Legal Career Paths: From Lawyer to Baker and International Bagel Consultant was originally published on Firsthand.
Beth George is the owner of BYOB BAGELS and has been designing and developing all-natural bagel formulas for more than a dozen years. With her precision techniques, she has developed a unique teaching method based upon spreadsheets to eliminate guesswork in bagel baking. As a founder of a niche baking brand, a trained lawyer, and a marketing professional, Beth uses her wide range of experiences to guide her clients through the intricacies of starting a bagel business. Along with baking, she teaches equipment use, cleaning and maintenance, and offers guidance on business plans, budgeting, employee matters, regulations, marketing, and other issues.
Vault spoke to Beth about her path from law school to her current career, what her job in bagel consulting entails, and what advice she has for law students or lawyers considering an alternative career path.
Vault: Why did you initially decide to go to law school?
Beth: To serve an underrepresented population. Before law school, I worked at a firm on Park Avenue in New York City. This was in the ‘80s, when there was an obvious dichotomy between the city's wealthy and poor, and this experience made me want to offer legal help to disenfranchised people. In law school, I participated in a civil practice clinic serving the homeless and disabled individuals, and I was honored to help people manage certain challenges through legal advocacy.
Vault: Can you share your path from law school to where you are today?
Beth: The story of how I got here weaves together many parts of my life—including, importantly, my children. I had my first child two weeks after graduating from law school (yes, great timing!), but I passed the bar that summer, and my first job was clerking for the Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court. After my clerkship, I transitioned to a firm where I got my first taste of life on the billable hour. I was stretched thin between being a new mom and a new lawyer—and wanting to be the best at both. While I gained great experience at the firm, after three years, I decided to pursue a solo career in child advocacy, and our family moved to Maine. There was no public defender system in Maine at the time, so I was a private attorney working in public interest law. I worked with children and parents dealing with difficult situations and gut-wrenching losses.
About a year into my solo practice, I had my second child. When he was five years old, he was diagnosed—incorrectly—with ADHD, pervasive development disorder, and other disorders. But I knew that he was bright and medications weren't the answer—I had, unfortunately, seen that solution used too many times with the children in my work. So I pulled him out of public school and took matters into my own hands. Sure enough, we were able to pinpoint his issues to serious food insensitivities. One of his sensitivities was to common wheat, which would trigger various negative neurological responses in him.
A wheat-free diet, of course, eliminated a lot of food options for my son. At one point, I asked him what food he missed the most. His response? Bagels! So, I thought to myself, “I'm going to make this kid a bagel.” I developed a recipe in my home kitchen that used the ancient grain spelt which is a distant cousin of wheat but tends to be easier to digest than common wheat. It wasn't long before word got out about my bagels. I was approached by Whole Foods, and within a year of making my first bagel, I had my first bagel factory up and running. As my bagel business grew to supply hundreds of stores, I continued to practice law, and was balancing this with parenting three children (my third was born in 1992, ten years after my first child).
Unfortunately, as the cost of spelt was becoming increasingly prohibitive, I realized that continuing with my Maine factory was not a viable option. But I wasn't ready to give up. I convinced my family to move again, this time to New York City, where I opened another factory. But the hard lesson was learned again—we had to shut down due to rising grain costs. After closing the NYC factory, my business partner, Frank Mauro, said to me, “Your biggest value is your intellectual property. You know how to build any bagel recipe!” I realized he was right. I started teaching my bagel methodology in 2013. After the first business with which I consulted sold for $34 million, I realized there was serious business potential. Since then, I've developed a unique business model that includes one up-front fee, with contractual “trigger points” for addition compensation, such as a new store opening or a sale of the business.
Over time, I've continued to experiment and perfect my business and my bagels. And I have to give credit to my son, who recently graduated with honors in chemical engineering, who is available “on call” when I have chemistry or math questions with my baking formulas. Looking back on my experiences, I realize that pulling him out of public school to focus on his health issues was one of the best moves I've ever made. Not only was it the right choice for him, but it led to the creation of BYOB and an entirely different professional trajectory for me.
Vault: Bagel consulting seems like a very unique, niche, and tasty career! What are some of your typical duties as the owner of BYOB Bagels?
Beth: It is a unique, niche, and tasty career…but not great for the waistline!
I have received hundreds of inquiries, so I need to first vet the potential clients to determine who is really up for the challenge of opening a bagel shop. I then meet virtually with the potential client and provide quite a bit of free information, first to determine if they have access to financing or the financial means to open a shop, and then I provide quite a bit of information (general costs, equipment and utility requirement, what to look for in a space) so they can do their due diligence regarding available space that meets bagel store specifications. They then come back to me to let me know whether they are ready to sign on. Once they sign a contract and pay, my assistant sends them a “bagel business consulting book” that details the nuts and bolts of opening a bagel shop. We then schedule an initial onboarding meeting, and set a schedule for different appointments to review equipment preferences and review bagel formulas. In the meantime, I research suppliers in their areas, contact my point people at the ingredient companies, make introductions, etc.
My new clients are then off to the races, looking for space, getting permits, hiring contractors, etc.
A few weeks after the initial onboarding meeting, we schedule another meeting to review the proprietary bagel formulations that are fully customizable, editable, and scalable, and I train them how to use them. I may work with them remotely to do training at home before they schedule a trip to my test bakery where we have a three-day intensive, hands-on training.
In some cases, now especially due to COVID, the training may be entirely remote, which of course, has its challenges. I still travel to train in person, but we take all necessary precautions with testing, masking, and social distancing. (I am looking forward to getting a vaccine to take some of the stress out of that!)
Vault: What would surprise most people about your job?
Beth: That I have taught bagel making to people from many different places in the world, including Saudi Arabia; the Horn of Africa; Paris, France; Nassau, Bahamas; Gothenburg, Sweden; Brisbane, Australia; Bangalore, India, and other places. Many come to my teaching bakery, but I have been lucky enough to have been invited to Paris, the Bahamas, and other faraway places.
Vault: What types of skills and training are most important for someone aspiring to work as a consultant in the food industry?
Beth: Contract writing. Strong communication skills. Being detail oriented. Staying organized. Being able to troubleshoot and find creative solutions. Being fair and transparent. Passion for good food.
Vault: What advice do you have for law students and lawyers who want to pursue a career outside of the legal field?
Beth: First, remember that as lawyers, we have been taught and practice many skills that others to do not have and, therefore, we have an entire range of skills that we can bring into other enterprises. We have an analytical skillset where we can look at a problem and come up with solutions, even when the problem isn't linear. We are “daily problem solvers.”
Second, it's never too late to change course. Think back to high school, college, post-college and the jobs you held as younger person (yard work, food service, babysitting, clerical, sales, etc.). These experiences, along with your legal career, provide you a unique set of skills which have been layered on throughout your life. You can use these skills to follow your self-determined next steps in life.
Third, and to quote my dad when I was fussing about my fear of failing a class in high school, “I hope you fail”—not because he really wanted me to fail, but because he understood the value of not fearing failure and of being resilient. His lesson of not fearing failure is imbedded in my psyche. It may seem odd, but I am grateful for the failures I've experienced, because there really are no failures, but in reality, those perceived failures are just stepping stones for your next success.
Get to Know Beth…
- Favorite Law School Class: Civil Procedure
- Favorite Legal Movie, TV Show, Book, or Podcast: The “We the People” podcast with Jeffrey Rosen from the National Constitution Center.
- Favorite Hobby: Taking long walks in NYC.
- Lawyer (alive or deceased) you'd most like to have dinner with: Bruce Friedman, the Civil Procedure professor at my law school, and my favorite law mentor and teacher, who died tragically at age 50 when he was in Beijing creating the first civil law clinic there.
- If I wasn't a Lawyer, Baker, and International Bagel Consultant I would be a: national and international speaker on the importance of good nutrition for kids (and all of us) and the connection between diet and behavior.
- Favorite Bagel Flavor: Rosemary with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Coarse Sea Salt.