American Dream Achieved
IBA, as an approximately fifty-year old business brokerage firm serving the entrepreneurial community of the Pacific Northwest, has been uniquely positioned since before the American Bicentennial celebration of 1976 to witness and hear the stories of thousands of people who have lived the American dream through entrepreneurship creating beloved businesses by employees, customers, and communities while finding personal fulfillment and financial prosperity through execution of their ideas, hard work, perseverance, and ability. In an effort to share these stories heard throughout the years by our team of business brokers, who are commonly regarded as the “best listeners” in the M&A industry, IBA has retained highly regarded writer, Nesha Ruther, to tell their stories. It is our goal to share one story a month. It is our hope that you will find the stories as inspirational and motivational as they are to us and the buyers who bought the businesses in IBA facilitated transactions in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.
The Story of Pierre Fauvet (Parisian Star Desserts)
By Nesha Ruther
Pierre Fauvet began cooking from a young age. What began as a hobby in High School, turned into a career and lifelong love for the culinary arts. Pierre, who was born in Provence, France, was attracted to baking because it allowed him to work with his hands while also expressing his creativity.
After High School, Pierre went to culinary school, and after two years, moved to Paris to join the staff of a high-end bakery and catering business. There, he was able to train under Paris’ elite chefs; “I learned the trade under some of the best pastry chefs in France,” he says.
After four years of working in Paris, an exciting job opportunity presented itself in the United States. At 21, Pierre moved to Scottsdale Arizona. “I was supposed to only just be there for a few years,” he says, “but I ended up meeting my wife.”
After working at a number of different bakeries, Pierre and his wife decided to open their own. For ten years, they sold French pastries out of a small shop in Scottsdale. “We started with nothing and built a nice little business, we learned a lot,” Pierre says of the experience.
In the late 90s, Pierre and his family were ready for a change of scenery. They sold their business and moved to Seattle. “Seattle was very attractive to us. All we had known was living in Arizona, we had two young girls and wanted to give them a different experience.”
Once settled in Seattle, Pierre opened a wholesale bakery business called Parisian Star Desserts, which sold to restaurants, hotels, conferences, and catering businesses. “We became very well known in the city for the quality of our product and our service.”
While Pierre loved developing recipes and baking, he was not exempt from the often-brutal nature of the food industry. “You have to put in long hours, like 16 hours a day. Early on, you cannot necessarily delegate work. When you have your own business, the profit margin is so slim that it’s almost impossible to hire people to do some of the work.”
All entrepreneurs can relate to the exhaustion of working untraditional hours, and sacrificing valuable time with friends and family, this experience is only exacerbated when food preparation is added to the mix. Pierre would often wake up at 3am to prepare that day’s product and return home late and go to bed immediately. The grueling nature of the work was a main contributor to his transition to wholesale.
Pierre was able to scale Parisian Star Desserts to bring on new employees, but his first business in Scottsdale felt the pressure so many small food service businesses experience. “It was really a mom-and-pop business. It’s brutal. There’s no way around it.”
Hiring staff brought much-needed relief to Pierre and his wife, yet it also posed its own challenges. “The food industry is notorious for attracting people that don’t know what they want to do with their lives,” he says, “so you find a mixed bag of different people, not all of whom are the best.”
Over time, Pierre was able to find a reliable team to help him scale his business. This was much easier in wholesale than it had been with his first bakery. “With a retail business, you are limited to the area you are based in, your customer radius is maybe ten miles max, you are only targeting so many people.”
With more customers came the challenges of navigating customer relations. “The customer is always right, and I learned that sometimes you have to swallow your pride and let them feel they’re making the decisions that are best.”
Pierre also had to work to ensure relationships with clients stayed positive through changing chefs or purchasing agents. “Just when you think you’ve got it right and things are solid with the customer, something changes, and you have to start all over. It was a full-time job keeping the trust with customers,” he says.
The care Pierre put into those relationships paid off however, and at their largest, Parisian Star Desserts serviced 150 customers across the Pacific Northwest.
This was in part due to the nature of a wholesale business, which allows the geographical scope of the clientele to be much larger. Through selling to other businesses, Pierre had many more options when it came to getting his product to customers. “You can do your own deliveries as far away as you can afford, you can use distributors to distribute your product, you can freeze the product and ship it. There are so many different avenues to expand your business.”
Rather than expanding to secure a larger client base, Pierre expanded to meet those that were already interested. This allowed him to succeed where he was, and scale without running the risk of outpacing demand. “We grew the business very rapidly, starting with one customer and one employee. We expanded in size, in terms of physical facility, every other year,” he says.
Using this model of growth based on customer demand, Parisian Star Desserts were delivering as far as Southern Oregon, Eastern Washington, and eventually Alaska.
The rapid growth of Parisian Star Desserts required Pierre to take on more of a leadership role than he had to when he and his wife were the only staff. “The demand was there, and we had the right product, but I felt I had to learn a lot more about leadership because I was going from two employees to four, eight, ten, twenty,” he says.
This was a new skill for Pierre, up until this point his career had largely been spent working long hours alone in the kitchen. “I wouldn’t say I was a leader before, even if I worked for another company, it was only me and maybe one or two other people. I never had to learn the skills of leadership and motivating people,” he says, “but with [Parisian Star Desserts], I had to quickly adapt and always push myself to be a better person and leader. I had to learn how to listen and not react.”
In the same way he learned to swallow his pride for the sake of customer satisfaction, he learned to put his employees needs before his own. If issues arose, he always emphasized that they would be solved together, as a team.
“It’s all about people. Dealing with your employees and managing their growth, their issues, and expectations. It is always a balancing act, making people happy and helping them grow and stay with the company.”
Pierre learned to be a good boss through gaining his employees’ respect and admiration, but also ensuring that he ran a tight ship. The mixed bag that the food industry brought to his door meant dealing with terrible employees, and employees so great that they became his right hand. “All businesses need to manage the human factor. If you don’t have people that are happy to come into work every day, it is going to hurt your business. It will show in the product and service,” Pierre says.
Despite these challenges, Pierre always never lost sight of his main focus, which was providing clients with delicious and high-quality baked goods. He credits this attention to quality as the main contributor to their success.
“The product we had was without a doubt, the best in town. We were really proud of what we were putting out. It was unique at the time, there was no competition; we were really showing up with great product, great service, and never saying no to the customer.”
Decades of hard work began to take its toll however, and Pierre began thinking about selling the business. “I was burned-out, and it started to show in how I was at home. I began feeling a lack of motivation,” he says.
In 2007 Pierre felt that he had grown Parisian Star Desserts to a point where it would be a lucrative purchase and was excited at the possibility of another owner further growing the business. “Our sales were growing at 20% a year, business was doing great, but to take it to the next level would take more energy, time, sacrifices, and investment. I thought another company with the resources to manage the transition could continue that growth.”
In researching brokers, Pierre found IBA and met Gregory Kovsky. He was curious to learn the value of the business and if there would be a demand. Gregory gave a favorable valuation of Parisian Star Desserts, and they began the search for a buyer.
Pierre was initially hesitant, as he had a previously negative experience with a different broker and buyer. However, Gregory and IBA quickly made him feel at ease.
“I liked Gregory as soon as we met,” he says. “You can tell when a person is genuine, passionate about their business, and wanting to make things smooth. I knew throughout the whole process that he wanted me to be happy. Gregory stepped in and managed the whole process much more closely [than the previous broker]. We landed with a potential customer that was exactly what I wanted.”
When it came to the buyer, The Essential Baking Company, Pierre was familiar with their brand and their products, he knew they were financially sound. A strong business with ample resources and a positive reputation, Essential Baking was everything Pierre had wanted in a buyer. “At the time, they were doing organic breads and we were doing desserts. It was a good marriage because we could bring something they didn’t have,” he says.
In their contract, Pierre was to stay with the business for a year helping ease the transition. He enjoyed working with Essential Baking so much that he stayed on for five.
Pierre’s role within Essential Baking was Director of Management for Desserts. As the company began targeting larger customers Pierre got to be a part of that and developed products for both Trader Joe’s and Costco. Over the course of four years, Essential Baking paid off the purchase of Parisian Star Desserts, and Pierre got to see how the business grew and expanded. “It was nice for me to stay and make sure the business was doing well. I didn’t want to leave, have something happen and then have it be hard to get the rest of our money.”
When the entirety of the business had been paid off, Pierre realized perhaps it was time to go. He began doing bakery consulting and dealing with the challenges and victories of a different kind of entrepreneurship. “It was not easy because you are on your own, aggressively trying to connect with people, find customers, and offer your services,” he says, “It’s never consistent. You can be really busy for three months and then have nothing for three months.”
As a bakery consultant, Pierre’s clients included large hotels such as the Waldorf-Astoria, for whom he helped make changes to the menu, train their staff, reorganize their kitchens, and more. He also helped design the menu, kitchen layout, and organized hiring for grocery stores. “It was interesting because it was all over the map, and I ended up going things that I never thought I would have an opportunity to do,” he says.
Pierre’s process for product development is a in many ways a process of learning what the customer wants, in this case, the customer being both the person eating the product and the retailer selling it. From there, Pierre begins cultivating a menu that aligns with the customer’s profile.
“If you are opening a grocery in Jackson Hole, Wyoming,” Pierre says, “People have money, but are also outdoorsy. They want things that are a bit healthier, it’s a completely different customer base than a grocery store in New York City or Chicago.”
Pierre went on to work for Starbucks a Corporate Pastry Chef and Product Developer. With Starbucks’, the products are largely designed for customers eating between 7:00am and 10:00am and designed to meet the needs of an on-the-go breakfast or mid-morning snack. “It couldn’t be messy, and it couldn’t be weird for people, it had to be familiar,” Pierre says of Starbucks pastries, “but at the same time exciting enough where people want to take pictures and put them on Instagram. We designed the product to look attractive and fit that need.”
If you have ever been on your way to work and ran into a Starbucks for coffee and breakfast, you have Pierre to thank, “Everything you see in the Starbucks case is probably something I developed,” he says.
Pierre spent three years at Starbucks before he and his wife moved back to Arizona to be closer to their children, who had returned as adults. He now consults part-time and considers himself, “softly retired”.
As an immigrant to the United States, who has lived and worked here since he was in his early twenties, Pierre occasionally wonders what would have happened if he had stayed in France. “Most likely I would have had a good life and good career, but I never would have had the opportunities I had here in the US,” he says.
“To move to a country where I didn’t understand anything politically or economically, where I didn’t have any money, where I barely spoke the language, and make the career that I had? It’s unheard of, it couldn’t have happened anywhere else.”
Pierre arrived in the US at twenty-one with a hundred dollars in his suitcase and a one-way ticket. He was able to create a flourishing business and shape the menus of some of America’s culinary staples. “It was hard work,” he says, “very hard. But there was no reason for me to feel like I didn’t have a chance. The American dream was available to me.”
Nesha Ruther is a writer and editor from Takoma Park, Maryland. She received her BA in English Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin Madison, where she received a full tuition scholarship through the First Wave program based on academic and creative merits. She was a 2016 Young Arts winner in spoken word, a 2016 winner of the DC Commission of the Arts Larry Neal Writing Award, a 2017 winner of the Mochila Review Writing Award, which was judged by Nikki Giovanni, a 2020 winner of the University of Wisconsin’s Eudora Welty Fiction Thesis Award, and a 2022 Tin House Winter Workshop Participant. She has been commissioned to write and perform for the National Education Association, and has had work published in NarrativeNortheast, Angles Literary Magazine, Beltway Quarterly and more. She currently lives in Cincinnati Ohio and is the Lead Manuscript Developer at Holon Publishing and Collective Press.