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Wednesday, Jun 7, 2023

Right Ingredients

Fatima Marques is not your typical entrepreneur. She didn’t get an idea and run with it she researched it for two years. She didn’t go it alone, she hired a few experts to help. Despite the time she took, opening Natas Pastries in Sherman Oaks was filled with trials and tribulations, but it also helped the little shop to garner a considerable following after only about a year and a half in business. “I think they’re awesome,” said Bill Zamont, who was shopping on a recent afternoon for some breakfast treats for his fellow co-workers at R-Tech Consultants. “When I first found out about the Natas, I was coming once a week. It’s such a unique pastry that you want to share it with anyone you know and like.” The shop sells a large selection of Portuguese pastries, cakes, breads and other hot delicacies like cod cakes and spinach feta puff rolls as well as classics like napoleons and & #233;clairs, brownies, muffins and Danish. Indeed, these days, the hardest part is limiting the assortment. “I’m always inventing stuff and people who work for me are the same way,” Marques said. “We have such a limited area, it’s hard to keep a menu.” Natas, named after the shop’s signature pastry, a kind of cr & #269;me brulee in a light, crisp and flakey shell, is a labor of love for Marques, who was born and raised in Lisbon where the pastries originate. “There was nothing Portuguese here,” she said. “No restaurants, no cafes, no bakeries, and that gave me the idea. I wanted to create something that was mine.” Marques came to the U.S. on a dance scholarship, did voiceovers for the entertainment industry, acted as an interpreter and worked as a marketing director before making the decision to strike out on her own. But Marques had no background in the food business, so she spent several years studying. “I did research for two years before I opened,” Marques said. “I would get every book on how to open a business. Then I also went everywhere, and I would buy whole boxes of stuff (from other bakeries) and test them out.” Actually, she went several steps further, returning to Portugal to apprentice with a baker there and even videotaping the process for her return. You might think that, with all that preparation, opening Natas would have been a cinch, but despite all her preparation, Marques wasn’t ready for the day-to-day problems that arose. Problems at first The build-out for her tiny shop in a strip mall along Ventura Boulevard led to many problems because the space had not been utilized as a restaurant previously. “We were working day and night trying to find the sewer,” because the blueprints incorrectly located it, she recalled. Complying with city codes and red tape further delayed the opening, and then the unthinkable happened. “The day we opened, everything shut off,” she recalled. Natas are baked at about 700 degrees Fahrenheit, far hotter even than a pizza oven. Marques purchased a Portuguese oven to replicate the process in her home country, but the tiny shop was not wired to accommodate it. It took another $50,000 to rewire the store so that the oven would function. Marques chose interior features like the blue and white glazed tile on the walls to mimic the bakeries and cafes in her home country, and she lined up the kinds of authentic suppliers that could duplicate the recipes she had grown up with, Belgian chocolate and other ingredients from Europe. Nonetheless, she knew that the process she learned in Portugal would have to be adapted so she hired a pastry chef to help out with the startup. “We had to tweak a lot of things,” she said. “The flour is different, the temperature, the humidity, all of that is a major factor in a bakery.” In all, Marques figures that the launch cost about three times more than she initially anticipated. The financing came mostly from herself and her husband with an outside investor who helped out. “The bank didn’t want to know us,” Marques said, echoing the experience of many small business owners who cannot get a bank loan until they have a going business and, as a result, don’t need the money.” Tweaking things With the shop now running since June, 2005, the focus has been on fine tuning the assortment of offerings, a surprisingly nuanced task. “Some things are just in the case for looks,” Marques said. “I would bake a tray before, now I have four or five of them. It shows the artistry, but people won’t buy it, and if I don’t have it, people say, the shop is not that fancy.” Although there are some Portuguese customers who come from as far as San Diego for the Natas and other delicacies, most of the patrons who find their way to the shop are still discovering the different offerings, all baked fresh daily, for the first time. And Marques has had to keep on her toes to track the items that are selling well, not to mention absorbing the cost of offering a large selection of free samples for the uninitiated. The tiny shop will not easily accommodate expansion, but Marques does not intend to stop at a retail business. “This is just a window to what I want to do,” she said. “I want to cater parties, so I want people to see what I can do. Later I hope to get a place where I can wholesale specialties.” SPOTLIGHT: Natas Pastries Year Founded: 2005 Employees in 2005: 5 Employees in 2006: 10 Revenues in 2005: $250,000 Revenues in 2006: $300,000 Driving Force: Californians’ interest in different foods. Goal: To become a wholesale supplier of Portuguese pastries.

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