The founder of a $500 million baked-goods empire says the 2 qualities that made her successful were the hardest to learn

Hillary Hoffower
Kathleen King Tate's Bake Shop

Janette Pellegrini/Getty Images


  • Kathleen King, founder of Tate's Bake Shop, recently passed her legacy into new hands when the company sold to Mondolēz International for $500 million.
  • King didn't reach this level of success without a few setbacks, which taught her two important lessons about being an entrepreneur.
  • To build a business, she says, you need to keep your emotions in check and persevere.

Kathleen King knows a thing or two about building a successful business. 

She's the founder of Tate's Bake Shop, the baked-goods empire that sold for $500 million to Mondolēz International, maker of Oreo and Chips Ahoy, 18 years after King rebuilt the remains of her first baked-goods company, which nearly failed after a business partnership went awry.

It's a success she didn't achieve without a few setbacks, she previously told Business Insider. King — whose baking roots date back to age 11 in the kitchen of her childhood home at North Sea Farms in Southhampton, New York — bought her first bakeshop in her early 20s, in 1983. She sold homemade cookies as Kathleen's Bake Shop and quickly became a local favorite.

But in 1999, she fell into a bad business deal when she brought on two partners to help expand her business, she said. After producing baked goods at a lower quality and refusing to pay some of the bills, the partners ultimately fired King and locked her out of the very bakeshop she founded.

King took them to court, and the partners walked away with the rights to use the name Kathleen's Bake Shop and she walked away with the rights to her property, as well as a third of the debt the partners had accumulated — roughly $200,000.

In 2000, King took what was left of her business and turned it into Tate's Bake Shop. Within three years, she had paid off the debt and brought Tate's back to its $3 million annual revenue mark, she said.

'Count on it being four times harder than you dreamed'

King doesn't view her setbacks as total failure. In fact, she credits the loss of Kathleen's Bake Shop to the success of Tate's today. "I had the gift of dying and coming back, learning what didn't work in that lifetime and what will work in this lifetime," she previously told Business Insider.

Learning things the hard way instilled in her two important qualities, which she says are crucial to starting a small business: perseverance and emotional control.

"Count on it being four times harder than you dreamed," she said of being an entrepreneur. "Get up and move forward, and don't stay attached to mistakes and failures."

She also stressed the importance of learning to keep your emotions in check. She says you can care and have passion, but being too emotional will crush you. 

"I put everything I had into Kathleen's Bake Shop and lost it," King said. "When I started Tate's, I said I'm not giving blood again, I'm not being emotional — I didn't have time or money. I had to be a business manager. I wasn't ruthless, I was fair and passionate, but when you get dragged down as low as I did, you become somewhat fearless."

King continued: "If I didn't have my epic failure I wouldn't have had my epic success; they go hand in hand."

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