Opening a Bakery with Bethany Costello

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Davis Cox

I make baked goods that people will shit out, so there’s no need to get my panties all up in a bunch if something goes wrong. I just want to make sure people are happy with what they eat.

Bethany Costello is on a mission. Later this year, the young but experienced pastry chef hopes to open her own bakery, Eat Like Kings, in Nashville. Costello has roots in Tennessee, but has spent the last six years working her way up the culinary ranks in NYC. Her latest gig as pastry chef at M. Wells has garnered attention for her creative treats and roving, old-style dessert cart.

While running a pop-up restaurant at Bonnaroo last year, Costello got the itch to return to her Southern roots. After surveying the Nashville food scene and finding herself impressed, she also saw an opening for some quality pastries. Paste talked to Costello about her experiences thus far, and we’ll be checking back to get an inside look at what the process of opening your own bakery is really like.

Paste: Let’s start at the beginning. What inspired you to become a pastry chef?
Bethany Costello: My mom. She began baking with me from a young age. Growing up we would make elaborate cakes for my birthdays, and hundreds of cookies at Christmas time. I was making pâte à choux swans before I could even legally drive. Both of my parents have supported me through dropping out of college to move to New York and go to pastry school and all the jobs, moves, and tears that followed.

Paste: What’s your concept for Eat Like Kings?
BC: I really want an open kitchen with bench seating around it, that way people can sit and watch what we are doing and smell it the minute they walk in. I want long, farm-style tables in the middle where we can have pop-up dinners with guest chefs. I envision music blasting while Kaylee (my best friend and a partner in the business) and I dance around the kitchen and enjoy our lives. The open kitchen is really important to me, because we’ve been trapped in basements for so many years. We want to see people, but also give people a chance to see what we do. I want people to walk into Eat Like Kings and feel like they are in their friend’s house just there to smash on some dessert.

Paste: Where are you in this whole process now?
BC: Right now I have a completed business plan, and I’m focusing on financing and business licensing. I’m talking to investors, looking for a space in Nashville, working with a banker, and running an Indiegogo campaign to try and raise some working capital. And moving. It’s been a challenge because I’ve been in Brooklyn trying to start a business in Tennessee while working a full-time job. We’ve rented a commercial kitchen space for during the build-out and have gotten into a few farmers’ markets. We’re hoping to do that and some wholesale accounts during the summer to generate buzz about the opening and give people a chance to try our stuff!

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Jesse Winter

Paste: Why Nashville?
BC: I was born in west Tennessee, and halfway through high school we moved back to the state. Nashville is such a good balance of that small town and big city feel. People are proud to live in Nashville and there is such a large sense of community. It’s a homecoming for me of sorts, but also it’s a chance to explore and be a part of a whole new city as it’s developing.

Paste: What has been harder than you thought?
BC: Profit and loss tables and balance sheets in my business plan. You have to project your hypothetical finances for five years. I spent hours and hours reading accounting websites just trying to understand what kind of numbers I was suppose to be plugging into certain spots and then going back and doing even more research specifically in Nashville to get a realistic number. I’ve probably revised my number 20 times as I’ve learned more and have more realistic numbers. It never ends!

Paste: What have you found encouraging during this process so far?
BC: The sheer support from my family, friends and even strangers. I’m a very lucky person. Also, finding who I’m calling my “business guardian angel.” I had been racking my brain trying to figure out how I was going to get my loans. I mean, here I am, 28, hardly a savings account, no collateral, a student loan and credit card debt. Not exactly an ideal customer for a loan. Then I stumbled upon an article about the top six small banks in Nashville with a lot of lending funds. I looked up and emailed every single bank, trying to get a human to talk to me. That night, I got a call from the vice president of one of the banks. We spent an hour talking about my project. I sent him my business plan and the next day he called me and told me how great it was. He agreed to help me with my funding, and also put me in touch with some really great people. Having him say my business plan—five months of my life and a mammoth 60 page document—was good was overwhelming. It made me realize this was actually going to happen.

Paste: So what are you worried about now?
BC: Money. I’ll feel like I’m going to throw up until I have all the money in my bank account ready to pay for all of this.

Paste: Barf. What are you excited about?
BC: Everything. The hard stuff and the easy stuff. When you dive into something like this, there really is no way of knowing what your life is going to be like. At least when I would change kitchens jobs I had sort of an idea of what I was getting myself into. Now I catch myself daydreaming about picking paint colors for the bakery (gold!) and getting phone calls that there was a disaster, and the opening party where I get to thank all my friends, picking uniforms, creating crazy desserts and just being able to say I own my own place. I know what I’m doing isn’t normal. It’s risky, challenging and scary. I have to do this though, I have to see what I can become.

You can support Eat Like Kings through their Indiegogo campaign, which ends March 15. Stay tuned to Paste Food for an update on Bethany’s progress with the bakery.

Laurel Randolph is a food and lifestyle writer hailing from Tennessee and living in Los Angeles. She enjoys cooking, baking and candlestick making. Tweet at her face: @laurelrandy.