Entrepreneur bakes up million dollar enterprise with help of Washington SBDC

BELLINGHAM, Wash.—As she was growing up, Andrea Vann loved the hours she spent with her mother in the kitchen. She was drawn to baking while her mother cooked meals, she said, and it was where she learned that feeding others can be wonderfully creative and life affirming.

But after high school she opted for college rather than culinary school because the hours of a professional chef seemed crushing and not compatible with family life.

But water finds a way, and 20 years later she is the mother of two and owner of Pure Bliss Desserts. The downtown bakery has become a Bellingham destination and she and her staff of 20 produce and serve more than 1,000 baked goods every day, including cakes, cupcakes, cheesecakes and cookies.

“I love baking,” she said, “it’s in my blood.”

The hours can be crushing, Vann said, but with the help of Eric Grimstead, her Washington Small Business Development (SBDC) business advisor, she and her husband, Nick, are figuring out how to grow their business even with a growing family.

Nick and Andrea Vann (Pure Bliss Desserts owners)
with SBDC advisor Eric Grimstead (R)

Grimstead is a business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Western Washington University.

The Washington SBDC network includes more than two-dozen business advisors working in communities across the state to provide one-on-one, confidential advising and expert training to entrepreneurs who want to start, grow or transition a business. SBDC advising services are provided at no cost to the client.

According to Vann, Grimstead has helped her grow Pure Bliss Desserts from a one-woman catering service to a million dollar enterprise. With Grimstead’s help, she’s figured out financial statements, cash flow, loan applications and 101 other business challenges. More than that, Vann said, Grimstead has been a huge source of support, happy to give pep talks when the crush of responsibilities seem overwhelming.

“That’s why my husband and I appreciate Eric so much, because he’s the whole package,” Vann said. “He understands the technical part, but he’s also really human.” Vann remembers one meeting where she mentioned she wanted to start a family, but there just wasn’t time. “He stopped me and said, ‘Andi, that’s not right. You need to align your business goals with your family goals,’” she said. “That’s something I think about every day.”

Today Vann and her husband, who is a full-time firefighter in Bellevue as well as being involved in the business, have a 4-year-old daughter and a 16-month-old son.

Instead of culinary school, Vann ended up getting a psychology degree at WWU, and then worked as an organizational development consultant for several years. It might have been a detour, but it was a fortuitous one. Now, she said, she works hard to create a happy and productive workplace.

“If it wasn’t for my team there is no way I could do this,” she said. “I trust them to the moon.”

In March 2018 Vann got a $1.8 million SBA loan that enabled her to buy the building where she had been leasing space. She’s in the middle of expanding her business from 2,200 square feet to about 5,000 square feet. She’s also become a landlord to three tenants who occupy adjacent storefronts.

Nick and Andrea Vann (Pure Bliss Desserts owners)
with SBDC advisor Eric Grimstead (L)

Vann said she started talking to Grimstead about expanding her business about three years ago and he asked if she had ever thought about buying property. “I said ‘no way!’” Vann said, and laughed, “And Eric said, ‘Let me convince you.’” Numbers told the story, Vann said. Even though it’s been scary at times, she’s thrilled to be able to expand opportunities for her business and her staff.

Her staff includes six people who are primarily bakers, six people who are primarily decorators and then a hospitality team of 8 to 10 people who serve and take care of the front counter. She still loves to bake, she said, but now organizational development “is the meat and potatoes of what I do.”

The business expansion has been pretty much all consuming for the past couple years, Vann said, but she’s looking forward to being done with renovations so that she can

settle in to the new space and focus on basics.

“I’m really looking forward to watching this beautiful thing that we’ve created continue to grow,” she said.

The SBDC is a national program funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration and by state and local funding partners. The SBDC in Bellingham is funded by WWU and the SBA and is part of the Washington SBDC network of nearly two dozen advising centers across the state. Washington State University is the statewide host of the Washington SBDC and provides both funding and administrative support.

For more information about Pure Bliss Desert, go to: http://pureblissdesserts.com/

For more information about the Washington SBDC, go to www.wsbdc.org