How to move to New York
I moved to New York in October of 2014 with the notion that I was born to be here, so everything would work out. My first winter was rough. I rented a room from a family friend and I spent most of my time exploring the city alone. I overheard New Yorkers talk about places they recently discovered and bookmarked them on Yelp to explore later. I loved exploring the city and I loved to see the snowfall and tell my parents about all the rats in the subway. After work, I would walk through Times Square to catch the train home and look up at the skyscrapers and digital billboards oftentimes in disbelief and gratitude for having made it here. New York has its own energy and you have to live here to experience it.
After my 6-month honeymoon phase with New York, sh*t got real.
But I’ll start with how I got here. You already know the why: I believed I was born to be here.
After working for the Thomas Keller Restuarant Group for nearly two years, I hadn’t gotten to where I wanted to be. I was the Pastry Demi-Sous Chef at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, California. My goal from the time I was hired was to work at The French Laundry, down the road from the bakery. I worked my butt off but I was told I didn’t have enough experience in the industry and lacked the technical skill. I started studying, often times spending my entire weekend in the Napa library browsing textbooks for techniques I could bring to the bakery. However, my efforts to show I could learn whatever I lacked, seemed pointless. I was told that most people worked for years in the company before ever getting transferred to TFL. So I had two options: buckle down and brace myself for years in the same company or move on. I watched another set of new-hires quickly transfer before I felt the latter might be better. On August 24, 2014, shortly after my 24th birthday, a 6.0 earthquake required me to move out of my apartment in Downtown Napa and thus reliving me of my lease and spuring me into switching things up.
All signs pointed toward The Big City! The company had a lateral position at the same salary in Rockefeller Center and I got the job. Now I had my eyes set on Per Se. About 6 months in, I was in the same position: I wanted to work at Per Se but I was still at the bakery. I inquired about what I needed to work on to become a canidate for the position and was told I needed more experience in the company. I saw online one day that Per Se was hiring for the pastry sous-chef position and I had not been notified. After a few weeks, they hired a girl.
They even had her come to our property to ‘trail’ me to see how things were done company-wide. It was as if they were parading to me that I wasn’t who they needed me to be.
I liked working there, I enjoyed my team but I wasn’t allowed to learn anything new. I never got chose to work on any special projects with the pastry chef, whom I really admired for her cake decorating skills. Any opportunities for growth were passed over me. I shut down. I started working an extra job in the mornings to offset my aggressive spending habit that was driving me deeper into debt. I was angry and felt lost.
Through the help of my parents and my best friend, I realized that this was temporary and I had all the power to change my situation, I was just afraid. So in May of 2015, I quit and started my cycle of getting fired.
I got fired TWICE in a matter of 9 months. It’s really funny to think about now but it wasn’t so funny then. I applied for unemployment. The first time in-between jobs I genuinely looked for jobs, however, in the restaurant business, the hiring process is tedious:
- Apply — about 5 minutes per job. You have to customize your cover letter for the position.
- In-person interview — 1 hour travel time, usually about a 15–30-minute wait for the chef because the chef is always busy. 5–10minute interview done in the kitchen. 1hour back home.
- Thank you email — 5 minutes
- Wait Period — 1day — 3 months. Depends on the restaurant, some have a secret waitlist to work there.
- Stage — a stage is a way to see how an individual works in the kitchen and if they can match the overall flow. You work for usually 8–12 hours, unpaid, so let's just say — 1 day.
- Offer or Fadeaway — I cannot count how many times I went through this process to receive no offer at all, an offer for barely minimum wage, or the run-around.
Again, it was the norm so I did not complain until I got fired again. I went into the ‘angry start-up’ phase of my life where I decided I would become a consultant for restaurants that “didn’t seem to get how to keep a pastry chef”. I must admit, it was a good concept and I will double back to that at some point in life but it was born out of anger. However, what that phase taught me was invaluable.
I read books.
I made $100 for an hour of my time (A huge thing for me).
I attended networking events, conferences, free classes, and learned all I could about what it took to open and run a restaurant in New York.
I found a program that would let me collect unemployment if I worked on a business plan, so I cut off a lot of extra spending so that I wouldn’t have to work and could focus on my business.
I found my first two clients and offered my services pro-bono as a way to build my track record.
I learned through that experiment:
- You have to get paid (internships are different).
- Be selective with who your clients are. Everybody won’t put in the work.
- People will use you.
- Small businesses fail for many reasons but mostly because they lack a plan.
After four months, I had made $100 working full-time on my business plan and my unemployment was ending. I went to work for TaskRabbit, an app that matches freelance labor with local demand allowing users to find immediate help with everyday tasks.
I cleaned apartments.
I was able to make my own hours and decide how much money I would make in a day. I felt free! I got to see things in NY I don’t think I would have ever seen. I met different types of people and I was good at cleaning. I started getting return clients and some would ask if we could take things off of the TaskRabbit Platform. On the platform, my hourly rate was up to $45 an hour. TaskRabbit takes 30% off your first-time clients and 15% off of return. So I accepted and charged my clients the 15% rate I had been getting anyway. I ended up meeting a guy that needed someone to come more frequently. I accepted and I quickly noticed he needed other things done too personal assistant stuff. So I asked him would he be interested in me being his personal assistant. I am now his part-time personal assistant.
I clean sometimes but I mostly do a lot of other random things that, again, allows me to see a lot.
I met another amazing spirit on TaskRabbit as well and she is a design researcher. She brought me along for one of the steps in her process and it was interesting but maybe not something I want to do. However, I brought along a piece of cake I had made for a friend and her colleague tried a piece and asked me to make pies for his Thanksgiving dinner. Some natural instincts kicked in. I have always baked and have always been entrepreneurial. I made flyers and sold & shipped over 40 pies this past Thanksgiving. But all of my family and friends kept asking about the Blondies. A blondie is traditionally a brownie without the cocoa powder; so think chocolate chip cookie bar.
In pastry school, I was fasinated by this technique of boling a can of sweetned condensed milk for 4 hours and it turning into caramel so I blended the two recipes and topped my blondies with the caramel and toasted pecans. They definetly weren’t as good back then as they are now but have ALWAYS been a hit and have been evolving for years now.
I have now started BLONDERY which I hope to grow into something much bigger. I no longer boil the sweetened condensed milk and a few things have changed about the recipe to make it better. I just finished shipping to 11 states and have launched an Etsy store.
I hope to grow this business into one that can sustain itself because I have found that I like personal assisting and I am good at it. New York dares you to jump and ask questions later. The plan is to go back to work in the New Year but who knows…
I love the grittiness of New York. I love this process. I love what these past years have taught me. I’m thankful for every day. I am thankful for the people I have met. I no longer believe in luck or coincidence.
I was not ‘present’ when I was going through all of this. I literally felt like I was just going through the motions. I decided I would be happy no matter what happened. I knew that what I was getting was rich. It was humbling for sure (My mom had to come and buy me summer clothes because I had lost a lot of weight due to the discipline I was teaching myself at the gym). I couldn’t afford anything outside of my immediate needs. Friendships were exposed. I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone.
I haven’t been as disciplined as of late (my own worse critic) but I try to remain in the present. I am here. I am making my own path. I don’t feel bad about anything that has happened, I thank God for it. I moved to New York and I’m looking forward to the years to come.