Michael Sands Will Do Anything—even Take His Clothes Off—to Sell His Cakes and Cookies
Sands is the proprietor of C'est cheese-cake—"They were always telling me to 'Say cheese,' " he remembers—an L.A. bakery that turns out, besides the poster, a ton of his "baby-cakes" (the cheesecakes are a diminutive 2¼ inches in diameter) and 500,000 white chocolate chip cookies each week. Until 1980 Sands ran the business virtually alone, rising at 3 a.m. to bake, package and label, then driving a beat-up station wagon hundreds of miles daily to deliver his cakes, all on two hours' sleep a night. For six months he cooked in the kitchen of his one-bedroom Westwood apartment. "To keep my spirits up," says the twice-married baker (one divorce, one annulment), "I made love three times a day. The problem was, the buzzer on the oven would always be going off."
To get C'est cheese-cake started, he gave away his cakes to such celeb friends as Shelley Winters and Barbi Benton. In 1979 Sands opened a saucy shop—painted bright red—in an upscale L.A. neighborhood. Although he now employs nine people, Sands still slips into markets after work (now 3:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.) to check his stock.
One of three children, Sands, who grew up in Quincy, Mass., learned to cook to help his often-ill mother while his father, who manufactured women's clothing, was on the road. In 1967, after attending Boston University, Sands decided to "find adventure." A year later he had become a top New York model. In 1972 he went to Hollywood, but it wasn't until one lonely night in an L.A. supermarket that Sands found his true calling. Looking for a 2 a. pick-me-up cheesecake, he peered into a freezer case and "had a dream of seeing my own stuff in the frozen food section, lit up like my name on a marquee." On the spot, Sands bought eggs, cream cheese, sour cream, graham cracker crumbs and vanilla and went home to bake.
In 1980, after two years of intense labor, he suffered a stress-induced breakdown and spent two months hospitalized under psychiatric care. But he bounded back with fresh ideas. Crediting "two great shrinks and many women" who helped give him "vision," Sands now bakes seven varieties of white chocolate chip cookies that he sells to 1,000 stores nationwide.
The only two things Sands won't bare are his net worth and his ingredients—each night he locks up the garbage cans, and he makes all his employees sign an agreement of secrecy—and he's refused megadollar buy-out offers. "I'm not in this for the quick buck," he claims. "You get a shot at something really great only once, and you have to go with it. This is my turn."