On Doubt and Feline Doughnuts

​Good evening, friends and neighbors!
There’s been a lot of thinking, rethinking, and nefarious plotting going on at my end recently- what I want “On The Bench” to be next, what it used to be versus what it has become, and how I want to go about tackling that “next big thing” we ALL worry about- the big project, the big presentation, the opening day, the whatever.
In the midst of all of it, two fortuitous memories resurfaced amid the frothy madness that the waters of life work themselves up into.

The first one is the video below, which remains one of the single best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten for attempting ANY project EVER- personal, professional, or academic.

The second one is a bit more of a story. This blog will therefore be a little different than the others- part story, and part actual news update about what this blog will turn into, and what I want to do next.

Watch the video, and I’ll see you after the jump. Thank you Extra Credits for handing down some sage advice that makes so much sense, I wished I’d learned it earlier in life.

NW 23rd St, the Nob Hill neighborhood in Portland

 It was about a year or so after Emily and I had moved out here to Portland Oregon. We were doing okay, but times were still a bit tough for me personally. I’d been bouncing between a sequence of jobs that turned out to be much shorter-term than I’d expected, and I found myself pounding the pavement of NW 23rd Street.

23rd Street, also called the Nob Hill neighborhood, is a pretty fun place to wander around. A lot of great bars, stores, and restaurants- which meant I could job hunt and then not walk too far afield to get a consolation beer for having no luck. As I trudged along the sidewalk, with a briefcase of resumes that seemed to feel heavier the lighter it got, the real weight was in my head- not on my shoulder.

“What if I’m unemployable?”
“What if this whole mess can’t be fixed?”
“I’d like to be a baker- but soon I’ll need to find a job doing ANYTHING.”
“What if I left Jersey at the wrong time?”
“What’ll happen to Emily and I if I don’t find work?”

“What if I completely fuck this up for both of us?”

Up and down the neighborhood- looking into stores and restaurants the whole way, banking on the things that had gotten me in doors before: a clean suit, a smile, a firm handshake, and a ready resume. It was starting to hurt to smile.
As I walked, weariness gave way to frustration, then anger, then spite.

I’d give anything to not have to beg for time like this again.”
“Who do these people think they are, they can’t give me a simple yes or no?”
“God, if I ever run my own business, I’d NEVER keep a jobseeker twitching on the hook…”

“…if I ever run my own business.”


I’d recently picked up Chris Guillebeau’s book “The $100 Startup,” and I’d been reading it when my last baking job fell flat. He offered fascinating ideas and tips for how to turn a hobby into a business concept, for precious little money up front- all it required was a good idea, the energy to hustle and pursue it, and the ability to make a sale.

It required good writing, a smile, and an ear for opportunity- and also the confidence to assume it would all be alright. That’s the bit that, stomping down the pavement with my scuffed briefcase and a sweat stain growing on my vest under the strap, I was sorely lacking.

Tender Loving Empire's NW 23rd Street location

Then I happened to wander in to Tender Loving Empire. TLE is a series of stores in Portland that, besides being an independent record label for local musicians, also sells a variety of locally-made/sourced goods in their stores. These include toys, jewelry, stationery, cosmetics, clothing, candies, and more.
The store was a wonderland of the weird and simply-beautiful I’d learned to expect from the city at this point- photorealistic drawings of animals in suits, colognes named after parts of the city, pins/patches for (insert progressive cause here.) In general, a very fun and calming place.

On a table towards the back, underneath a display of smiling raindrop magnets- I found Mini Donutcats.


Picture of the Strawberry Mini Donutcat from Marnin Saylor

Image from MarninSaylor.com

Made by Seattle company Marnin Saylor, donut cats are exactly what they sound like: fuzzy little felt donuts with feline faces and ears, machine and hand-sewn in a variety of “flavors”- and that’s all. A little fuzzy feline donut you can put in your pocket, your bag, or up on your shelf. Selling for $25 each.

$25. The cost of an expensive t-shirt online, or a shirt from the merch booth at your favorite bands concert. A week-long bus pass from TriMet. A reasonably-sized meal from a local cafe with table service- or apparently a fuzzy little toy donut that looked like a cat.

That. BLEW. MY. MIND.

I don’t begrudge Marnin Saylor their pricing, or any of their success. Far from it- a quick Google revealed their website, their entire catalog of fuzzy wonders (including the Cinnamon Bun, and the Maple Bear) and the story of how they got started from a state not unlike my own.
Here I was all the same- hustling around the city trying to find a space in the rat race, and questioning whether or not someone would want to have the skills of a professional baker and writer at their disposal- and someone else had the absolute unvarnished STONES to say “We’re going to make little stuffed animals that resemble baked goods, sell them for $25, and build a business around it.”

The moment I picked up that fuzzy little donut, I lost all doubt and all excuses.

“If someone can make a business out of fuzzy feline pastry, I can make one out of baking and writing.”

A week or so later, I officially decided to make The Black Hat Baker a side business. I would work on it until I’d made enough by baking and writing to I could support Emily and I. Then I would quit whatever other job I had, and keep baking and writing as the Black Hat Baker, permanently.

 About two years later, and I’m still working on it.

I found a new day job, of course- my first incarnation of The Black Hat Baker’s services failed to take off for a few reasons, mostly me trying to be too clever for my own good. All the same, it’s led to what you all are reading now. From 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday, my time belongs to the cafe- but thanks to you all and especially those who support me on Patreon, many of the rest of my waking hours belong to me again- and to you.

My goal is still to make the Black Hat Baker a full-time gig- I’m not keen on ever having to stomp down the sidewalk again unless its beating the clock to happy hour, and not having to do another interview unless it’s me writing about someone’s life and career.
In order to do that, though, I need to create things that you all want. Things that will excite and please you as much as they do me.

I need to Fail Faster, and find myself a Donut Cat.

Here’s what’s in the works as we speak:

1. At Home with the Black Hat Baker

With the help and advice of some tech-savvy friends, I’ve discovered that I can make a START on a YouTube show with the tech I already have (though if you want to help toward the related Patreon goal, don’t let me stop you!)
This show would be me baking and cooking for you in my kitchen in Portland, Oregon, peppering the recipes and how-tos with anecdotes and little tips I’ve picked up from my time in professional kitchens.
I may be wearing a dapper outfit for each episode.
There may be appearances by adorable wifey and kitten.

Look for it to pop up next month!

2. A Little Light Reading

Last week, while I was getting some tasty German food with Emily, I happened to see a poster up in their men’s room. One of the restaurant’s long-time patrons had gotten a book published, and the restaurant was hosting a release party- complete with a 4 course special menu, a reading, and music. The event would be $75/seat, and the book? It was a global history of berries.
Ten minutes later:
“Hey hun… what if I wrote a book?”
What would it be about?”
“… Food philosophy. All the stuff I write and blabber about to people when we talk dining- baking as alchemy. Cooking as a performing art. Food as communication. Dining out as an interactive storytelling experience. I’d write about that.”

“… Well, that’d be interesting. Foodies would probably like it. Maybe some of your chef friends, and the folks your parents know.”

A few days later I got in touch with my friend Stu Segal, a self-publishing veteran, and started planning out an eBook.

In the meantime, if you want to help me move these projects along and do more with the Black Hat Baker, or even if you’ve just gotten something of worth out of anything I’ve done so far, give my Patreon a look! Even your support of $1 a month is helpful- think of it as buying me a pack of gum each month, or (at the $3/month level) a coffee each month for while I write in a cafe. Obviously, Patrons get special perks- I’m not expecting anything for free here! Patrons get access to a special feed, voting on new topics for the blog, and access to special question-and-answer sessions or live bake-alongs!
If you don’t want to or can’t afford it, that’s fine- no guilt, and reading this blog and watching YouTube will be totally free! What you CAN do, though, is Like, Share, and Comment on the stuff I put out on Facebook or YouTube- that helps me reach more people!

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 Have a good day, everyone. Remember to
Fail Faster,
​Find Your Donutcat
and of course-

Stay Classy,