WESTCHASE — Overall, it's a sweet life. It's busy, of course, filled with the details and issues known to every business owner.
But there's always the aroma of a kitchen to keep her centered and happy.
Haylee Shaddock has learned that even the most daunting challenges can provide opportunities. And there's always perspective. It's featured with a photo display on the wall of her bakery.
She believed she could, so she did.
Shaddock, 24, is the owner of Sweet Magnolia Bakery in Westchase's West Park Village. It's already a neighborhood favorite for its hard-to-resist array of cookies, cakes, breads, brownies, strudels and pies.
Everything is made from scratch. Ingredients are carefully chosen. The raspberry jam comes from Switzerland. The chocolate comes from Belgium. The motivation and imagination to delight customers comes from the heart.
"If somebody wants something special or has an idea, if Haylee says it's a go, we do it,'' said cake decorator Amy Pena, who worked at Publix bakeries for 16 years, but now relishes the personal touch her new job provides. "She's always trying to make people happy. She's creative and she lets us be creative.
"I haven't seen someone so motivated and always on the go. It's inspiring. She's really something.''
Most people say that about Shaddock, who has purchased two bakeries (also a St. Petersburg location) in the last eight months, barely two years after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in New York. She knew baking was her passion — and potentially her life — after going through the culinary program at Tarpon Springs High School.
But her ascension to entrepreneur has been dizzying.
"Most of my friends are still in college, dealing with homework and tests and finals, and I'm living a very different kind of life,'' said Shaddock, who learned to bake at a young age as she shadowed her two grandmothers around the kitchen. "I've heard people say, 'You're not like every other 24-year-old. You're actually driven and motivated and you've put yourself out there.'
"It's not easy. It's exciting and I'm doing what I love. Every day, I get knocked down (by a problem), but I'm constantly learning. I wouldn't recommend this for everyone my age because it can be overwhelming. I mean, I'm 24 and I have two bakeries. I just never expected something like this to happen so quickly.''
Earlier this year, Shaddock was working strictly for experience at St. Pete Bakery, near Sunken Gardens, with her mentor, Chef Michael Ostrander. After Shaddock had learned all the tasks, Ostrander said he was retiring and asked if she would like to buy the bakery.
Shaddock consulted with her grandfather, John Beach, then they learned of a Westchase bakery location that was coming available.
In a matter of months, Shaddock had not one bakery, but two.
"Haylee has always had that desire to excel,'' said Beach, who owns a land surveying company. "Even when she baked at an early age, she did things on her own. We helped a little bit (financially and with advice), but just stayed in the background and tried not to interfere.
"When you own a business, things are going to happen out of your control. You do your best with what you've got. I just want her to be happy and keep a great attitude. I certainly know she has the talent (to bake) and I believe she's going to build quite a following.''
Shaddock said she feels most at home in the kitchen.
"I like getting my hands dirty, weighing everything out, creating something, seeing people enjoy it,'' she said.
But she's also learning the art of delegation. She's learning, somewhat grudgingly, that much of her time is better spent in the community, either networking or marketing her bakeries.
She belongs to the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce and other business networking groups. Very often, she is the youngest one there.
"Sometimes, you feel like you have to prove yourself,'' Shaddock said. "I'm usually pretty shy and not someone who likes talking in front of groups of people. But I have gotten a lot better at that. I've met a lot of adult (business) peers and I can lean on them for advice and ideas.
"What you learn is life throws you a lot of curveballs. You just have to adjust and keep going. No day is ever the same. In a way, that's kind of exciting. You have an idea what you want to do, but you have to stay flexible.''
It's kind of like a few weeks ago, when customers visited and asked if Shaddock could create some pumpkin treats for the Halloween season. She experimented and came up with what she calls her "ooey-gooey pumpkin bars.'' The tray sold out in the first day.
"I think she made it up off the top of her head,'' Pena said.
"Sometimes I get knocked down, but I've learned how to pull myself back up,'' said Shaddock, who describes herself as "pastry chef/owner'' on her business card. "I don't think I could do anything else. This is my life.''
She believed she could.
So she did.
Contact Joey Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org.