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Mark Franczyk spent a decade working as a banker with the financial powerhouse J.P. Morgan. After taking a job as an internal consultant he quickly rose to assistant vice president in the company’s Treasury & Securities Services and then as an analyst in the Investment Banking Division.
While Mark Franczyk was involved in what he described as “a multitude of M&A and capital-raising transactions, including the largest U.S. equity deal in history,” he also had decided that the banking industry was not a good fit. By 2014, Mark Franczyk had enrolled in culinary school, started a food blog (www.outsideofthebreadbox.com), and began interning in some of the top kitchens in the country. Finbuzz spoke with Mark Franczyk about his sweet life after banking.
“In short, I’m a bit of a pastry nerd.”
Do you find cooking and banking similar?
I’d have to say, “yes”. I can never understand how people can cook or bake without wanting to understand why recipes suggest doing things in certain ways. It’s similar to running a financial model… you want to understand how every variable will change the output.
I’m very much into pastry from the technical side of things, so I appreciate the different capabilities of each type of sugar. Maybe it’s the investment banking background that drives that. When I work on recipes, I like to know why certain things work the way they do… so understanding that white sugar is a disaccharide that is prone to crystallization… or the hydroscopic properties of less refined sugars.
In one story Outside the Bread Box is described as personal project that you hope to “turn into a commercial venture in the near future”. How is it going?
At this point, I’m focusing on achieving some level of ‘critical mass’ before looking to monetize what started as an avocation. Banking gave me enough of an appreciation for not jumping into things prematurely. So someone has 20,000 followers on Instagram… that’s good, but not necessarily a business plan. In culinary school too, I encountered a lot of people with a passion for food but no business sense. I quickly realized that the reason why 90% (I’m making that number up, but it’s high) of restaurants and bakeries fail in a year is because food people are horrible at running a business.
So it seems, you enjoy the best from the both worlds.
That’s what I’m trying to do. While I could not be happier with my decision to leave banking after a decade career for, let’s face it, a considerable less lucrative line of work, I did take a tremendous amount from those years. Being an investment banker teaches attention to detail, multi-tasking, and time management unlike any other field I can imagine. Those skills transfer perfectly to working in a restaurant.
You noted once that investment banking and food industry have lots in common: glamorous outside and lots of hard work inside.
Absolutely. I don’t think anyone really understands what it means to be an investment banker working 100 hours a week until they actually do it. It’s intense. It’s painful.
The same is true for working in a restaurant. It’s not the way all the cooking competitions would make you believe. The hours are similar to banking, in that you never really have time off (after all, restaurants are even busier on holidays!) And what makes it worse, you typically don’t sit throughout your entire day. After my first day working in a restaurant, I thought I was going to die. I felt like my body was going to collapse. But it was also thrilling!
Are you still working for the same restaurant as in the interview from 2014?
I actually stopped when Gavin was born so that I could be home with him during this first year – something that was important to me and was even another consideration for me to leave banking when I did, although he came along a bit later than we’d originally expected. But yes, I worked for the same restaurant group from 2014 until he was born, and I remain very close with everyone in the industry (as tight as Finance is, literally everyone knows everyone in the culinary world).
“With culinary, it’s easier to hide your sins, so to speak.”
Why pastry? Where’s the passion stemming from?
Again, I think it is a bit of the technical demands involved. With Pastry, there is more science and precision required. A few degrees difference in heat is the difference between success and disaster. With culinary, it’s easier to “hide your sins” so to speak.
So there were no childhood dreams that led you to become a chef?
I’ve always loved food. Maybe the fact that every Monday morning in banking, all I would talk about were the restaurants from the past weekend should have been a hint. And I did grow up with lots of fond memories in the kitchen with my family – grandmother, mother, and father. Cooking and baking were always big family activities (something I plan to continue with my son).
Could you share some favourite food from the family kitchen?
I always associate making French toast and pancakes with my father. With Mom, it was simple but so satisfying Chocolate Chip Cookies. And Grandma, a good ole’ Polish woman, it was homemade noodles and also Pierogi… a little touch of the immigrant heritage.
I just browsed the schedule of classes in the culinary school. Basically they hand you over the ingredients and instructions, and one wrong step – and the whole thing is ruined.
Yes, the schedule is pretty amazing. They hand you several hundred pages of recipes on day one and everyone thinks, “Oh, this is a nice reference guide.” And then they tell you you’ll be preparing each and every item. I love Viennoiserie – knowing how to make Croissant from scratch is an amazingly dangerous skill. And then some of the extremely technical cakes, like one called a Fruit Mousse Miroir, were a lot of fun because the end product seems almost impossibly perfect.
“During culinary school, there were days when I would literally come home with 3 or 4 cakes. I started giving it away to people on the subway on my ride home at 11pm at night.”
Of all pastry recipes, which one is your favourite?
Impossible to say, given the great expanse of pastry covering everything from breads, candies, chocolates, etc. But I do find myself coming back to Puff Pastry. Extremely versatile and delicious.
Are you happy now, leaving the industry where you’ve spent 10 years and achieved a lot not once but twice?
Very happy. As much as I benefited from my years in banking (the financial security cannot be discounted), I always felt somewhat trapped. Taking the positives from that experience and moving on was a difficult but extremely important decision. There are zero regrets in leaving.
At FinBuzz we speak a lot about bankers who explore creative fields, be it pastry, design or music. Now, as there are job cuts all around, people may venture to try new career directions more often. Can you give some advice to people who are considering a career switch?
Don’t over-analyze and trust your gut. It’s easy to come up with a million reasons why you shouldn’t take the risk of a career switch, but if it’s the only thing you can think about, that’s probably a good sign that it’s time to move on. But also realize there is no such thing as the perfect job. Even the dream job comes with some frustrations, but that’s just reality.
Any frustrations coming from your current job? It looks so…tranquil?
Well, working at the restaurant was far from tranquil. The personalities in the kitchen are just as unpredictable as in banking, but again, it’s fun, so you accept them more easily. Now, life at home in “Dad mode” also comes with it’s own challenges. It’s been both more rewarding and more challenging that I ever could have imagined.