Warren Brown is the owner of Countertop Productions, Inc. a boutique manufacturer of innovative snacks that markets products under the brands Don’t Forget Cake, Spark Bites and CakeLove. He is an entrepreneur at heart with an unconventional career path that embodies what it means to pursue one’s passion. Brown’s experience transitioning from lawyer to baker generated national media attention. He has been recognized by local and national media including The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, The Washington Post, NPR, Fox News, and Inc. magazine. Brown has authored four cookbooks to share his baking secrets: CakeLove, United Cakes of America, CakeLove in the Morning and Pie Love. He also hosted a series on TV, two seasons of Sugar Rush on the Food Network. Currently Warren Brown pours his innovative spirit into manufacturing and marketing a variety of packaged snacks sold by retailers nationwide.
Q. Hello, it’s a pleasure to have you with us! Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your life at law school? What extra-curricular and co-curricular activities were you involved in?
I’m a lawyer turned baker, but I’m also a health educator, a writer, a coach, and, most importantly, a father and husband. My two daughters and my wife and I have spent the past year and a half navigating the world of under COVID. For twelve months we stayed in one place for the most part and over the past four months we’ve been nomadic, every week in a different place. We’ve settled on relocating for the year in upstate New York, north of New York City by two hours so our kids can have a semi-normal COVID free lifestyle in a rural part of America. A lot of people ask me if I’m OK with the change. Of course, I respond. I am more than happy to surrender my former lifestyle for their sake. I suppose that’s to be expected from a parent, and I’m happy to do it, but I don’t think it’s necessarily automatic. I’m happy to because, I think, if work is truly something you love then you’ll be able to find something to love in everything you do. Add to that the phenomena that love begets love and you start to see how it’s critical for me to work with a medium that encourages expression that I believe in and simply enjoy being involved with.
Life in law school went by quickly! There was hardly a moment that went by slowly. Most importantly about me, I love to cook. I cooked for myself all of the time and had a lot of dinner parties with my housemates in my first and second years. I was driven to it. I shouldn’t have spent quite as much time in the kitchen, but it kept drawing me in. I even taught three or four cooking classes for my classmates, some of them in the law school faculty lounge! I called it Gastronomy & the Law. We didn’t discuss the intersection of the two, it was just about easy recipes for healthy cooking. One of my classmates lost a tooth from malnourishment because he didn’t know how to cook and only ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—for two months in a row!
Q. After Law School, you worked in the legal field for quite a while before shifting gears to become the President/CEO of the Countertop Productions Inc. Did you ever envision that you would switch careers while at law school or even right after graduation?
I worked as an attorney for two years before I left the law to bake cakes. I felt like I needed to give the law an honest try before walking away from it. I got that time line from reading a profile in my law school’s alumni magazine of a lawyer turned musician. But really, I knew within three months that the office I worked in wasn’t a good fit. The people were great, but the work wasn’t me.
Q. Could you tell us a little bit about “Countertop Productions Inc.”? What does a typical day in your life look like?
We’re artisan bakery that manufactures gourmet snacks and desserts. Our products are made in small batches with delicious ingredients. We use proprietary recipes, bake from scratch and market products under our own brands. Not a day goes by that something challenging doesn’t happen.
We have two product lines: cake jars and wholegrain energy bites. I love them both but I eat more of the energy bites because they’re vegan, gluten-free and are good for gut health.
We’re real innovators. Everything we make is at least a little bit different than anything else on the market. Most of the time it’s really different. For example, for the energy bites, we grind coffee beans very, very finely and fold it into the dough to boost the coffee flavor and caffeine count. The flavor is incredible and the energy drawn from it is very noticeable.
Sometimes being at the tip of the spear of innovation can be a problem. When people see cake in a jar, sometimes it takes them a moment to understand what they’re looking at. Its been mistaken for cake batter when in fact the product is cake and frosting and is ready to eat. It’s mostly men who need the explanation. But once the lightbulb goes off, or they try it, they love it.
As for the details of the day to day, at the bakery we make one or two flavors of products per day. We bake and package and freeze or hold dry, depending on product. My job is all meetings. I essentially always am asking people to do things for me. It’s work so they’ll be paid, but what I really do is ask for help to grow my business, pay money to satisfy debts and shower kudos to express my gratitude.
Q. Was the process of career change a difficult one? What factors did you take into consideration before making the switch? Looking back, do you think you might have wanted to do the entire process differently?
Making a life decision is never easy. It’s scary and agonizing and the worst part is you just want someone or something to measure against – to know – is what you’re planning any way at all reasonable? I took my cues from many places, one of them the musician I read about who gave himself two years practicing before he said enough was enough.
For me the process took a long time to work through. I had to teach myself how to bake. I knew how to cook but baking was always foreign to me so for about eighteen months I worked on to just see if I understood the work of being a baker enough to rely on it build a business around it. Then I also had to learn how to run a business. That’s something you can be a student at for your whole life! I think that’s why I like being an entrepreneur – there is always something to learn.
If I was to repeat any of the parts of my path then, yes, there are parts I would do differently. I tend to be an impatient person, not necessarily with other people, but with myself and with “process”. I always have to remind myself that worthwhile growth takes time to cultivate; it’s best not to rush, let growth come and enjoy the steps. I would push myself to slow down the pace and smell the roses.
Q. What were some of the challenges that you faced as a part of the process of making a career switch from the legal field? How did you overcome them?
Challenges? Oh there were plenty. All of the standard things: short on money, short on staff, short on ideas. There were crisis of these at one point or another, and there will be, that seems for sure in life. But one of the more challenging and disappointing things I’ve seen is the challenge of saying no. Running a business invites lots of people who come to ask for money, product, assistance, time. It’s essential to support people, causes, organizations, but it’s impossible to support everyone who asks and needs help. I’m not talking about strictly charitable organizations. I mean oddball and unexpected requests that can confuse and befuddle you. Ones that make you feel uncomfortable. They lie ahead in the road of the entrepreneur and when you’re faced with them an ugly side of life shows itself to you. If this sounds crazy, it’s hasn’t happened yet. But it’s out there; be prepared.
My father once signed a letter to me “stay ready for anything.” That’s an impossible ask but also incredibly helpful if only to have a sense of mission for how strong and resilient you have to be to succeed.
Q. Has your legal background helped you in anyway in your current professional journey? Are there any unexpected skills that you brought in from law school into this?
Yes, I’m very glad that I being to work and life the legal training that I have. Due process, Parameters of contract law, Mitigating liability, Duty and Negligence, Civil procedure, – Much of business is the business of law. I don’t rely on my own legal wits for the most important matters, but when it comes to thinking my way through what certain clients need and how to frame questions and answers, knowing some of the boxes they’ll have to check off – the legal ones – that helps me a lot.
Q. Most of our readers are students of the law or are law graduates. What advice do you have for those who want to take up a career based on their passion but feel limited to the conventional career options in the legal field?
I believe it’s really important to pursue a career you enjoy in order to be happy. I know a lot of people practice law in pursuit of a lifestyle that is well to do. That’s fair, but a good number of the wealthiest lawyers are really busy working a lot and not able to get away from their job to enjoy what they’ve earned. I think it’s best to enjoy what you do. Pursue what you look forward to doing day-in, day-out because it will be there like that, day-in, day-out. If you have the chance to do what you love and can get paid doing it, not much else can be better professionally.
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Disclaimer – All views and opinions expressed in this interview are personal and belong solely to the interviewee(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the LAABh Foundation or the individuals and institutions associated with LAABh Foundation.