Arleen Scavone is not afraid to look over the shoulders of her employees at Sweet Arleen’s. It gives her a chance to reinforce the importance of doing it right every time when it comes to creating her product.
“While I’m a very happy and team-oriented person, the standard has got to be perfect,” says Scavone, founder and CEO at the boutique-style bakery that bears her name. “I take charge, I organize, I direct. I do all those things from a leadership perspective. My standard is that it has to be the standard, no exceptions.”
It’s a no-nonsense way to lead a business and Scavone makes no apologies for it.
“Being an owner, you’re intimidating by nature,” Scavone says. “My staff knows I’m an extremely loyal leader. As long as they do a good job, I’m going to have a job for them. I want my staff to know I’m watching all the time. But I’m not doing it to find something wrong. I’m there to support them and help them make midcourse corrections if something is off.”
Scavone has built a strong business in a relatively short period of time.
The three-peat winner of Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” opened her bakery in 2009 baking cupcakes and sweet and savory bread puddings. She launched franchising in May 2013 and sold eight units in eight months, with plans to continue the expansion nationwide.
All this baking success comes from a woman who initially built a successful career in the banking sector.
“People will refer to me as the banker turned baker,” Scavone says. “I’m a businesswoman who opened a bakery model, not a baker who opened a local business. I opened the bakery, took no income from it and just put every dollar of profit back into growing the infrastructure.”
A knack for leadership
Scavone may have spent the early part of her professional career in banking, but she’s loved baking since she was a little girl.
“We didn’t have a lot of money,” Scavone says of her family. “My mom didn’t drive. I had an older brother and sister and we didn’t have things like video games. My fun was cooking and baking. We’re an Italian family, so we always had food and baked goods. People who came to our house were always happy because they always got to eat good things.”
She got her start as an entrepreneur at the age of eight, selling greeting cards to neighbors. She was good at math and liked to be in charge and gained early experience being the leader of various clubs at school.
She got her first job in banking as a loan processor and worked her way up to become one of 200 senior vice presidents with Washington Mutual Inc. Unfortunately, when the Great Recession struck in 2008, she lost her job. She quickly collected herself and founded a management consulting firm, OpExNOW that she still leads today.
At the same time, she began to develop a business model for Sweet Arleen’s.
“A lot of people were losing their jobs and couldn’t go out to dinner anymore,” Scavone says. “I wanted to make sure I could offer something that was a treat or a special occasion event for families. I came up with the cupcake and bread pudding model. It was a way I could get my hands on food again.”
The business is called Sweet Arleen’s, but it wasn’t her idea to name it after herself. She had to be convinced by her son to take that step.
“He said, ‘This is you, this is your passion,’” Scavone says. “‘What’s going to drive the success of this business is you. Your name needs to be on it because anyone who knows you and gets to know you through however successful this is, they will know it’s an Arleen business.’”
Scavone loves baking, but she says she’s a businesswoman and her goal is to continue to build the presence of Sweet Arleen’s.
“My vision is a retail distribution strategy across the U.S. and key markets with brick and mortar stores, mobile units and other distribution strategies,” Scavone says. “I’m going to continue to learn and evaluate what’s working well and what’s not.”
She says there is pressure with being “Sweet Arleen,” but it comes with the territory if you want to be the face of your business.
“When people say they’ve seen me on TV or they’ve ordered my product, I have to look like it’s the first time I’ve ever heard that,” Scavone says. “As a leader, you have to make people feel like they are the only ones in the world who ever told you that. I can’t have a bad day. I have to be happy every day, every minute.” ●
How to reach: Sweet Arleen’s, (805) 373-7373 or www.sweetarleens.com