We became (just slightly) obsessed with Tu-Lu’s Gluten-Free Bakery when we stumbled onto the vegan granola at a local health store. Once we enjoyed the sweet, filling, and delicious granola, we had to know who was behind the magic. Baker and founder Tully Phillips shares her story and advice with Carpe Juvenis. From New York City to Texas, this entrepreneur knows what it’s like to open up bakeries across the country and discover a passion that was hidden right under her own nose for years.
For anyone excited about starting their own baking venture, or who just loves to get their hands dirty in the kitchen, we are extremely excited to share this week’s inspiring Spotlight with you!
Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?
Tully Phillips: I think it’s best to seize every opportunity to learn and gain experience when you are young. Try all sorts of things because you never know what might pique your interest!
CJ: What did you study at Southern Methodist University and how did you determine what to major in?
TP: I was a fine art major. It was an easy decision for me because I loved painting and creating art in high school. I have a real need to be creative and that translated into cooking post-college.
CJ: You attended culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Austin, TX. What inspired you to pursue cooking in an academic way and what was that experience like?
TP: I have always loved cooking. I find it extremely relaxing, an outlet for creativity and of course a delicious profession. Going to school for something that was formerly a hobby was a dream come true. Some people might think culinary school is relaxed but it is actually quite strenuous. You have to be on point every day because each dish you create is graded. Despite that, I still enjoyed every moment.
CJ: You signed your first lease for Tu-Lu’s NYC bakery at the young age of 28. How did you decide where to start and which area of the city to rent in?
TP: I wanted to be in a neighborhood that was a “foodie destination.” The East Village is one of those areas of Manhattan with such a variety of restaurants and is quite the hang out area on the weekends. The less expensive rent was also a deciding factor. It was important to me not to overspend on rent since it was a new business and quite frankly a new concept for NYC. We were the first 100% gluten-free bakery in Manhattan so I was not sure how successful we would be.
CP: In your roles as founder and owner, good leadership is critical. How have you learned to lead and what does it mean, in your opinion, to be a strong leader?
TP: I think a leader needs to be experienced in all the roles of their employees. When we first opened I was the dishwasher, weekend baker, register employee, as well as having all the managerial duties. I learned the ins and outs of each position, which was helpful in delegating work and projects to my employees. I think you also have to be willing to learn from your employees and listen to them. Be open to tweaking how things run according to advice they give you.
CJ: How did your education and past work experiences prepare you to start Tu-Lu’s Bakery in both New York and Texas?
TP: I helped manage the kitchen in a catering company NYC. That job really taught me how to be confident in having employees and letting them know your expectations and limits. Of course my culinary education and work experience directly influenced the quality of our baked goods. I have very high standards for what we sell at Tu-Lu’s.
CJ: What have been the greatest challenges in running your company, and what do you wish you had known before opening your bakeries?
TP: We are open seven days a week in NYC with very long, late hours so essentially we are never closed! There is always something that comes up that needs to be addressed. Whether it’s someone not showing up for work or a light fixture that no longer works, owning a business is a 24 hour, seven day a week job. That might have been nice to know before opening!
CJ: What is the greatest lesson you have learned from being an entrepreneur?
TP: Being an entrepreneur is risky but extremely rewarding. I was so scared to open a retail store in the middle of New York City but once I signed that lease I didn’t look back.
CJ: What should a teenager or young adult who wants to have their own bakery and run their own business do now to set themselves up for success?
TP: I recommend working at a bakery to really learn the ins and outs of the business. Try to work your way up to assistant manager or manager to get experience on all levels. Knowing how to manage people and money is key. Though I had culinary experience, I had never worked in an actual bakery so I could have learned so many things and avoided quite a few mistakes and bumps in the beginning.
CJ: You’ve had such incredible feedback about your gluten-free products, especially the delectable brownies and Carpe Juvenis’ personal favorite, the Agave Cinnamon Granola. Aside from your own experience being gluten intolerant, what inspires you to create delicious treats that anyone can enjoy?
TP: I created the bakery to fill that void of not having delicious GF treats available to me. I was shocked I could not find a wonderful GF cupcake in all of Manhattan. We are always trying to create new products to excite our customers. I especially love when we can recreate a childhood memory in a GF version.
CJ: What motivates you on your toughest days?
TP: We have the best customers and we are always striving to make them happy. I can’t tell you how many times people have thanked me for opening the bakery. How many people get thanked on a regular basis at their job? Not many! That completely makes up for the tough days.
CJ: What advice would you give your 19-year-old self?
TP: I would probably tell myself to get a job at a local bakery and learn as much as I can about their systems, customer service, accounting, etc. Try to get some marketing and PR experience as well. You can never learn too much and all knowledge is useful! You never know where it will take you.
Images by Tully Phillips