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Life Lessons from Danielle Moore, Founder of Dani’s Cheesecakes
Companies can be as individual as the people who bring them to life. An ingenious idea may spark a brilliant beginning, while another could be built from the passion of its founder. But not every new venture is born from creativity, passion, or discovery. Some businesses are born from the sheer need to make ends meet –sometimes referred to as a side hustle.
Working to provide for her family and in need of additional revenue, Danielle Moore has engaged in many side hustles in her life. She has capitalized on these diverse experiences in ways that ultimately led to the founding of her now very successful business Dani’s Cheesecakes.
While Danielle might not have been aware of her entrepreneurial spirit within, her life story shows that it has been with her all along. And if anyone ever doubts that they too can come up with a business idea that can be as successful as Danielle’s, just know that for her, it all started with cornbread.
Looking back, and long before Dani’s Cheesecakes was even a germ of an idea, Danielle’s first entrepreneurial endeavor started while she was still in elementary school. Raised by a single father, Danielle inherited a strong work ethic early in life. Her dad worked full time and repaired appliances on the side. As the oldest sibling in the home, Danielle was often in the kitchen and learned to cook cornbread when she was nine years old. Her siblings liked it and her dad’s friends praised her for it, so she made it with every dinner. “Hamburger helper came with a side of cornbread, and tacos did too,” Danielle laughs. “My dad worked hard and needed my help at home. I knew my cornbread was good, so I made it with everything.” In a family of eight children, money was tight, so when her dad’s friend offered to pay her $5 for a pan of cornbread, her first “business” was born.
Danielle’s second business endeavor grew from the heart of a pre-teen girl who was embarrassed to go to middle school because of the way her father styled her hair. So, Danielle learned to braid hair at age 12 and began to experiment on friends and family. As high school approached, she turned this new skill to profit and began a thriving hair business.
Having been brought up with goals of graduating high school, getting a job, or going into the military, starting a business was never discussed. She just learned from a very early age that she had to work to earn. And work she has!
In a reflective moment, Danielle says she learned early in life that it takes hard work and multiple streams of income to support a family. It was what she saw every day. Hard work and grit. Along her life journey, Danielle became a teen mom. Other young moms around her offered discouraging comments going so far as to suggest her life was over. But that was not to be for Danielle. She embraced the challenges and blessings in life and then drew upon the attributes of hard work and grit she witnessed in her father.
The first step was to do whatever it would take to support her child. So, Danielle dropped out of high school and went to work. The International House of Pancakes gave her an opportunity and within no time she was part of the management team. Before her 20th birthday, Danielle was a single mom making a living in the food industry and running a hair business on the side. She’d found her way and was proving her own capacity for hard work.
Determined to provide the very best for her child, Danielle pushed forward earning her GED and later transitioning to a career in banking. She kept her side hustle doing hair at night and weekends for additional income. But ultimately, she knew that doing hair wasn’t what would catapult her forward as an entrepreneur, it was her skills in the kitchen. “I never dreamed I would have a bakery,” she said, “a salon would have been the obvious choice, but I didn’t enjoy doing hair, I was just good at it and could make money that way.”
But she has always loved to cook.
In a strange twist that entrepreneurial journeys often encounter, it’s remarkable to learn that Danielle doesn’t like baked cheesecake. Knowing that, a co-worker of suggested she might like a “no-bake” cheesecake and then shared a basic recipe. Danielle tried it, she loved it, and the endeavor that would soon become Dani’s Cheesecakes was now underway.
After tinkering with the initial recipe and serving it at her house-warming party, she found her guests loved it too. So much that they suggested she should sell it. “Friends aren’t always objective,” she says, “so I reached out to people on Facebook and some in the business community and simply asked ‘do you like cheesecake?’ If they said yes, I offered to bring a free sample for honest feedback. And it just grew from there.” The rave reviews were just the boost of courage she needed to offer them for sale.
Danielle now understood she had a great product, so the next task was to further develop her business acumen. Her experience in the food industry taught her about the importance of food safety, and her experience in banking taught her the importance of basic procedures like the type of account to open and the necessity of a business license. However, she soon learned that entrepreneurship can be an intimidating concept. “Everything depends on you,” Danielle says, “you are the baker, the dishwasher, the bookkeeper, the marketer, the salesperson, the packager and the delivery service.”
She did all the right things. She set up her accounts, obtained her business license, joined the Chamber of Commerce, and got to work baking. She started out by selling in pop-up locations around town on weekends and would sell a few cheesecakes here and there.
But then orders began to roll in. As orders increased Danielle asked herself, “Can I give up the security of my full-time job to grow this business?” Though her entrepreneurial spirit was coming to life, she still didn’t recognize it in herself. She simply saw a girl willing to work.
According to Danielle, “Entrepreneurship is terrifying and exhausting,” but she was brave enough to take the leap with just a few months of savings in the bank and at a time when the world was facing the ever-increasing uncertainty of the COVID pandemic. Despite the odds, in the winter of 2020, with Christmas orders to fill, Danielle decided it was worth the risk. She made what had begun as a side hustle into her full-time pursuit. She said, “I decided to give it six months. I knew if it didn’t work out, I could get another job. It might not be what I want to do, but I’ll always do whatever it takes to support my family.”
Success never comes easy. January orders were slower than she anticipated, and doubt started to creep in. But that changed in a big way when the Chamber of Commerce asked Danielle to participate in Opelika’s downtown Food Truck Friday. She immediately accepted. Having sold only a few cheesecakes at her past pop-ups, Danielle thought 40 cheesecakes would be enough. She laughs now as she remembers selling out in 15 minutes and thinking, “Well that escalated fast.”
Danielle has learned a lot over the past two years. She’s changed packaging so her cheesecakes can be frozen and shipped. She now takes at least 250 cheesecakes with her when she participates in Food Truck Fridays and her menu has grown from three to 40 flavors.
While trial and error in business can be a good teacher, Danielle also participates in many of the free classes and seminars offered by the New Venture Accelerator at Auburn University. In their role to assist early-stage commercial ventures with their business ideas and development, entrepreneur-in-residence mentors have been able to assist Danielle in several areas of her business. She has applied their recommendations and has now grown her business to include catering for weddings and corporate events. Danielle also has expansion dreams to one day move from the commissary kitchen she now shares to her own fulfillment center.
“The New Venture Accelerator has helped me understand how to scale my business, they’ve taught me about smart marketing, why having a business plan is important, and how to better use profit and loss statements,” she said. Although she didn’t previously have these skills, Danielle believes many women have developed enough of a skill set from their life experience alone to be an entrepreneur.
Danielle’s ability to create flavors from various crumbles and crusts came from her childhood ability to take ingredients in the pantry and come up with a one pot dinner that tasted different from what she’d made the night before. Her acumen for customer service was first born in her dad’s living room where she was taught to always speak and make eye contact showing proper respect to people. Danielle’s willingness to learn to do hair came first from her own need. All her life, she has simply taken what she knows, added her work ethic, and then asked herself how can I make money from this?
While Danielle might not have recognized her inner entrepreneurial spirit, it was growing and developing within her all her life. Now two years in, Danielle encourages that spirit in her own family – where her 14-year-old son currently serves as a CEO of her company.
He creates marketing materials and assists sales on Food Truck Fridays by passing out flyers with the flavors on hand. He is now interested in owning his own t-shirt company and has created a company name and design. Danielle is encouraging and teaching him every step of the way.
As part of Women’s Entrepreneurship Week, Danielle’s advice and encouragement to other women is simply this: “Do it. Do it afraid. Do it scared but do it. As a woman, you have the ability to multi-task already, especially if you are a mother. You carpool, doctor your child, help with homework all while making dinner and watching the other children outside. You can do it and there are people to help you.”
Danielle Moore has gone from side hustler to CEO where she enthusiastically embraces every challenge and opportunity that comes her way. Did Dani’s Cheesecakes take an unconventional route to success? Maybe, but it is a success story she earned and made uniquely her own.
To learn more about Dani’s Cheesecake, please visit thedanicheesecake.com