12/16/2010 11:27 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

HuffPost's Greatest Person Of The Day: Jessi Walter, Founder of Taste Buds

Doing what you love can lead to the career you dreamed of as a little kid. Just ask Jessi Walter, who left Wall Street to launch her own business organizing cooking classes and similar events for children.

After graduating from Harvard in 2003, Walter, 29, moved to New York and the investment bank Bear Stearns. When Bear collapsed in 2008, sold at basement rates to megabank JPMorgan Chase, Walter started sending out resumes and looking for a similar job in finance. "A month later, nothing that I'd seen was really jazzing me," she told HuffPost.

Walter had first started working on "Taste Buds," then called "Cupcake Kids," a year earlier, more as a hobby than a business. Growing up in a big family with "total generational span," she said, she missed her time around youngsters. "My boyfriend had nieces aged 1 and 3, and when they'd come over, we would bake," she said. "I was meeting my creative outlet, I was around kids again. I thought, 'I'll do this on the side, a cooking class once a month, to get my fix of kids and food."

For about a year and a half, that's all it was. But with her future on Wall Street uncertain, Walter wondered if she might turn entrepreneur. "One day I'd be like, 'Yes I can,'" she recalled, "and the next day I'd be like, 'No you're crazy."

She went through with it. Shortly after JPMorgan absorbed Bear, Walter was officially laid off, and officially in business for herself. Learning the basics of small-business ownership, from commercial leasing to sales tax, hasn't been easy, she said.

"I love it, but there are some days where I'm like, 'I don't know how I'm going to do this today,'" she said. "Every day is impossibly hard. You're constantly learning about all these things."

That study has paid off. In April, Taste Buds built the kitchen they run their classes out of, a colorful, clean, cozy space perfect for the kids who come in to cook and for the parents they tote along with them. The company offers at least seven courses, throws special events, and has even expanded tentatively into courses for adults. For kids, it's a combination of fun and learning; math and measurement play into the way cupcakes get baked and shaped. "Education not in the classroom," Walter called it.

"You have to have a lot of energy and a lot of passion," to make it as a small-business owner, Walter said. "You have to love business to do it, because if I'd just wanted to teach kids I'd be very disappointed. ... To be really successful you have to be on the business side of things."

Taste Buds certainly isn't a Wall Street job. But Walter isn't looking back. "No more Sunday blues. It doesn't feel like work," she said. "I can't wait to go in and get started. I never knew this kind of job existed."

For photos of Taste Buds in action, check out the slideshow below:

Taste Buds

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