Zach Zelner entered Florida State’s College of Entrepreneurship with the desire to learn fundamentals of business in lecture halls. Only two years later, now 20 years old, Zelner is getting on-the-job training as Founder and Owner of the thriving local business, Z Baked.
Zelner had launched The Cookieman in his first semester of college. It was a service that delivered a variety of baked goods for late-night free delivery. With The Cookieman’s early success, Zelner knew he would have to devote more of his time to his growing business.
When he was 18 years old, Zelner dropped out of the College of Entrepreneurship as advisers proved unhelpful in his desire to continue attending school.
“That first night, my girlfriend and I, alone in my apartment, we got like 45 orders,” Zelner said. “It was an absolute disaster.”
Without drivers, an appropriate oven and other kitchen necessities, Zelner found it stressful trying to keep up with the overwhelming number of orders.
After three weeks of working out of his small apartment, Zelner arranged to use Donut Kingdom’s kitchen through the late hours of the night.
“As we went into Donut Kingdom, sales increased eleven-fold,” Zelner said.
After seven months of saving, Zelner opened his own store on Pensacola Street and changed his company’s name from The Cookieman to Z Baked.
It was at Donut Kingdom that Zelner hired Juan Severini, one of Z Baked’s best customers, to drive for them. Severini is now a manager at Z Baked’s Tallahassee location.
“Before I started working here, I ordered Cookieman for a month straight, to the point that I went broke,” Severini said. “I was paying in like pennies and dimes. I knew I had to get a job.”
Severini sees Z Baked’s success as a result of catering to two large markets occupied by college students.
“One is the stoner market and the other one is the drunk market,” Severini said. “You’ve got your fried food that’s going to sober you up and you’ve got your munchies and sweets that are going to satisfy your cravings.”
More than a month ago, BITE was launched out of Z Baked’s Tallahassee location. With an entirely different menu featuring mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, macaroni and cheese and more, BITE has shown promising results.
“I looked at it and knew this is what people want,” Zelner said. “We already had the infrastructure. We had the storefront, the drivers, the kitchen, and it became evident that it was something we were going to move forward with.”
Though the kitchen can be hectic at times, Zelner believes in fostering a relaxing, positive work environment for his employees.
“I’m not a very relaxed person. I’m pretty intense and driven for what I want,” Zelner said. “I try to redirect that drive into positive energy to ensure a happy and cohesive team. We want our employees to be positive, to be happy with the business, to support the business, and to feel comfortable being there.”
After successfully expanding to locations in Orlando and Tampa, Zelner hired Kolby Watson as Tallahassee’s general manager, who has a similar approach to the workplace atmosphere.
“From the beginning, we’ve tried to keep it positive and fun,” Watson said. “As a manager, I think the best dynamic is having staff that want to listen to you, and really care about doing well.”
At 20 years old, Zelner looks forward to the further growth of his business. While he admits he still makes mistakes, he appreciates the lessons learned.
“I’m not anything special,” Zelner said. “I’m a guy who won at something simply because I wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer. I wasn’t going to stop.”