by Bekah Porter

MARION – Debbie Wright had her future right where she wanted it.

“I had a good job, a job I absolutely loved,” the Marion resident said. “I had a job I thought was going to be my career, and I was excited about the direction I was headed.”

But in one meeting, her dream disintegrated. After helping develop the catering department at Zin’s restaurant in Cedar Rapids, Ms. Wright learned that her position as catering manager had been eliminated during the company’s reorganization.

“The only emotion that comes to mind when I think about that moment is devastation,” she said. “I had intended on making catering there my career, but that wasn’t a reality anymore.”

So the woman who had spent decades in the food industry in one capacity or another found herself debating whether to pursue her passion or go back to a business career that gave her stability.

“I thought, ‘Would I like to just be going to a job where I knew every single day that I could punch in at this time and punch out at that time and get my 40 hours every week?’ And the answer was, ‘Of course I want that security,’” Ms. Wright said. “I had marketable skills, but I just couldn’t see myself going back and starting all over again working for somebody else. I guess there was that entrepreneurial spirit in me that said I should try something else first.”

When her last day at Zin’s came on Aug. 19, she decided a change was in order.

“I had this group of friends who were telling me to do something for myself now, and I decided that was what I needed to do,” she said.

Throughout her life, Ms. Wright had worked as a waitress, a short-order cook, a manager of a frozen yogurt shop and as a prep cook, in addition to jobs for publishing companies and marketing research firms. And through these experiences, she discovered a passion.

“I love to bake,” she said. “I absolutely love it. So I decided it was time I pursued that.”

This past month, she determined to take what was a devastating experience and turn it into an opportunity by opening her own baking company, The Wright Touch Bake Shoppe.

The store, which she now operates out of her home, will offer everything from cupcakes to cookies to wedding cakes to mini bread loaves.

“It gives me a chance to be creative,” she said. “For example, I don’t buy the mass market cupcake liners. I make my own out of parchment paper for a more personal touch. And I really enjoy doing research to see what the best type of cupcakes will be.”

Already, she has gained attention for her two signature cupcakes — a root beer float cupcake, and a salted nut roll cupcake, which is a peanut butter cupcake filled with marshmallow cream and topped with vanilla frosting and a homemade salted nut roll.

“For too long, I’d been thinking, ‘What if? What if I opened my own business?’ It was time to (take action,)” she said.

While Ms. Wright remained confident in her dream, she wavered when it came to practical application.

“I had the dream, but I didn’t have a business name, a business logo or any business cards,” she said. “But I knew that if I really wanted to do this, I would have to make connections, develop strong networks and rely on the people around me.”

She contacted SCORE of East Central Iowa and took its “QuickSTART Your Business” workshop, which helped her develop her business plan. And she turned to friends who worked in marketing to help develop the logo and business cards.

Now, she’s pushing forward – using Facebook and Twitter to build her client base, forging relationships with local restaurants and agencies, etc. She has even developed a Cupcake of the Month Club, which is steadily building a client base.

The work is hard.

“I’m doing all my own baking, cleaning, labeling, packaging, marketing, everything,” she said.

But she sees rewards on the horizon.

“When I (lost my job), it didn’t seem like the best thing to ever happen to me,” she said. “And I’m still torn. I love the direction I’m going in, and I don’t think I would want to go backwards to where I was, but going forward is scary.”

Yet that’s what she says she remains dedicated to doing.

“I’m going to move forward,” Ms. Wright said. “I’m building momentum.”