Brothers Trent and Rhys Carvolth grew up in Santa Rosa and graduated from Santa Rosa High (Trent in 2000 and Rhys in 2003). Trent graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Industrial Labor Relations and Rhys from Colgate University with a degree in International Relations. Returning to the Bay Area, they both took corporate jobs in San Francisco. Trent worked in marketing while Rhys did venture capital research. After a few years of dreaming of starting their own business, in 2009 they opened Pacific Puffs, a bakery that offers delicious cream puffs based on a recipe that their mom perfected more than 30 years ago. Their shop is located at Union and Fillmore in San Francisco.
Why did you want to start your own business?
We wanted to start our own business for a couple of reasons. After working for a few years in the corporate world, both of us were pretty weary of cubicles and excel spreadsheets. We were looking for a change and knew that opening our own business would give us the opportunity to work together and be in control of our own destiny.
The reason for opening Pacific Puffs was to share something special, that we’ve enjoyed and loved in our family for years, with the public. The joy and happiness that we see in our shop day in and day out reinforces the decision we made over two years ago to quit our jobs and start Pacific Puffs.
I’ve read how your mother (former Santa Rosa school board member Noreen Carvolth) said you two didn’t even cook grilled cheese sandwiches at home. Why did you think that the food business would be a good fit for you?
We knew that to be successful in the food world you really need two things: a quality product and excellent customer service. From the time we each took our very first bite of our Mom’s famous cream puff, we knew the product was dynamite. Friendliness and hospitality are big in the Carvolth family, and we make certain that each and every customer is served with a smile and some friendly conversation. It may be true that we didn’t demonstrate an affinity for cooking early on, but we’ve always known what we love and what we love is great food. The food industry has been a perfect fit for us.
What’s a typical day like for you? How do you divide up the tasks that you face in running your business?
Our typical day starts at about 4:30 in the morning. We make our way to the shop on Union Street to check the pre-orders for the day as well as any phone messages we may have. Then it’s on to the kitchen where we typically spend between three to five hours making cream puffs. We always try to be in and out of the kitchen as fast as possible and after baking puffs from scratch for over two and half years, we’ve gotten to be pretty efficient. We use a commissary kitchen that we share with a few gourmet-catering companies and we usually take some time in the kitchen to talk to the other chefs about their menus and different parties. It’s been a great resource for us to not only learn a lot about gourmet food and the food industry, but the caterers also sometimes order puffs for large parties. After finishing production in the kitchen, it’s on to the shop where we open at 11 am daily and close at 8 pm. Most days we will be running our recently launched food truck as well and typically have either a lunch or dinner event. Our sales seem to be higher from the truck at dinner events, which is great for business, but sometimes pretty rough on our schedule. With dinner events, we’ll finish up between 9 and 10 at night and have to get right back to it at 4:30 the next morning.
Outside of our daily operations, we try to split up the business tasks and paperwork the best we can. These duties include accounting, payroll, employee scheduling, managing the truck schedule, booking parties, responding to emails, ordering ingredients, etc.
What’s been the best part of starting your own business (Share a highlight, if appropriate)? What’s been the most challenging part?
The best part of starting our own business is definitely the overwhelming sense of gratification. We work hard every day to make our customers happy. Happy customers in turn make us happy and drive our business. It’s a virtuous cycle for sure.
The most challenging part of starting our own business was just that – starting it. The uncertainty of the market, the jump from producing 10 cream puffs in an hour to over 500 in three hours, our lack of experience, the sheer physical effort – it was without a doubt the most challenging process either of us have ever undertaken by far. Our first week we slept probably about 20 hours… total. Still don’t know how we made it out alive. But the sales were there and each day was a little easier than the day before.
What advice would you have for other young adults thinking about starting their own businesses?
The first words of advice would be: go for it. Now is the time. As young adults, we don’t have the financial pressures (a mortgage) or obligations (a family) that may make starting a business more difficult further down the road.
That being said, have a realistic idea about what you are willing to sacrifice versus what you expect to gain. If it’s something you are truly passionate about, owning your own business is going to be an incredibly rewarding experience. But know that you are going to work. Hard.
What’s next? What goals or dreams do you have for your business and your personal lives?
The goal for our business is definitely expansion. In the near future, we are starting a second truck and hope to have it up and running in the early spring. We also have our eye out right now for another retail location (most likely in San Francisco).
Our long time goal is steady growth around the bay area before hopefully being able to expand to Southern California and beyond.
Personally, we’d love to get the business to the point where we can take more time off to spend with our friends and family as well as pursue some of our hobbies, such as traveling, surfing, and snowboarding.
What lessons have you learned?
These lessons may be old hat, but we’ve found them to be 100% true in operating a business:
Take care of your customers and your customers will take care of you.
The harder you work, the luckier you get.
If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it.
To learn more about their bakery, go to Pacific Puffs.