BABE #233: BROOKE SAMS - Co-Owner, The Mini Bar Donuts
Brooke embodies what it means to be a hustlin’ babe. With a background in business and experience working for a startup bakery, she made her “pipe dream” of owning a coffee and donut shop a reality through hard work, dedication, and a whole lot of sacrifice. A Jacksonville native and a mama of two littles, she and her husband Chase are impacting so many folks (and feeding so many bellies) in the Jacksonville Beach community through The Mini Bar donut shop, and we’re so excited to share her story today.
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
Current city: Jacksonville Beach, Florida
Alma mater: The University of Central Florida
Degree: B.S, Business
Very first job: Cookies by Design
Hustle: Co-Owner, The Mini Bar
Babe you admire and why?
My grandmother, Sandy Jensen. I could probably write a whole book about her. She and my grandfather started a construction company in the 1960s, specializing in roads and underground utilities. Through their character and hard work, they grew from running the company out of their home, with concrete equipment parked in their driveway, to a company with over 200 employees. After my grandfather passed away in the 80s, my grandmother took over the company. Not only was she a female leader in a male-dominated industry, she owned, managed and grew a construction company that was mostly staffed by men. Contrary to my grandfather who graduated from Harvard and MIT, my grandmother did not have a degree. I can only imagine the rebuke and doubt placed upon her during that transition, while mourning the loss of her husband. But she is smart, and her energy and tenacity is contagious. She was the first woman on the board, and the first female Chair of the Florida Transportation and Builders Association (FTBA). She was the first (and is still the only) woman to be inducted into the FTBA Hall of Fame. She’s one of the most generous and respected women I have ever met.
How do you spend your free time?
My husband, Chase, and I have two small children. When we aren’t working, we try to spend as much time as we can with them. Sometimes they’re even with us when we’re working, often tagging along on deliveries and errands.
Go-to coffee order and/or adult beverage?
I get these kicks where I drink the same thing every day for about a month or two. Right now I’m into vanilla cappuccinos. I usually start the day with this, then sip on black coffee throughout the day. My go-to adult beverage is a glass of prosecco.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Anything from Doro in Neptune Beach.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Barbara Corcoran. My background is in commercial real estate. I feel like I can relate to a lot of what she went through during her career, and would love her insight on where she is today. I love her ability to balance a “no bullshit/keeps it real/still cares for people” attitude. She truly is a babe who hustles.
What tools help you in your day-to-day work?
Two books I wish I would have read sooner, and ones I think every business owner should read: “The E Myth,” and “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” They changed the way I view our business and our team.
Tell us about your hustle.
I am the co-owner of The Mini Bar, a donut shop in Jacksonville, FL. I oversee our product development (new donut and coffee flavors, merchandise), marketing (social media and anything and everything in between), event planning (onsite and offsite), catering, HR (hiring and scheduling), and I do a lot of our ordering from suppliers and vendors.
What does your typical workday look like?
My husband, Chase, and I kind of have a system: while one person is getting ready, the other one is making breakfast for the kids. While one person is making lunches, the other person is getting them dressed. We are all usually out the door by 7:45AM. Once I get to the shop, I make my rounds, help out with orders, then head to my computer/phone to plan social media posts and answer emails and DMs. From there, I see if there’s any inventory I need to order, then work on the team schedule and staffing. Throughout the week I’m in the kitchen working on product development: a new donut flavor, a new coffee syrup or a new procedure. Since every donut is made to order, I have to make sure everything can be made and duplicated efficiently and effectively. Our kids do half days at school, and I try to always have everything done by the time they get picked up, and finish any computer-related tasks while they’re napping. We spend the rest of the day as a family; playing outside, running errands and eating dinner, and finish by watching “Star Wars Building Legos,” as our son refers to it. When you’re in the service industry, you’re always on call. I sleep with my phone by my side and the first thing I do when I wake up is check and see if anyone has called out, or if there are any issues. You never know when you are going to have to make a mad dash to the shop. There are days I am at the shop 12-plus hours, and Chase is with the kids all day (and vice versa).
What inspired the Mini Bar?
I have always loved to bake. In college, I worked full-time at a startup bakery while studying business. While on a trip to Seattle, Chase and I went to a donut shop that had awesome donuts and coffee, with a bookstore vibe. We kept talking about how Jacksonville didn’t have anything like it; a donut shop where you could stay and hang out. That was 10 years ago. It became a pipe dream, or something we would kind of joke about. Two years ago, we got pretty serious about it, testing recipes at night when the kids would go to sleep, and finally sold our business to start The Mini Bar. We loved the concept of mini donuts and being able to try more flavors with each visit. We’re both born and raised in Jacksonville, so it has always been important to us to support and give back locally whenever we can. Chase literally said “If we can’t give back to the community, then I don’t want to do this.” We’ve been able to do that with our Love Others campaign through donut and T-shirt sales, canned food drives and raffles for local nonprofits and first responders. It’s awesome, because it’s not just us cutting a check. The community is purchasing items, donating food or participating in fundraisers. Our goal is to continue this, host more events, do more fundraisers and support more local businesses.
Where does your passion for baking come from?
I’ve always enjoyed every aspect of baking. The science behind it, the flavors—but more than anything, I love the joy it brings. I can’t think of a single time I’ve baked something that wasn’t meant to be given or shared with someone. They say food makes people happy, but I don’t think it’s the food itself, but the people you’re with and the experience you’re sharing with them. I have never been formally trained. It’s been a lot of trial and error. It still is. It took me months to perfect our donut cakes. Sometimes I plan a donut flavor, but when I go to make it, it just doesn’t work. I often ask others in the culinary community for advice or help on a technique. And I Google and YouTube a lot!
How have your past professional and academic experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
Through my degree, I learned a lot about the financial and marketing aspect of a business, but I never learned how to run a business. I would constantly apply what I learned in class to what was happening in the bakery I worked at. A lot of the techniques we use at The Mini Bar are adapted from there. After graduating, I started working for a commercial real estate company as an administrative assistant. After a few months, my boss told me being his assistant wasn’t a good use of my time and I would be really good in sales. He was right. All my past academic and professional experiences have helped prepare me, but up until opening The Mini Bar, I never had as much responsibility as I d0 now. I have a responsibility to our team, our customers, our vendors. More than that, I have a responsibility to my husband and our kids to not let this business take over our lives.
What was it like opening up the Mini Bar while raising your kids?
Challenging! Prior to this, I was a stay-at-home mom. It was a big transition for me to go from being with our kids all day, to only seeing them a few hours a day. My son still asks every night who’s going to be there when he wakes up, because for the first three months it was either just me, just Chase, or one of our parents, siblings or friends. Even though the big transition is kind of over, there’s still the daily struggle of going from “work mode” to “mom mode.” They are very intertwined. I relate opening a business to having a baby. You can read all of the books, talk to all of the people, but nothing can really prepare you. Just like every baby is different, every business is too. The first three months were like having a newborn — I didn’t sleep, I barely had time to eat and if it weren’t for being in the food industry and high health standards, I probably wouldn’t have showered as much. But, just like when you have a baby, you get a system down. The business grows and matures. One day, it will become self-sufficient. (At least, that’s the goal.) In the meantime, find people and things that will help take some things off of your plate. Put a value on your time at work, and your time with your family. For me, it’s worth spending the extra money to order my groceries online and have them delivered so I can spend that time with my family. It’s worth hiring additional people, promoting people and delegating tasks so I can spend that time growing the business. It’s a struggle, because I want to do it all—and I feel like I can. But, I try to remember I don’t have to; there are people who want to help, and I, the business and my family are better because of them.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
Contrary to residential real estate, commercial is male-dominated, and the barriers to entry are extremely high. I would often arrive to show properties and people assumed I was the assistant, not the broker. I once had a high profile client (who is very well-known) call me “sweetheart” and “baby,” and threaten to cancel the contract if I didn’t make certain calls or send certain emails. He made me feel so insecure, and at the time I was too scared to stand up for myself. Thankfully, I had a boss who not only had my back, but was a great mentor to me. He took me under his wing and taught me everything he knew. He stood up for me and called out the men and women who tried to bring me down. He saw me and treated me as an equal. We need more people who are willing to do what he did. We need people, both men and women, to share their knowledge and experience with younger generations. As women, we need to stop competing and comparing ourselves to one another. There’s no need to promote yourself by bringing someone else down.
What’s the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
There aren’t a lot of independent coffee and donut shops in general, let alone ones that are led by women. I definitely think that it’s evolving, though. I see it every day at The Mini Bar. Our front-of-house manager, back-of-house manager and all our shift leads are women. I see it in my inbox, when I’m emailing with other businesses. I see it while visiting other coffee shops; there are equal if not more women behind the bar than men. Communities like Babes Who Hustle are helping to bring women together and fuel confidence in one another. It gives women an outlet to use their voice—and for people to hear it.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
I think a big one that people have with any business is “it’s business, not personal.” But, when you sell your house, your car and your business, have two kids under age 3, and literally build your business from the ground-up, it is personal. It’s hard not to take the criticism, the lack of respect and the doubt personally. It turns in to an everyday struggle because it’s hard not to let those moments get to you.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
Christina Tosi of Milk Bar. She revolutionized the dessert world with her cereal-milk creations, crack pie and cakes. She thinks outside the box. I love that she has grown her business from one location to several all over the country, while still playing a huge part in the creativity and production of her products. Locally, Kate of Southern Swells, Ali of Alleycakes, and Deb of Taco Lu are all women I have gone to when I need to vent, when I have questions and when I need advice. They’re all in different avenues of the food and beverage industry, and in my eyes, they have all perfected their craft. They have all helped to introduce something new to Jacksonville. They’ve all taken risks, made sacrifices—and have been successful.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Find a mentor who can help guide you and be a sounding board. Surround yourself with likeminded people, and people who are in the same life stage as you. People who will encourage, yet challenge you. Ask for help. I’m terrible at this, and wait until I am just about to burn out. Don’t wait. They say knowledge is power, but that can come in many forms. Diversify your knowledge. Read the books, ask the questions, listen to the podcasts and get the hands-on experience.
This Saturday, December 15 from 8-11PM, celebrate the season and mingle with the BWH community at Six Hundred King, a creative event space + restored warehouse in the heart of Jacksonville’s Arts District in Riverside.
Cash bar proceeds will benefit the Women's Center of Jacksonville: an organization improving the lives of women through advocacy, support and education, and providing rape recovery services for individuals of all genders in Duval, Nassau, and Baker counties. Click here to grab your ticket!