Robyne Friedland was used to an action-packed schedule, first as an elementary school teacher, than as a stay-at-home mom to two boys. But when her youngest, Dylan, entered preschool in 2007, she began to get a little antsy.
"I was used to being 'on' all day," said Friedland, who lives in Coral Springs.
Friedland turned her experiences as a teacher and a mom into Book n Cookin, which offers themed educational and fun events for all ages. Here’s how she did it.
The Big Idea
Book n Cookin offers customized, themed events that incorporate cooking, storytelling and games. Designed for birthday parties, fund-raisers, even corporate functions, Book n Cookin goes anywhere in the tri-county area. Programs are available for ages 2 to 102, Friedland said, from a Tinkerbell party for a 3-year-old to a French cooking class for adults. Sessions are 45 minutes for up to 25 people and range from $100 to $200.
Friedland has a bachelor of arts in communications from Rutgers University, and a master’s in elementary education from Florida Atlantic University. She taught prekindergarten and first grade for five years before becoming a stay-at-home mom. Friedland has no formal culinary training, but loves to cook.
Friedland first tried to put together a "mommy and me" class, and spent four months researching similar programs. The class started, no one came, and Friedland decided to take her show on the road.
"I knew I had some good stuff, so I kept the cooking, storytelling and games" to put together a program that would go to a customer’s venue, she said.
Her son, Dylan, was attending My Gym at the time, so Friedland began observing their activities. She searched the Internet for ideas, asked friends for suggestions and looked at the kinds of games she played with her own children.
"If you’re going to do customized, themed-based parties, you have to have a lot to draw from," Friedland said.
Friedland found kids’ cooking schools and themed events, but nothing that combined everything she wanted to include.
"I try to incorporate as many skills as I can," she said. "Everything in the market was very skill specific."
The first step was assembling inventory. For cooking, she needed blenders, measuring cups, mixing bowls and the like. For storytelling, she collected books, puppets and craft materials. For the physical part, she bought hula hoops, scooters, music and obstacle course supplies.
Friedland said she didn’t begin with an inventory of services. When she held her first events in August 2007 at the Jewish Community Center in Coral Springs, she let customers dictate the sessions.
"I didn’t start with any themes, I just collected stuff," Friedland said. "I would say 'Give me any theme you want, and I will make it work.'"
Over time, Friedland developed a running list of packages. If someone wanted an elephant theme, for example, she could reuse some of the activities for a zoo theme, she said.
Today popular themes include nutrition, in which Friedland will read a nutrition-based book, do a fitness regimen of exercises to music, and make something healthy like a fruit smoothie or fruit crepe. For a Thanksgiving theme, she’ll make cornbread from scratch and homemade butter, decorate placemats and do turkey races. For Valentine’s Day, she’ll make homemade fudge or chocolate fondue, read poems and do three-legged races.
Friedland does events at birthday parties, fund-raisers, camps, libraries and in-house field trips.
During the school year, she does about 12 events a month, mostly as after-school activities. In the summer, she’s busy nearly every day with camps.
Initial capital outlay was about $1,000, for business expenses and licensing, party inventory and office supplies. Friedland’s husband, Steve, a computer programmer, built the company website. It took about three years to become profitable, she said.
When she opened, Friedland donned a chef’s hat and apron and went door-to-door to preschools in north Broward and south Palm Beach counties, delivering fliers and candy in Chinese take-out boxes.
"I wanted to get their attention," Friedland said. "I figured if I looked different and fun, then maybe they would hire me."
Friedland also showcased her business at vendor fairs aimed at parents, but found more success at fairs geared to preschool and camp directors, and to libraries.
"You don’t realize that until you’ve been through many, many events," she said.
Friedland uses Facebook to update fans about her events, and she hands out brochures at kids’ events to prospective clients.
The economy. "People say they love the idea, but they just can’t afford it, because their budget has been cut," Friedland said.
Hiring employees to expand the business, franchising and expanding the geographic area served are all on Friedland’s wish list.
Friedland rises at 6:30 a.m. to get kids Justin, 9, and Dylan, 7, breakfast. She walks the kids to school at 7:45 a.m., then returns home to exercise.
On one particular day, Friedland had two parties, one at 11 a.m. with a breakfast theme for 4-year-olds, and one at 2 p.m. for an after-school cooking club.
Friedland goes to the grocery store to buy ingredients to make waffles for the morning party, and banana bread for the afternoon. She returns home to assemble cooking supplies and equipment for the activities and to box up ingredients.
Between parties, she returns home to wash up and switch out supplies for the 2 p.m. event.
Steve works from home in the afternoon to watch the kids until Robyne returns. Sometimes, the grandparents are called to pitch in.
"I beg, borrow and steal babysitters," Robyne Friedland said.
She arrives home at 4 p.m., prepares dinner then heads to the ballfield with the kids. They’ll arrive back home around 8 p.m., and the kids go to bed shortly after.
That’s when Friedland will have a chance to wash up after her party, restock supplies, and check emails.
"I don’t worry about it until they go to bed," she said.
"Don’t let people tell you no, that you can’t do it," Friedland said. "Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and remember that you’re human. You can’t do it all. Sometimes you’ll have to say to the kids, 'I can’t do this activity with you now because I’m working. I will make it up to you later.' And that’s OK."