In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many small business owners have been negatively impacted. However, 30-year old small business owner and Penn State alumna, Danielle Sepsy has found that her catering and baked goods company called The Hungry Gnome, has actually grown during these hard times.
“People are finding comfort, I think, in baked goods and sweets,” says Sepsy. “They are also taking the time to send gifts to people to say ‘Hey, just thinking about you,’ or sending things to healthcare workers.”
Growing up in a large Italian family, Sepsy has always found that food brings people together. “At such a young age my parents let me get in the kitchen and experiment on my own,” says Sepsy. Her passion for experimenting and trying new recipes eventually led her to the recipe that her business would be started on: her famous scones.
“When I was 13 years old I actually started my business, technically out of my parent’s house,” says Sepsy. One day she decided to experiment with scones. “I made probably ten different flavors of scones and I remember putting them on my kitchen table. My parents and aunts and uncles were tasting them and they were like, ‘Wow, these are so good you could actually sell these!'”
“That was my ah-ha moment,” says Sepsy. At 13 years old, armed with a business card made on Microsoft Paint, Sepsy began dropping off samples of her scones at businesses in her town. From her parent’s kitchen she would make scones which her parents would then drop off on their way to work.
When it came time for Sepsy to look at colleges and think about the rest of her life, it was a no brainer that she wanted to pursue her passion for food. Sepsy eventually decided to attend Penn State University where she earned a degree in Hospitality Management so that she could learn how to run a business in addition to utilizing her skills in the culinary arts.
Following graduation, Sepsy went on to work for a variety of 5-Star luxury hotels in New York City and attended culinary school. She eventually landed a job at a company called Convene, and it was at this company where she decided to officially launch The Hungry Gnome on the side.
“I made some of my scones and I started talking about them more with people in my industry and I ended up getting them in a coffee chain and I was just getting more and more orders,” says Sepsy. “I was scared to take the plunge because I had a good job, I was making a decent salary and there is always that uncertainty when you have your own business.”
While the business was slowly growing out of her one bedroom apartment, Sepsy was exceeding expectations at her current job with Convene; so it came as a major shock when one day in February she was laid off. “I felt like I was at an all time low,” says Sepsy.
Although she was devastated, she decided it was finally time to take the plunge with her business for real. “That night I decided I could throw myself a pity party and I can cry about it and feel bad for myself or I can do what I really want to do which is grow my business and be my own boss.”
To those who aspire to start their own business, Sepsy says, “Know that there are going to be ups and downs and don’t give up. Just know that it is all part of the journey, and all part of the story you are going to tell later when you are successful.”
Like anyone else, Sepsy says she has her bad days as well. “Then I’ll walk by one of the coffee shops that I produce pastries for and I’ll see people eating my pastries and enjoying them and I’m like ‘Wow, that’s so cool!'”
Sepsy has built a career out of her passion and she can appreciate the ups and downs of running her own business because she loves what she does. “It is my art form, it is my therapy, it is my way to express myself.”