LIVING LAS VEGAS:
Mom to entrepreneur: How two sisters turned a knack for baking into a successful small business
After spending 25 years working for Borders, the bookstore chain that closed in 2011, Doreen Drago decided she wasn’t going to let a bad economy stop her from starting her own business. She just didn’t figure it would be launched based on the favorable feedback of a cake she baked for her son’s wedding.
She and her sister Diana were catering the 2009 wedding reception when, at the last minute, they were asked to deliver a cake, too. Rather than turn to a bakery, they turned to their own kitchens.
“We had people asking us to cater other events before we had even left the wedding,” Doreen Drago said. “Then we started getting requests for cakes, as well.”
For two years, Doreen and Diana Drago ran the business out of their homes, with Doreen sometimes forgoing sleep to bake a cake after an open-to-close shift at Borders and Diana managing to find time to make icing after an eight-hour shift dealing cards at the MGM Grand.
When Doreen Drago received the news in 2011 that the Borders she managed would be shutting its doors, she thought, “Well, I’ll have more time to bake.”
With her son fully grown and her husband making enough to cover the household bills, Doreen Drago was afforded the opportunity to research how to make the jump from in-home baking to manning a storefront.
She learned how to write an effective business plan and studied the importance of location. She spent a few weeks with her sister looking at storefronts. They counted the cars coming in and out of the parking lot and looked at foot traffic before deciding on their current location at 6870 S. Rainbow Blvd.
Once Doreen Drago had her business plan ready and her location set, she and her sister contacted the Small Business Association.
“The SBA was really very welcoming,” Diana Drago said. “Doreen had done so much research by that point, though, that we had already taken many of the steps they advised us to. By the time we met with them, it was really kind of time to apply for the loan.”
They did, and they were approved on their first try through Wells Fargo.
The next step was meeting with the Health Department and Building Department.
”I heard horrible stories,” Doreen Drago said. “But I have to tell you: They were very helpful. Our building inspector and both of our health inspectors were wonderful. The health inspectors told us to watch out for contractors who would try to bill us to do things we didn’t need, which was exactly what happened. We were very fortunate to have gotten the inspectors that we did.”
Drago Sister’s Bakery now is a three-person operation. Doreen Drago mans the store for the bulk of the hours it’s open. Diana Drago works there on her weekends off from the MGM. The women’s niece, Eliza, became their first part-time employee.
The bakery’s doors have stayed open thanks to word of mouth and positive Yelp reviews, as well as advertising they paid for with traded services.
Most days, with or without anyone to help her, it’s Doreen Drago you’ll see when you walk in the door. The stains and splashes on her white apron are as telling as hieroglyphs, sharing the story of the work she’s done that day.
“By the end of the day,” she said, “it looks like I’ve slaughtered an Oompa Loompa.”
Dickstein is a UNLV journalism student.