they too will grow and adjust their paths.

If I had one more hour in the day, I would… call it the Nathalie Hour. It would be an hour of doing nothing intelligent or productive. I would either watch a mindless television show, take a walk, take a bath or simply stay in bed or sleep. It may sound ridiculous or juvenile, but I feel that balance is required for true success in one’s life. Although I believe that every hour of the day should be spent productively and responsibly, reinvesting in ourselves and nurturing relationships with our loved ones is of equal importance.   

The future excites me because… it’s beyond exciting in so many regards. Watching my business evolve from an idea into a full-fledged and profitable business has been nothing short of magical. I see boundless opportunities to expand DoughNats across North America and to continue to express my creativity and grow the products we offer our customers. With our 8th product season launching, we are excited to introduce our new flavours and to continue to innovate and push the boundaries.

My next step is… to execute our expansion plan in order to meet our ever-increasing demand. This will require multi-tasking and growing the skill set of our team because we plan to expand our current reach by opening another retail location in Montreal, expanding our e-commerce reach to include shipping across Canada and the US as well as expand our wholesale presence with non-perishable items in grocery stores.

 


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