You could say Lauren W. Young has perfected the recipe for a balanced life. The founder of Sweet LaLa’s Bakery, she started with a foundation of education, added in a heap of romance, mixed in a passion for baking and cooked up a way to follow a dream while serving others.
Sweet LaLa’s started in Lauren’s kitchen as she baked up cookies for friends, and then became a true business when she started taking orders for special occasions. Lauren balanced the baking with her work first at Youth Villages and then at her family’s foundation, the Kemmons Wilson Family Foundation. Lauren wanted to grow Sweet LaLa’s, but it was a challenge, given her busy work and home life. As a board member of JIFF (Juvenile Intervention & Faith-based Follow-up), a nonprofit dedicated to providing intervention, mentoring and job training for kids who have had multiple interactions with the juvenile court system, Lauren realized she could grow Sweet LaLa’s and provide job training for JIFF’s clients. “I had been turning many customers down. Yet I wanted more people to have access to the cookies,” says Lauren. “Through my board service at JIFF, I knew students would love to work if given a chance. I came to JIFF and began to develop the idea to have JIFF be the ‘production team.’ They would be responsible for helping me find a food manager and train and develop the student bakers. Sweet LaLa’s Bakery would pay monthly rent and pay for any manager or student baker’s time in the kitchen.”
Lauren’s husband of 18 years, Tommy, is her high school sweetheart, and together they have three children, Stuart (13), Wilson (8) and Parker (3). And today, we’re thrilled to introduce her to you as our FACES of Memphis feature. Welcome, Lauren!
What was the biggest challenge you faced once you moved Sweet LaLa’s to JIFF?
Having a training model is extremely important to me, but when you have a product that is time-intensive to create, we have found it can be a very expensive model to run. We are trying to build consistent high volume orders and access large venues so we can maximize the students’ time in the kitchen and have more students working at one time.
Let’s talk a little bit about numbers. How many kids have worked for you through JIFF?
We have paid 12 student bakers to date. We do have a procedure in place where you can work up to four hours as a paid intern so our food manager can assess your work ethic and desire. After that, you roll to salary, and we keep you on the list for recruiting when large orders are needed.
How many cookies do you typically make each week?
We average 300 to 400 a week, and right now, we bake to order. Anyone is welcome to pick his/her order up locally at JIFF, as we encourage people to come see the amazing things that happen in young people’s lives when people draw close to them. We also stock Booksellers every two weeks with fresh product for people buying on the go.
Describe your typical day at the bakery.
Since we launched, I was heavily involved in December and in January trying to organize the inventory and get a handle on the work flow. Now, Sheryl Miller, the food manager, has the kitchen running very smoothly, so I’m only in and out for packaging with the large orders or making deliveries. Since I still work with our family foundation, many customers have been friends in the industry, so I like to deliver when I can. My favorite moments are in packaging with the students because it gives us time to laugh and tell stories or share moments.
How do you handle running your own business with young children?
We have been really deliberate in creating the bakery as a business that can be fun for the whole family. My children of course love testing the products and coming up with new flavors. I’ve tried to get them excited about joining on special events when we are showcasing our cookies. I’ve been raised in a family business environment, so having my kids come along on deliveries or down to the bakery to help package is expected and encouraged. I also have an incredible extended family on my husband’s side who shows up when it counts … we had a huge order for 2,500 gift boxes where we promised to hand tie bows on the package. I sorely miscalculated the time it would take, so we hosted his family for three evenings of dinner until we got every last one of them tied. I have never been more grateful for family in my life.
What are your tips for successfully managing family and business?
Honestly, it is critical for you and your spouse to be in it together. I could not do what I do in an average week if I didn’t feel supported by my husband and my kids. My husband runs a large company and has an insane weekly schedule, but we both believe in what we are doing. We give and take as needed. We carve out time for date nights. We make our weekends count. We rely on extended family and admit when we need help. Admittedly, we also have a great nanny who feels like a part of our family. She has really helped bring stability on those days when it seems like the sky is falling.
What’s your best advice for working moms?
Show your weaknesses. None of us have it together completely, but we are all trying to do what we can. Balance is relative, and we all need encouragement to take time for ourselves.
So far, what’s the best advice you have given your children?
Relax. In this world of academics and sports, my kids hold themselves to a high standard. I tell them to have fun, be kind and work hard. What matters is our family. There will always be a weakness that can be nurtured, but focusing on our strengths puts us in our sweet spot.
Finish this sentence: If I were a cookie, I would be …
A snickerdoodle! This is my favorite cookie because it has a hint of personality with the cinnamon spice. It’s comfort food with a twist, and I like to think this is the type of friend I am … reliable with a kick of crazy.
What are three lighthearted things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
Pajama pants, cheese and sadly, now that I’m close to 40, glasses.
Thanks to Micki Martin for the wonderful photos of Lauren and the Sweet Lala’s JIFF team. See more of Micki’s photography at mickimartin.com