They’re not just cream puffs: they’re Dream Puffz.
You may remember Brian Zoubek as a Duke Basketball player from the 2010 National Championship team. Now that he is no longer playing competitive basketball, he is taking a shot at another dream.
That’s right, Brian Zoubek is opening a pastry shop in Haddonfield, New Jersey. Dream Puffz will sell seven different types of cream puffs. There’s the standard puff, which you can upgrade and have covered in chocolate or confectioner’s sugar. Then there’s banana wafer, peanut butter, strawberry cream, vanilla bean, pistachio, or cookies and cream. The best part is that they are all made from scratch, and are filled right in front of you. My mouth is watering now.
Playing basketball and opening a pastry shop might seem worlds apart – opposite worlds, even – but Brian explained to me that starting a business is something he has always wanted to do.
“Honestly, I started thinking about this when I was in high school, but it was something I could never pursue because of basketball. After I got over the whole fantasy of being in that world [of basketball], I realized I wanted to go for it. It’s probably been seven years since I first thought of this,” Zoubek told me.
After Brian left basketball, he worked at a mobile app startup in New York City with some friends from Duke. A couple of months passed and he realized it wasn’t working out.
“I found out that I couldn’t sit in front of a computer screen for 8-10 hours a day,” he chuckled. At 7’1’’ tall, I can understand why.
But working in New York had positive results, because Brian, a self-proclaimed foodie, found the food culture in New York inspiring. His thoughts kept drifting to a shop he frequented throughout high school that made a unique version of cream puffs. Seeing everyone carrying bags by Baked by Melissa, a boutique cupcake shop which now has several locations in the city, it all came together for Brian: he knew he wanted to start a cream puffs shop.
“I left the tech startup and threw myself into building Dream Puffz,” Brian said. “For the most part, I took on this business myself. I like to be in control. But I knew I needed a chef to help me create recipes. I looked for a young chef who was willing to be in the trenches every day. Someone young, motivated, hungry. Someone who wants to do something with their life.”
Zoubek hired a chef fresh out of culinary school, and together they worked on crafting recipes – day-in and day-out, beginning in February 2012 – until they nailed down the initial recipes. Many people provided feedback about those initial recipes, and it wasn’t all easy sailing. Zoubek admitted that he sometimes didn’t handle bad feedback very well. It was a lesson in patience and persistence.
Now though, the recipes have been “friend and family approved” and the Dream Puffz team is working on translating those recipes into bigger batches.
As with all business ventures, the path looks and sounds easier than it was. Opening a restaurant required learning about food and construction permits, accounting, budgeting, organizing, and so much more. Luckily Zoubek had support from his hometown network – everyone from a contractor to an interior designer – and transferable skills from basketball.
“Duke Basketball has helped a ton in this experience. An unbelievable number of things that I learned at Duke have translated into running my business. Team management and leadership in times of pressure. Being able to handle a lot of things going on at once and trying to find balance. The toughest part has been finding balance in life with all this going on. Handling basketball and school really prepared me for it better than most.”
The ultimate distinction is that, for Brian, basketball ended once he left practice, and once he left the court. In contrast, Dream Puffz is a 24 hour job.
“It literally never stops; I’m thinking about it every day. But I have control over my own destiny and that’s something I didn’t get with basketball. And something I really want.”
For the most part, Brian is learning on the job every single day. “I get overwhelmed sometimes doing it myself – a lot of people will do it with a partner – and that would have been fun, but I just didn’t feel comfortable with that. I wanted to start out by myself. It’s a lot harder, but I think it it’s worth it.”
The name of the company is indicative of Brian’s big dreams. Within five years his goal is to have a nationwide franchise.
Dream Puffz is scheduled to open in Haddonfield, New Jersey, Zoubek’s hometown, by the end of July. So go eat, go dream, and don’t forget to go big or go home.
Brian’s Tips for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
- Start with something that has a high probability of success so that you can earn money, build experience, and create contacts.
- Have an exit strategy.
- Make your business a real business – aka make sure it earns a profit. If it’s earning a profit, then you can move on to something else.
- Read “Rework,” by the 37 Signals team.
- Keep a level head and take one thing at a time; realize that no one thing is the end of the world.
- Love what you’re working on. Don’t do it just because it’s the hot thing to do.
- Entrepreneurship is all about taking things in stages. Hit a few singles and then upgrade to a double or a triple. Then maybe you’ll get a home run.
(Yes, it’s a baseball analogy – Brian is allowed to talk about sports other than basketball!)
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