Tiffany MacIsaac gained quite a following as the pastry chef for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group. So much so that NRG opened up a restaurant devoted to just two things: her husband Kyle Bailey's fried chicken and her coveted doughnuts. But earlier this year, Tiffany left all of that behind to strike out on her own and launch Buttercream Bakeshop.
Here's Tiffany on the inspiration behind the decision, the details of the transition, her plans for the eventual shop, and more.
What made you decide to branch out on your own?
I've always made my career choices based on my gut. I've left other jobs in the past that were great because I just had a feeling that there was a better fit for me, and my gut has always proven to be right. Moving to D.C. was a big gut decision for me and Kyle — I was very skeptical. But after our tasting and spending a few hours with Michael [Babin, owner of NRG], I was sure this was the right move. And it was.
As much as I loved my job, the energy, the great chefs I worked with, the huge kitchen, I couldn't shake the feeling that I'm 33 and if I don't open something or do something now, my life would get away from me. A lot of women go through a baby crisis when they hit their mid 30s, where they feel like they've put their career first. For me, having my own business is like "my baby." If I don't go for it now, I don't know if I ever will. There were a lot of unanswered questions and I was definitely nervous about it. I always joke this will either be my greatest success or biggest mistake, but I had to do it.
Tell me about the transition process.
People often go into a new business thinking they know everything, but I decided I needed to figure out what I don't know first and foremost. So I took as many meetings as possible, got as many opinions as possible, so that every decision I made was the most informed decision possible. I met with the Red Hen guys, [developer] EDENS — both groups looked over my business plan. And I basically tracked down every chef I know who opened their own place: Mike Isabella, Danny Lee, anyone who would listen. I also did things like shadowing wedding planners because I knew I wanted to get more into the wedding business. That's what I love most about D.C. vs. New York — I loved New York and there were a lot of amazing people in the restaurant business there, but there's a much stronger community in DC
You and your husband Kyle aren't working together for the first time since 2003 — ow's that working out?
Kyle and I were never a package deal, but we complement each other really well when working together. It's definitely weird not working together; he's kind of spoiled because he's never had to work with a pastry chef that wasn't me. But I'm still helping him with ideas at NRG, and he definitely helps me out when needed. He's not officially involved with my business now, but he's super supportive and does things like picking up stuff for me on the way home, etc. And I know I'll need a lot more help along the way.
What are your plans for Buttercream? Can we look forward to a storefront?
My dream bakery would be a full purpose bakery that offered breakfast and a full coffee program. And of course, tons of custom birthday cakes, wedding cakes, special occasion cakes... so basically, a great bakery with a clear focus on cakes.
But plans are only as solid as a lease that's signed — which hasn't happened yet. I hate even talking about it because it feels so uncertain right now, but I will tell you that I'm looking at a space right now — I've actually been looking at it for awhile — and it feels promising. It's two floors so it allows me a lot of kitchen space. When you're doing large events and lots cakes you need a lot of space — that's been part of the difficulty, finding a space with enough kitchen space to execute on a high level.
We're getting down to the final details of the lease.
The space is in DC, which is where I'd ideally like to be. It makes the most sense with the brand that I'm working on. I'm excited that there are other great places opening up which will up DC's bakery game, like RareSweets and MilkBar. It keeps everyone on your toes; a little healthy friendly competition is a good thing.
What does Buttercream Bakeshop currently offer?
I've been doing a fair number of weddings , and was booked up pretty much every weekend this fall. I've also done a lot of birthday cakes and celebration cakes. I also do macarons, cookies, candies, marshmallows, and am always working on developing more. Currently, I can't do things in less than a half dozen or dozen But I haven't really put the word out yet about Buttercream. I really want to take this slow; I don't want to bite off more than I can chew. But now I feel like I'm getting my bearings, and I'm ready to bite off more. I'm working on doing a pop up: I've talked to Cork, Dolcezza, Victoria from Ice Cream Jubilee, and so there are a few things coming down the pipeline.
So far, what have been the best and worst parts of this experience?
It's been really nice having direct contact with every customer that I create an order for. They often send me pictures of the reception that my creations receive, and I definitely love that!
The thing that's been weirdest is that I'm alone so much. I'm so used to being surrounded by what felt like a million people, and now it's just me. I have enjoyed it in a way, but it's definitely starting to get to me. The other day I was talking in full sentences to my dog, and immediately checked myself, thinking "Oh no, I can't go down that road."