Politico Turned Entrepreneur: Exclusive Interview with the Newest & Sweetest Restaurant in Town
By Amelia McLear
Trey Luzzi gave up 14-year career in state government to follow his dream of owning a bakery. TreyBCakes, located at 1801 L Street, has been open about two months and has become the new star of the neighborhood.
TreyBCakes offers a small breakfast and lunch menu, including sandwiches, soups and salads, along with their gourmet cakes, cookies and other treats, and just started in the pie business. They have outdoor patio seating for 12 and have applied for a beer and wine license.
Girls on the Grid recently interviewed Trey to ask why the Grid, why a bakery and how in the world was he comfortable, at age 34, with giving up a stable and lucrative career to launch a business, and how, thanks to the support of his family, he was able to make that dream a reality. We also find out more about his delicious “red cake” and amazing meatball sandwiches.
Here is a condensed version of our interview.
Q: The idea of walking away from a successful career and opening your dream business is one that sounds pretty scary, but also very tempting. Tell me how you got here.
A: I started I was 18 working at the Franchise Tax Board as a student assistant, then I got a full-time job when I was 20 at the Department of General Services. I went to college full-time at night. I then spent two years at the Department of Technology Services and then transitioned into the Governor’s office. Later I took an appointment at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as Director of Court Compliance.
I loved my job, but I always had this fantasy of owning a restaurant and having my family there with me. But once I got into state service and I got older, my dream kind of fizzled away and I thought “I’m getting older. What a headache that would be.”
One day, I was at my nephew’s soccer game and my mom said, “El Dorado Hills’ new town center needs a bakery” and I got this funny little flutter in my stomach and I thought, “That’s it. That’s what I’m going to do.” I met with their leasing office on Monday but they had just signed with a franchise bakery and I didn’t want to compete. A few days later, I was in midtown and saw this space at 1801 L and called their leasing office that day to see if it was available.
A: My desire to have my bakery in El Dorado Hills was brief. As soon as I saw this space on this intersection, I thought, “What the heck am I thinking, there’s nothing like this neighborhood in El Dorado Hills.” Also, I got that same flutter in my stomach again so I knew it was the right spot.
It’s a great location on the corner of two, one-way streets. It’s within two blocks of the most popular nightclubs in town, and the eateries are always packed. Also, there’s no other late-night dessert place in the area. I visited the restaurants around here and asked what their hours were and most closed during the week around 9 or 10:00 p.m., so we decided to open late-night and now we always get a rush at that time. There are also lots of apartments, duplexes, Victorian houses and lofts in the neighborhood, so it was pretty much a no-brainer once I started studying. And the State Capitol is not that far.
Q: It sounded like it was pretty difficult to get all of your government permits as well as a loan from the bank. How did you get through that and what do you recommend to others who are daunted by the red tape?
A: I couldn’t get a business loan, even though I have great credit and some collateral. All the banks said they would match my funds, but they still wouldn’t give me a loan. I said, “If I had the funds for you to match, then I wouldn’t need a loan!” Then my dad comes to me and tells me that Popie and Grammy are putting their house up as collateral. I said, “Now I’m going to work like a dog.” My grandfather was my first customer when we opened and our first dollar bill. He bought a cup of coffee and my grandmother wrote “good luck” on it. I couldn’t have done this without my family (his dad and cousin work at TreyBCakes; his mom, sister, brother-in-law and nephew come in every week to help out.)
From all levels, state, county, city—government was not helpful. In the beginning, I went to these classes through state services on how to start a business. I won’t get those hours back in my life. I’d call the director of an agency up and he’d say, “Try and call this person.” I’d say, “I already tried and they didn’t help.” I didn’t know anything about health departments and permits and when you go to the city, they talk to you like you should know it first-hand. And then with all the furloughs, you’d go and you’d wait for hours to see someone and then you see the person and they say, “Oh no, I can’t help you, you need to go see Bob down the hall, but Bob only works from 11-3 today” and its 4:30. All these people were very nice, but their process was not helpful.
I would love to help anyone with a start-up. I’ll tell them exactly what to expect: take your budget and double it, and take your timeline and double it.
Q: Full disclosure, I worked with you for a few years in Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office where there was no such thing as work-life balance. I imagine this is also a 24-7 job. Do you have any kind of social life?
A: I have a good social life. If I want to go out to dinner, or if I need to go home and let the dogs out, or if I go out on a date, I have great staff here who will cover for me. I want to get more involved in the community and doing more things for Second Saturday. I would love to do fundraisers for CARES (Center for AIDS Research, Education and Services), and if I can find a way for them to last, I want to ship our goodies to troops overseas. I lost my social life in the Governor’s office and it cost me the best relationship I ever had. I will never do that again!
Q: Now, on to the desserts. Where did you get these recipes? What are the most popular items so far? What is your favorite?
A: Our famous red cake is my dad’s mother’s recipe. It’s not a red velvet cake, which is made with cocoa flour. This uses white cake flour, like a Waldorf-Astoria red cake from the 1930s. My grandmother would make it maybe once a year for us growing up. The frosting is the most difficult thing to do. This is my favorite thing on the menu.
The recipes for the red sauce and meatballs are my mom’s grandmother’s from the old county in southern Italy. The soup recipes are my mom’s. The sausages, marinades and custards for the banana cream pie tart are my mom and dad’s recipes.
The stud muffin (meatloaf baked in puff pastry, topped with mashed potato “frosting” and bacon crumbles) was created by my pastry chef.
The biggest thing we focus on is staying consistent. We want to be consistent with all of our recipes and have everything taste the same, every time. Our most popular items right now are the stud muffin, the red cake, the lulu cupcake, the chocolate chip cookies, the zingo brownies (chocolate chip brownies with cream cheese frosting and raspberry lattice) and the fruit basket cake.
Q: You’ve gotten a lot of good press so far (Sacramento Bee: TreyBCakes is a smash on opening day and Sacramento Press: Gourmet Bakery Opens in Midtown) and the customer response seems to be pretty good. What’s your reaction?
A: It’s going great. We’re a little ahead of where I’d thought I’d be on customer count. I wanted a nice, slow opening, and for not doing any advertising or PR, we’ve exceeded what I outlined in my business plan. We designed the place to be inviting and comfortable for everyone. I want a punk rock woman with piercings in her lip to feel just as comfortable as a 55-year-old couple who are out on a date.
Q: Last question. How did you decide on the name “TreyBCakes”?
A: When I was growing up, one of my best friends always called me “TreyBCakes,” like “babycakes.” It just stuck and everyone started calling me that. My cousin suggested I name the bakery “TreyBCakes” and that was that.
TreyBCakes. 1801 L Street, Suite 70, Sacramento, CA 95811. www.treybcakes.com. Facebook: TreyBCakes. (916) 442-7270. Hours: M-Th 7:00 a.m. –10:00 p.m.; Fri 7:00 a.m. –midnight; Sat 9:00 a.m. –midnight. Closed on Sundays, but plans to be open then in another month.