Fitness Instructor Goes From Sweats To Sweets
All careers make twists and turns, but as Paul Messina shows us in this Money Matters Report, one small business owner went from sweats to sweets.
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It seems like a simple idea.
Stephen Lincoln merged his interest in fitness with his weakness for sweets, and cooked up a new business.
“I had been a fitness instructor for a long time teaching many classes in a week,” said Lincoln, who owns The Protein Bakery. “And my friend was an actor here in New York. And we decided to just get a little extra money and provide a balanced treat for the public.”
So The Protein Bakery was born in 1999, providing what he calls: "cookies with muscle."
“Something that's all natural, that happens to be wheat-free, that happens to be higher in dietary fiber, and again, higher in protein, and reduced in carbohydrate," said Lincoln. "It's still a cookie. It's still enjoyable. But you don't have to feel quite as guilty.”
But Lincoln didn't develop the Protein Bakery by sweating over a detailed business plan. He used an old-fashioned method.
“It's kind of from my gut,” said Lincoln. “Jumping into it and following my heart and what I felt was right from the get-go. I have a business sensibility, but it's cookies and brownies. Everyone wants a cookie.”
And since his fitness classes were made up of the product's target audience, he didn't hesitate to use that to his advantage.
“That was my test market,” said Lincoln. “I showed up to every aerobics class I taught here in New York for a while with bags of cookies for people to taste and give me their opinion on. Which was actually great Îcause you got to take a class and you got a free cookie and you kept coming back to class.”
The Protein Bakery started with three kinds of cookies and four kinds of brownies. Lincoln has expanded that to seven kinds of cookies and five kinds of brownies, plus a new line of biscotti.
“It was pretty successful right off the bat and we've had a steady growth,” said Lincoln. “We were featured on the "Rosie O'Donnell Show" which helped us a lot. A lot of people have written about us.”
The cookies are sold in pairs: two for $1.89. And because they're marketed as "less guilty," products from The Protein Bakery are available in health-conscious stores and several health clubs.
The Protein Bakery makes about 4,000 cookies and 3,000 brownies a week, so the actual baking had to be moved to a professional production bakery in Long Island City. It's a true small business.
“I have one full-time employee who's amazing,” said Lincoln. “And a nice chunk of people that come on and off as needed. I would love to open a little storefront, The Protein Bakery and serve healthier items across the board. If that happens and it feels right in my gut, I'll do it."
So far his gut's been right — and tight.
— Paul Messina