Karen Freeman was a successful banker, working in commercial finance for more than 17 years with two of the largest banks in the country. But, when the economy started to sour and the lending industry took a particularly hard hit, she started thinking about starting her own business.
Together with her three sons, Freeman followed her passion and opened a cheesecake shop in Glendale, Calif., last year.
"We're now in charge of our own future," says 50-year-old Freeman. "We can thrive and grow as much as we want. The hours are long and it's not easy, but we're all enjoying having our own business."
The Pacific Cheesecake Company serves up traditional sweet cheesecakes made from old Freeman family recipes. But it's the innovative savory cheesecakes that are creating all the buzz.
The spinach-feta cheesecake wrapped in toasted walnuts and the cheddar sun-dried tomato basil cheesecake are both perfect for spreading on crackers and as an elegant hors d'œuvre. The tangy blue cheese option is dusted with fresh cracked black pepper.
"I wanted something different as a party starter, rather than a block of cheese, so I thought a savory cheesecake would be just the right fit," Freeman says.
Startup: Freeman has been funding the business herself since she opened the doors in 2010. At first, her oldest son, 26-year-old Mike, was the only one working full time to get things ready for opening day. Freeman initially kept her banking day job and worked on the bakery at night and on weekends, while her 24-year-old son, Steven, had a part-time job, and her youngest son, 22-year-old Jake attended college. Now all four Freemans are working together at the Pacific Cheesecake Company, and Karen Freeman has left banking completely.
Biggest challenge: time and money
Work philosophy: "We always use the finest-quality ingredients to make our products," she says. "We're hands-on with our customers, knowing most of them by name, and intend to have the same personal service as we grow."
Inspired by: her sons and her 30-year passion for baking cheesecakes for family and friends
Advice for others making a midlife career change: "You have to be willing to take the risk, but don't go into it blindly. Consult with your financial advisors and come up with a good business strategy, including a realistic business plan and projections so you know what to expect when you venture out."