In ten words or less, what’s so special about your products?
We bake super delicious personalized cheesecakes in glass jars.
Intriguing. Tell us more.
I had a successful career managing large retail stores with over 80 employees. But there came a point when I was on maternity leave with my third baby, when I wanted to reshape my life into something more meaningful to me. Retail hours are not terribly family-friendly and I also felt that it was time that my family should benefit more from the energy I have always put into my work.
Your cakes taste just fantastic. Where do you get your flavour inspiration from?
When I first started out, I had the usual options, blueberry, cherry. But I’ve always loved dessert and I took every opportunity to learn and see what others were doing, experimenting a lot and turning these inspirations into my own flavours.
Then, we started to ask our customers for their personal preferences and tried to make these into flavours that would work with cheesecake. That’s how we started offering personalized cakes.
Many people dream about starting a food or drinks business. How did you launch yours? What’s the story behind your business?
After I had decided that I wanted to start my own business, I wrote down all the ideas I had, some of them really random. I had been making cheesecake for years, just for my family and friends and it was a cousin of mine who first suggested that I should think about selling those.
Because I have a background in business, I knew from the beginning that there needed to be a wholesale part of the business if I wanted to be able to replace my income from my previous job.
Initially, my cakes were full size. While I was working on recipes one day, I saw an empty jam jar on the counter and that was when inspirations struck. I love entertaining and I remember thinking “what if I’d make individual portions of cheesecake in glass jars, then everybody could have their own serving just the way they like it?”
Did you launch your business from home, or from a food production facility?
In the beginning, I rented the commercial kitchen in a local church, but I also had a one-year-old and a two-year-old with me, so life was fairly hectic. I had to carry all of my equipment in and out, and there was no storage available.
The next step was looking at my home and then planning out the installation of a commercial kitchen into our own space. It wasn’t easy, we had to jump through a fair number of hoops, but we persevered and it all worked out in the end.
We did a lot of the work ourselves and it took us about eight months, start to finish.
When you first launched your business, how did you pay for everything? How much did it cost to launch your own food business?
My husband works in the building trade, so that really helped. We also had a lot of our friends lend a hand. We paid for much of the work with a personal loan.
Did you receive any help from Frontenac Business Services?
We did. Frontenac Business Services supported us with securing money that was needed to pay for the ovens and the electrical work.
Where are you now? Where is your business going?
We need a bigger kitchen and we are planning to build that on our property, not attached to the house this time. We outgrew our current space two years ago, but we make it work for now. That’s going to be a lot of work again, planning and building.
For our cakes, we are slowly and organically growing our distribution to stores, getting into more and more locations. It’s important to me not to force growth, but to take each day as it comes.
What’s so special about doing business in Frontenac?
I’ve lived in Frontenac all my life and it’s making me incredibly happy to see my cakes in stores where I shopped as a kid. I just love the nostalgia connected to that, a feeling of belonging. When people see me they recognize me as the Cheesecake Lady and that’s just lovely.
Frontenac is a small community and we all support each other’s businesses. There is so much amazing food being made around here, it’s just astonishing.
Finally, do you have a checklist that you could share, your top three tips to keep in mind when starting a food business? Things you wished you would have known yourself.
First, be prepared for obstacles. You need to be resilient, you’re going to work seven days a week from dawn to dusk when you start out. Launching any business is hard, but launching a food business is especially hard.
Then, be financially smart. Keep an eye on your overheads, your ingredient costs, on everything. Every penny counts because they add up.
When you can, take 10 minutes to slow yourself down and take a breather, it helps to keep looking at the business with a fresh mind. I’ve found that to be an invaluable resource.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.