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Second Acts

You’ll find pastry chef Joanne Chang whipping up delicious baguettes, buttery croissants, and more for the nine locations of her restaurant, Flour Bakery + Cafe, in the Boston area. But she used to sit at a desk all day. Here’s how she made the switch.

Excerpted from Sweet July Magazine. To read the full story, get the Fall/Winter 2021 Issue here! Interview by Bethany Heitman.

What did you do before you opened Flour Bakery + Cafe?

I was a management consultant in Cambridge, Massachusetts—that was my first job after graduating from college. I went to Harvard and got a degree in applied math and economics and then landed a traditional desk job right after graduation. It took me a few years of working in an office to figure out that I was not meant to be cooped up.

How did you know you needed to try something else?

I loved the job but I did not look at my boss and think: I cannot wait to be in his shoes someday. I knew that I didn’t have the passion needed to stick with the long hours and hard work of management consulting. Every weekend I cooked and baked and hosted parties for friends. Pretty soon the focus of my week was what I would be cooking and baking over the weekend. That’s when I knew that consulting was not the right field for me.

What inspired you to open Flour?

I love making people happy. I wanted to make guests happy with amazing food and I wanted to make my team happy with a great work environment. I was nervous—I had never operated a business before and it was very intense.

When did you realize you had made the right choice?

It took a while. The first year was really hard and I almost sold the bakery—I was trying to do it all. Eventually, I learned to delegate more and to be clear about my expectations for my team. I also learned how to be super vocal about what we were all there to do: to make our guests and teammates happy. Once I had a group of people who believed in our mission like I did, things clicked. It was still hard, but at least we were all working toward a common goal.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to make a big pivot in her own life?

Get as much practice as you can on someone else’s dime. Work for as many people as you can. Ask a million questions. Push yourself to learn from others. The more curious you are, the more you’ll discover whether or not the pivot is the right one. Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom and work your way up. It’s the best way. If you really want to make the pivot, nothing will stop you—so get as much experience as you can before you make the jump!

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