Bakery Nouveau is a Seattle icon – but just 12 years ago, it was barely a dream. Husband and wife team William and Heather Leaman decided to open a bakery together in 2006, after William captained Bread Bakers Guild Team USA, where he led his team to victory at the Coupe du Monde de Boulangerie (World Cup of Baking). As a self-taught pastry chef, William had been working at other bakeries and this was just the push he needed to do things for himself. “After helping so many people it finally reached a point – why don’t we do this for us?” asked William. Wife Heather, an architect, went all in with him on this dream.
They drew up their plans with the help of SCORE and went to a handful of banks. Each bank gave them different advice, causing them to change their business plan only to learn that the change wouldn’t help them get funded. Finally, at Bank of America, they were referred to Business Impact NW (then Community Capital Development). Business Impact NW is able to fund startup businesses in a way that traditional lenders can’t – a fact that Heather and William were willing to take a chance on. It paid off; in the end they were funded based on the strength of their plan and the number of jobs they planned to create.
Through this process of revision and fund-seeking, they came out with a solid business plan. In 2006, they opened their doors in West Seattle and “the business went boom,” says Heather. William’s reputation preceded him, and their baked goods spoke for themselves. They were able to pay off their loan in one year from profit alone.
Bakery Nouveau now has three flourishing locations – West Seattle, Capitol Hill, and Burien, all centered in and around Seattle. What’s the key to this success? “William makes food that he likes to eat – that our families enjoy, that our chefs enjoy” says Heather. “We created a place where people can come and have really great food and connect – or disconnect – as they want.” The pair take pride in their staff, of which they now have 150. They provide continued education for their staff, have hundreds of repeat customers from all over the region, give back to the community through charitable donations to organizations and food banks, and simply enjoy “being part of peoples’ lives in a way that is positive and joyful…or being the place that people come to for comfort in sorrowful times.”
Looking back on their journey, they pause to reflect on the process. “When you see a successful entrepreneur and think, ‘Gosh, how do they know how?’ The key is to surround yourself with really amazing advisers. Lawyers, accountants, business advisers, peer groups” says Heather. Being business owners in this industry has changed them as people. Their family has grown, and not just their two sons, but they like to say that their 150 employees are their family, too. “It makes you grow outside your comfort zone” says Heather. “Oh yeah, every day” adds William. “We had hoped that building a second store would alleviate the crowds at out West Seattle store” says William. But did it? “No, it just made it busier,” he replies with a chuckle.
When asked what’s next, Heather and William both share a glance, mixed with pride, energy, and a hint of weariness. “We’re both pretty full, and we’d like to see our kids grow up” says William. Their two young children, 11 & 6, are a big part of their business story. If you do the math, you’ll notice that their first son was born around the time their first bakery opened. Actually, 3 months before. So how did they do it all? “He stays out of the office” says Heather. “She stays out of the kitchen,” says William. “And we stay married” finishes Heather with a smile.
photo credit: Clare Barboza