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Allyson Tolbert Headshot
Sarah Rolleston Headshot

'We Decided to Take Control of Our Lives'

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Growing up, we never envisioned ourselves as entrepreneurs. Our passion has always been the theater. Since we graduated from college we have been fortunate enough to make our living as actors. However, when we imagined going to the big city and going on auditions there was one thing that we never took into account -- how would we pay our bills when looking for work in the theater?

When we were 22 and had just arrived in New York City with wide eyes, we didn't care what we did to make a living -- we were just happy to be here! Both of us have worked most of the typical actor jobs: waitress, bartender, babysitter, event promoter, etc. What neither of us anticipated is that as we matured we would want something more fulfilling to carry us over between our theatre work.

As we have started approaching 30, we have become discontent with our "actor jobs." We both have great college educations, we're innovative and creative, and our theater degrees have given us many skills that make us effective employees. Surely there is more for us than carrying trays of martinis or changing diapers.

We've also started to think more about the future. Questions began to form in our mind. How do we expect to be able to make our apartments a little nicer, take a vacation once in awhile, or settle down and have a family someday when we are floating between punch-clock jobs and sporadic but infinitely more fulfilling work in the theater?

We decided to take control of our lives. That's when we decided to invest in the future by becoming our own bosses. Thus, the birth of Sugartooth Tours -- a New York City dessert tasting food tour.

Neither of us ever thought we would be a "boss." It just kind of happened one day. Allyson loves ice cream so much that she will eat it outdoors when the wind chill is negative 10 degrees! Thankfully for Sarah, Allyson's birthday is in July, and she thought an ice cream tasting tour in New York City would be the perfect gift for her.

One of our favorite things to do together as friends is take food tours. We had the opportunity to try tours all over the country when we were performing on the national Broadway tour of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. It was a fun way to explore a city -- and taste it, too. Upon returning to New York, Sarah was shocked when she discovered that there were no ice cream tasting tours in the city. New York is a culinary destination! It seems every day you are reading about a new artisanal ice cream shop, gelato company, or the ever-growing frozen yogurt phenomenon.

A little more research led us to discover that while there are a handful of food tour companies in New York, there are some amazing neighborhoods that are being left out of the equation. And while ice cream may be too small a niche to build an entire business on, what about dedicating the business to New York City desserts and sweets? Sure, there are cupcake walking tours and chocolate walking tours, but we wanted to start a New York City dessert tasting food tour company where you can find it all.

So we started Sugartooth Tours with the goal of seeking out some of the best desserts in New York City and sharing them with locals and tourists along with some of New York's history -- both cultural and culinary.

Young people today find themselves in a bit of a predicament. The economy and job market is slow. There are no guarantees for the young college graduate today. However, we have broad access to great resources for those who want to take advantage of them! We found ourselves with an idea that we were really passionate about but with pretty much no knowledge of how to make it come to fruition. How do two theater majors start a business in an industry they've never worked in?

One day after the big "aha" moment about starting the business, we went to the business section in Barnes and Noble searching for a book that would tell us "how to start a business." We quickly became overwhelmed and left the store. Everyone has their own path, but for us, the Internet was our best friend in building the business. We built Sugartooth Tours with a Mac computer and help from Google, YouTube, Indiegogo, and the support of our family and friends.

We scoured the Internet for months, becoming well versed in the logistical and legal aspects of running a small business. We drew up a business plan, connected with local bakery owners, and raised more than $4,000 on Indiegogo to get Sugartooth Tours off the ground. Of course, there were the more fun aspects of running a business as well -- taking food tours to get an better idea of the industry, and trying as many sweets as we possibly could!

One if the most important things we've learned along the way: When you put your idea out there, people will come out of the woodwork to help you. We've always been part of a pretty artsy crowd, but we found business consultants, graphic designers, fellow business owners, and even our publicist amongst our groups of friends.

For both of us, our daily lives are still rooted in the theater. Allyson is on a national Broadway tour and Sarah is in a production in New York. It is challenging to start a business when you have a full-time job, but we believe that the hard work will pay off for the next time we are between theater jobs.

Sometimes we still feel like we are playing a role. It is still difficult to see ourselves as business owners and bosses. Nevertheless, we are adapting to our new titles and being female entrepreneurs. One of things we really love is being able to contribute toward helping rebuild the economy, and hiring fellow artists. At this time, we are just getting Sugartooth Tours off the ground, and are still very much a start-up. However, as each day passes we find that we are more and more confident that we are investing in the future.