Tina Rexing owns T-Rex Cookie Co. and bakery-restaurant at 33rd and University Avenue SE. in Minneapolis.

“I work seven days a week, but the business is only open six,” quipped Rexing, who volunteered for this duty.

Rexing is an irreverent, driven embodiment of the female- and minority-led wave of small business owners rebuilding old commercial arteries. And her business, which employs 15, has achieved positive cash flow. Based on this fall’s revenue run rate, sales could increase up to 20 percent next year, topping $200,000. That also means she could pay herself, after two years as a solo entrepreneur.

Rexing, 44, who emigrated from the Philippines as a girl, is a veteran baker and State Fair ribbon winner.

The late-blooming entrepreneur is an economics graduate of St. Olaf College who worked nearly 20 years in business analysis and technology for Thomson Reuters, Northwest Airlines and Target, before she swore off corporate life and a $100,000-plus compensation package to fly solo.

Rexing, married to an IT professional and the mother of two, had considered launching a cookie career for a few years but was daunted by the uncertainty and risk to her family. Until she hit the corporate jailbreak moment.

“One day in November 2014, I went home and told my husband I’d quit,” she recalled with a laugh. “He thought it was just a midlife crisis, along with the tattoos. I’d had it. I’d gone from Target to Bluestem Brands for six months, and I’d already had four bosses and three jobs.”

Rexing incorporated T-Rex Cookies in January 2015.

With her mom as a volunteer, the plan was to grow her street-fair trade and add corporate accounts.

An aggressive marketer with a tasty product that retails for $4 to $12, Rexing outgrew her Inver Grove Heights kitchen by early 2015. She moved into a kitchen-business incubator in south Minneapolis. But she couldn’t get enough oven time.

It didn’t hurt that local awards for T-Rex cookies landed her on the “Today” show and local TV stations.

“I had planned to, maybe, expand to a food truck and ended up with a 15-employee, 25-seat bakery and cafe,” said Rexing, thanks to her real estate broker. “And not one employee has left.”

Rexing took over space vacated by the former Cupcake restaurant, whose owner had closed his Minneapolis and St. Paul locations to focus elsewhere.

She bought the equipment and invested $25,000, borrowing $100,000 from Venture Bank. It was matched by an SBA loan of $50,000 at 2 percent interest through a Minneapolis program aimed at grass-roots female owners.

“Tina had a good story and a great business plan,” said Meri Schreiber, her Venture banker. “She’s hip, hardworking and a [low-cost] marketing guru. There’s not a door Tina can’t get through. And her product is good.

“She’s hitting her numbers and she’s profitable. She’s got a supportive husband. She’s also a very hard worker. She capitalizes on opportunities, whether at the Minneapolis Farmers Market, Holidazzle or the Vikings. She caters events. She has a plan but … she’s open to opportunities and adapts.”

Rexing is a one-woman “Rexing crew” in a Mini Cooper. She raised her first capital with a $9,000 Kickstarter fundraiser, most of which she used to turn her car into a billboard on wheels.

She delivers to a variety of clients, including her largest, the Minnesota Orchestra. She popped up all over downtown with cookies.

“She’s just amazing,” said Andrew Johnson, an IT colleague at Target for several years, before he was elected to the Minneapolis City Council in 2013. “She would bring in her chocolate chip and caramel cookies and share them at Target. I was one of many who said … she should start a business.”

The relationship with Johnson paid off after she signed the restaurant lease a year ago and learned from the city she may owe a $10,000 “sewer access charge” to the Metropolitan Council, which operates the area sewage-treatment plants.

Rexing didn’t have it. And she was outraged, as have been other small entrepreneurs over the hookup charge. After all, the pipes already are in place and Rexing just replaced the old owner.

Rexing was informed of the charge when she applied this year to the city of Minneapolis for a license to reopen the restaurant. However, after Rexing and Johnson complained, the Met Council said there was a miscommunication with the city and did not assess the fee.

Rexing testified at a Minnesota Legislature hearing against the controversial charges. It led to an ongoing study of the situation.

Rexing also may get involved in Minneapolis’ brewing battle over the $15 minimum wage. She pays her people $9 to $13 an hour plus tips. She said $15 would put her in the red.

And she still isn’t paying herself two years into her new career.

Regardless, Rexing, who laughs much, knows she made the right move. She’s happier as her own boss.

And she’s grateful for a supportive family.

“We had to give up a country club [membership and the Minnesota Wild tickets],” Rexing said. “The kind of things a family can have with a double-income salary.

“And my husband helped me keep this business growing by agreeing to collateralize the house.”

 

Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.com.