Chamber Leadership Series: Tate’s Bake Shop Founder Shares Her Success Story

Chamber Leadership Series: Tate’s Bake Shop Founder Shares Her Success Story
Pictured from left to right: Kathleen King and Jessica Larche during the Hampton Roads Chamber Leadership Series.

Kathleen King, Founder and Owner of Tate’s Bake Shop, shared her success story during the Hampton Roads Chamber Leadership Series at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott on Thursday, October 10, 2019.

“Hard work and responsibility were not foreign to me,” said King describing her childhood upbringing. The Chamber Leadership Series began with a brief background on King’s journey, followed by a free-flowing interview between King and Jessica Larche, WTKR News 3 Anchor, about how King overcame and learned from her experiences.

In 1980, King opened her first bakery Kathleen’s Cookies in Southampton, NY, where traditional American baked goods were perfected and sold by King. Larche asked King what inspired her to sell cookies, and she responded, “Cookies are fast, simple, and they make people happy.” King went on to discuss how she sold cookies on her family’s farm as a child and attributed her strong-will and determination to succeed in her upbringing. 

Twenty years later, misfortune struck when King decided to bring on two new business partners. Those two new partners betrayed King’s trust, fired her, and created a financial hole of debt for Kathleen’s Cookies. After six months of lawsuits, a settlement was reached which left King with the rights to her original bakery property, $200,000 in debt, and no rights to her company name. King knew she had to do something to generate income and pay off her massive debt.

“Was there a moment where you said ‘I’m done, this is too much, I’m out’?” asked Larche. King jokingly replied that while she was working in the business she had those moments, but said her continued focus was on how to fix her business and start over. “The community rallied behind me. I felt like I had to come back for them and I didn’t have many choices because that was all I knew,” King said.

“Many times you want to give up because it’s too hard, it’s too overwhelming, but I just kept going because it was in me to not give up,” said King. She also said it’s better to not dwell on the ‘what if?’ questions of life because there is a freedom in not worrying about things until they happen.

Following the stress of lawsuits and losing her business, King founded Tate’s Bake Shop in 2001. The lawsuits concluded in July and she opened in August. “In light of these hardships and lessons, how did you move forward with Tate’s in a new way?” asked Larche. King replied that with Tate’s she was able to step back and be less emotionally attached to her business.

“It’s ourselves that create the blockages and problems in our business, so with Tate’s, I was really stripped of emotion,” King said. She went on to describe her goal and exit strategy to sell Tate’s by the time she was 55. King said having goals made running her business much easier the second time around.

In 2014, King sold Tate’s Bake Shop to a private equity firm and remained active in a minority position, but in 2018 she retired. “There’s a freedom in having no responsibilities and that feels good,” said King. Despite the struggles King faced, she overcame those challenges and today has a popular brand sold in all fifty states, and sells the No. 1 chocolate chip cookie in America, according to Consumer Reports. “I think what I’m most proud of is the legacy product.”

The presentation concluded with a brief Q&A. Priscilla Monti, Vice President of Programs and Communication at the Hampton Roads Chamber, asked what advice King has for entrepreneurs starting up or starting their businesses over. King responded with “the numbers never lie” and urged entrepreneurs to invest in a finance person. “My philosophy is to have a plan, execute that plan, take care of your people, take care of your product, and then take care of the money.”

Thank you to the following Hampton Roads Chamber Leadership Series sponsors: Southern Bank (Presenting Sponsor); Hampton Roads Workforce Council (Silver Sponsor); SunTrust (Speaker Sponsor); and Inside Business, WTKR News 3 (Media Sponsors).

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