Three Babes Bakeshop
Hi! I’m Lenore Estrada, one of the founders of Three Babes Bakeshop, a social-justice pie business based in San Francisco. I started Three Babes two and a half years ago with my best friend from childhood (Anna) with the intention of creating more awareness about the economic/social/environmental issues currently at play in California’s Central Valley, where we grew up. I’d tried a bunch of different jobs but was surprised that by my late 20’s I still hadn’t found something I felt truly passionate about. After narrowing down the list of things I liked to do, I selected social entrepreneurship as a field that I might like and decided to “go for it”. Anna, my best friend from childhood, had always talked with me about starting a food business together, but we’d never lived on the same coast as adults. I called her up (I was living in Boston at the time) and pitched the idea in March of 2011. In April of 2011 we raised $10k on Kickstarter and in May we were selling pies! I am so thankful to have such a competent and hard-working partner and I can’t really imagine doing any of this without her.
Business thus far has been a pretty wild ride. We had no idea what the we were doing when we launched, but we’ve been blessed with an incredibly supportive community of customers and peers. We have overcome a ton of adversity, including the death of both of my parents, during our second year of business. Luckily, the difficult things we’ve experienced have only strengthened our friendship and our resolve to carry on our parents’ work, promoting the creation of working class jobs in America, helping to create a better food system, and engaging in civic-minded action. We are working to open a bricks-and-mortar storefront, and will use this loan to purchase a sheeter so that we can expand our product line and offer our pies in more locations by reducing the cost of making each pie!
We currently sell from a shared kitchen space we rent in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood and from a stand on Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Thanks to our last Kiva Loan (which allowed us to purchase professional packaging for shipping our pies) we have tripled our annual sales – last year we shipped approximately 8,000 pies!
This loan is special because:
More about this loan
From the beginning, we decided to focus on making pies. Anna and I both have strong ties to baking (her great-grandfather was JP Morgan’s personal pastry chef and my grandmother – a migrant worker – was famous for baking huge pies and cakes for the farmhands as they traveled up and down America’s West Coast, shearing sheep). In launching this business, we chose pie for its versatility–the filling changes with the seasons, giving us a chance to highlight our home region’s delicious produce. It allows us to build a discussion around a host of interesting issues in food production. In all of our work, we want to encourage people to realize how much power they can exercise by making thoughtful purchasing decisions, and we hope to empower our customers to ask more questions about where their food comes from. I had cancer when I was 24, and my mother recently died of cancer. Promoting organic and sustainable growing practices is extremely important to Anna and I, and we hope that by engaging with our customers, that it will become important to them as well.
Our biggest challenges have been two-fold: 1. We make our own product and we sell our own product. This gives us a lot of control over the process, but it also means that at any given time, we have a lot of plates spinning. Just finding the time to create systems has been a big challenge – you don’t have any whitespace to think about the system you want when you’re already spending 10 hours/day just dealing with the one you already have! Slowly but surely we’ve been working on really understanding our costs, and then selecting problems to solve that will have the biggest impact on our profitability. 2. Money is always a challenge: The costs of opening a food business are very high, and we are never able to access enough capital to keep the business humming. For example, last fall we got a $300k order, but the costs associated with it were around $200k, which is money to which we didn’t have access. It was a tremendous hardship for us to make payroll, buy inventory, and pay for all of the other upfront costs associated with fulfilling the order! We continue to struggle with the fact that we can only borrow enough money to finance “last year’s orders”, despite the fact that “this year’s orders” keep doubling.
We started the business on a shoestring (mostly from necessity), renting a kitchen in the off-hours and a selling from a shipping container on the weekends. This allowed us to test our concept to make sure people liked our product (and make sure we like making our product) before investing a lot of time or money.
We got amazing press right off the bat – I think that our customers and supporters can identify with our energy and the authenticity of our story. Often, they’ve lent us their energy when ours has waned (we’ve gotten close to burnout several times and have been so thankful for the supportive community of customers and peers that we have).
Now, we are moving forward on opening up our own bricks and mortar storefront, so that people can buy pie all the time! Longer term, we’d like to open a commissary facility in the Central Valley (hopefully in Stockton, where I was born) and use it as a hub for all of our production. At that time we’d like to take a larger investment and then open up spots around Northern California. We’ve been working with the local community activists in Stockton to build job opportunities for Stockton residents. Historically, Stockton was a canning center but at this point unemployment is very high. We want to create a big business so that we can provide many people with jobs. We are also committed to extended producer responsibility – the idea that companies should think holistically about the “life” of their product, and think about the impact of the creation, consumption and disposal of their product when developing production processes and pricing models. We are most proud of the fact that we’ve created this business and have managed to keep it going while maintaining our commitment to sustainable/organic agriculture. We have a values-driven business – I think it makes our business special, and it certainly makes me feel proud.
What is the purpose of this loan?
We are raising 10,000 to purchase a sheeter so that we can dramatically reduce the cost of rolling the lattice strips that we use to create the woven crust on top of our pies. Right now, each lattice top adds $5 of cost to our pies. Additionally, the fact that we lack a sheeter has made it impossible for us to achieve margins that would allow us to sell our products wholesale. Purchasing a sheeter will allow us to finally find some leverage in our production, and will make it possible for us to double the pace of our production.
Years in operation: More than 5 years
A loan of $10,000 helps Lenore buy equipment that will allow us to achieve scale!