Linda Amir is having her cake and eating it, too. After a very successful career in the male-dominated world of big business, she followed her dreams and now created and sells T’ART, the tart mix she would always bring as a gift when staying with friends. Inspired by her love of French baking and an appreciation for seasonal produce, Amir is enjoying her second act. And boy, it’s a sweet one.
You went to University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School for undergrad and New York University’s Stern School of Business for your MBA in the late 1970s/early 80s, and you’ve worked in the world of finance for about 30 years. What was it like being a woman in business school then? How do you think things have changed?
It has been a very enlightening career experience. When I was in school, women were emerging as business leaders and my Wharton professors were very encouraging. There was no glass ceiling in their language. They were supportive, encouraging and collaborative. In the business world, I’ve found that women business leaders are more competitive with other women, and are the toughest critics.
I was expecting a stronger sisterhood. Unfortunately, I have been disappointed several times with my woman bosses, in both their leadership and management skills. Both were moody, political, unreasonable and just very difficult to work for. In fact, I remember one in particular who would shake her finger at me like I was a 2-year-old. Women bosses think they have to be so tough to be effective. Wrong! My mom always told me, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it!” And that lesson has served me well so far in my 30-plus year career.
People in general are most productive, strive to exceed and enjoy their work when their bosses/colleagues are caring, supportive, respectful, fair, compassionate and challenging in a good way. That’s the kind of boss I have today, thank goodness. All qualities that are important in running a successful business.
Have you always baked?
Yes, I have always baked. When I was a little girl, like 4, we would go to my Aunt Sylvia’s in Brooklyn for Passover, and she would allow all the nieces into the kitchen. She taught me how to separate eggs and fold egg whites into matzo meal. I remember it so well.
When I was 15, I went to France for a summer to work as an au pair, and they didn’t think twice about baking a fruit tart. Every day you’d have tart. If there were three of us, you would eat a third of a tart. It was a fabulous summer learning how to bake tarts from scratch with the window open and looking down at the beautiful colorful gardens. You would pick up your peaches and apricots from the market and go home and bake a fresh tart for dessert. Simple and easy!
When I first got married, I had a side baking business in Queens in the complex we lived in. I baked and ran the business through the entire Christmas holiday season. Before I had children and until they were 3 or 4, everything I baked was from scratch, but then the juggling got harder. I was working full-time at Bank of Boston, and I (gasp!) started to buy store-bought cookies. But once I started my own consulting business, I had pockets of time where I could bake and surprise the kids when I’d pick them up from school. They’d come into the house and it would smell like the baked goods, all warm and cozy. And the kids loved it. They still remember that special period in their lives.
How did you get into this side business?
I started making this tart mix all the time and I’d bring the mix to our friends’ house in Cape Cod. People would be swimming out in the ocean, and I’d be in the kitchen making the tart. I remember sitting with my friends, enjoying the tart, and one of my friends said, “You should do this.” That was at least four summers ago, and I would just fantasize about it. About 18 months ago, my son reminded me how I always told him to follow his dreams. So I wanted to prove to myself I could do it. And then I started to seriously look into it: The nutrition statement. The logo. The design. The color scheme. It became a labor of love. At the time I was working a total of 20 hours a day, I was launching a major program at work, and I’d come home after 7 p.m. and be on the phone with a wonderful woman in California who was so helpful. She taught me about weights and percentages and what you’d want to put on a label, and about FDA laws. And I went to the fancy food show in San Francisco in January 2011, and after four days of walking the convention halls, I knew I was going forward with it. There was no prepared tart mix on the market. I went to The Meat House in Brookline where they carry specialty items and made my first sale. I was ecstatic. They were so supportive of the mix being a local product, they started selling it that day. It’s so great when local stores support small, local vendors.
T’ART is a niche product: Whole Foods Market, Fruit Center Marketplace, Russo’s Market and Volante, the Needham farm stand, and other specialty stores is where T’ART thrives. The more knowledgeable the staff is, the more supportive they are of the product. The demo coordinator at the Jamaica Plain Whole Foods had me do a T’ART tasting for local vendor night on a Monday, and by Wednesday he was making the tart for his customer demo. It was then featured in an article for the region. And now, his colleague Toya in the Newton store did a similar event. Getting into Whole Foods really propelled me. This is a slow, methodical business model, and I want to make sure I don’t go too fast.
What do you bake during Passover?
My Aunt Sylvia’s banana sponge cake and nut cake. Funny, as I talk about the cakes, I visualize separating and folding the eggs like Aunt Sylvie would demonstrate. It is such an art. I also bake these amazing almond flour cookies that are gluten free. If I was to come up with the next product after the tart, it would be those cookies.