UPDATE: Less than a year after opening her Sweet Petit Desserts retail location in Over-the-Rhine, Taren Kinebrew is getting national recognition for her baked goods. Kinebrew's company has been chosen as a finalist in the 2014 Martha Stewart American Made Awards in the Sweets & Baked Goods category. Four other local businesses also are finalists in various categories: Grateful Grahams and Blue Oven Bakery in food categories; Roma Metal Works in design; and Noble Denim in Style. You can vote for the local businesses at www.marthastewart.com/americanmade .
CINCINNATI – Taren Kinebrew has been a soldier, a computer programmer, a saleswoman and a math teacher.
And somehow all those different jobs prepared her for what she is today: A baker who’s about to open a new dessert shop in Over-the-Rhine.
“All of my skills came together,” said Kinebrew, 44, who learned how to bake as a child helping her grandmother. “This is what I love to do. This is the thing that makes me happy.”
Kinebrew’s journey from Withrow High School cheerleader to entrepreneur hasn’t exactly been straightforward. But all along the winding way, her experiences have laid the foundation for Sweet Petit Desserts, the successful home-based business she launched in 2009.
She’s taking that business to the next level with the new shop. Kinebrew expects Sweet Petit Desserts to open by mid-November in storefront near the corner of 14th and Race streets.
The shop will have a full kitchen and two cases filled with bite-sized desserts available for sale. The cases can be moved so Kinebrew can host events there with the help of Christina Christian, the owner of an event-planning business called Something Chic. Christian and Kinebrew team up regularly to plan dessert-filled events ranging from baby showers to wedding receptions to fundraisers.
“We bring each other business,” Christian said.
Path To Entrepreneurship
Kinebrew didn’t start out wanting to be an entrepreneur.
After graduating from Withrow High School, she joined the Army National Guard for seven years.
She started college at Xavier University then transferred to North Carolina State University in Raleigh, where she majored in information systems and minored in accounting.
She got a job with IBM and moved back to Cincinnati in 1998 after getting engaged to her husband, who had played football at Withrow. They married in 1999.
Then in early 2002, she was laid off from her IT job, a casualty of the economic downturn. Kinebrew was eight months pregnant at the time and decided to stay home with her baby for a while.
“I never thought I would be a stay-at-home mom,” said Kinebrew, who lives in North Avondale with her husband and their daughter.
But she changed her mind after seeing news reports of babies being harmed at daycare centers.
“I told my husband, ‘I don’t need anything,’” she said. “I figured, when it’s time I’ll go back. And then it has to be worth it.”
After about 18 months, Kinebrew got a job with Cincinnati Bell in the company’s business sales division. The experience was valuable, she said, because she had never done sales and was nervous about it.
“I feel like if you can sell something – even if it’s an eraser on a pencil –that builds so much confidence,” she said. “Then you can do any job.”
Kinebrew left Cincinnati Bell in 2006 and began tutoring students in math and working as a substitute teacher. For a while, she was a math teacher for adults working to earn their GEDs through Cincinnati Public Schools.
She started Sweet Petit Desserts in 2009 after a friend suggested that her baked treats were so good, she could sell them.
“I decided to bake some stuff and get some feedback,” Kinebrew said.
And once she saw how much people liked what she made, Kinebrew never looked back.
Hard-Working 'Bad Girl'
She spent years building her home business, making bite-sized red velvet cakes, brownies and lemon squares by the dozen for clients. The event-related work grew when she teamed up with Christian, who majored in education at University of Cincinnati but has a flair for design.
Last fall, Kinebrew applied to be part of Bad Girl Ventures, a program that works with women entrepreneurs to help them craft strong business plans and learn the marketing and financial skills they need to build a company.
Kinebrew did so well that she won a $25,000 loan and $5,000 in marketing and website assistance from the program. She’s used the loan to buy the equipment she needs for the new shop and pay for part of the build-out of the space.
“She’s smart,” Bad Girl Ventures Executive Director Corey Drushal said of Kinebrew. “She’s got a great product and a great following. But beyond that, she embodies what a Bad Girl is. She works harder than anybody else I’ve ever met.”
The panel that chose Kinebrew as the winner of the $25,000 loan was impressed that she had run a successful business from her home for almost four years and had continued to grow it each year before deciding to open a shop, Drushal said.
That success stems from Kinebrew’s
confidence, said Carlin Stamm, who has been advising her as a SCORE counselor for the past year and a half. (SCORE is a nonprofit whose volunteer business advisors help small business owners at no charge.)
“Her grandmother and her mother raised her, and I think they just instilled in her that she can do anything she wants,” Stamm said. “She seems to always rise to the occasion.”
Plus, Stamm said, Kinebrew is an amazing baker.
“She produces tiny works of art that taste great,” he said.
The Power Of Pressure
That’s what has kept Carolyn Wallace coming back.
Wallace owns The Perfect Brew, a local catering company. And she frequently hires Sweet Petit Desserts to bake the desserts she caters.
“For me, food not only needs to look good, it needs to taste good,” Wallace said. “She can do both. It’s freshly baked. And she’s not cutting corners.”
Kinebrew also is willing to try new things to meet customers’ needs, Wallace said.
For example, Wallace asked Kinebrew if she could bake red velvet cake using beets, as it was originally made in the South. Kinebrew found and perfected a recipe and produced tiny red velvet cupcakes that are now among the most popular items Sweet Petit Desserts sells.
“They’re very tasty. They’re moist,” Wallace said. “And boy have they been a big request.”
Soon Kinebrew will be baking a lot more of those bite-sized red velvet cupcakes – and a lot more of everything.
Her Sweet Petit Desserts store will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Kinebrew expects to have three paid employees, including her. She also wants to have interns work at the store so they can learn about running a small business and give her a fresh perspective.
In addition to the red velvet mini cupcakes, the menu will include bite-sized brownies, cheesecakes, key lime bars and lemon squares. She’ll also sell pie tartlets, cake pops, cookies and desserts in a cup, such as chocolate mousse.
Kinebrew expects prices will range from $2 for desserts that can be purchased one at a time to $9.50 for a half-dozen little treats or $18 for a dozen. Some of the more expensive items, such as pie tartlets and chocolate-dipped strawberries, will be $24 per dozen, she said.
In the meantime, there’s lots of work to be done, continuing to bake for her current clients and preparing the store for its opening.
Kinebrew is visibly excited about her next big step.
“I would have never thought in a million years I would be opening a store,” she said. “Working under pressure – although I hate it – it’s good for me. Being an entrepreneur, you have to have discipline.”
Kinebrew thinks back to her years in the military right after high school where she learned the discipline that guides her.
“My life in a way has come full circle,” she said.