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From Sugar Geek to Online Influencer with Liz Marek – Part 2

With over 300,000 followers, Liz Marek has become very well-known in the cake decorating community! She lives in Beaverton, OR and teaches beginner and advanced bakers how to craft amazing custom-decorated cakes through her online business, The Sugar Geek Show.

Liz began her cake decorating business as a side job just 13 years ago. After running that business from her licensed home kitchen for many years, she started winning cake competitions and making more of a name for herself.

Liz has written books, appeared on television and the Food Network many times, and traveled around the world as a professional speaker. She is a mom to two young children, and she now focuses solely on teaching online through The Sugar Geek Show.

In this interview, Liz shares plenty of helpful tidbits about running a cake business, but what I found most compelling were her many missteps and consistent persistence along the way. Things often didn’t go the way she hoped or planned, but she still made something great out of it by constantly reinventing herself!

This is Part 2 of Liz’s interview. In this episode, Liz shares beginner tips for starting a cake business, what it was like to compete on (and win) Halloween Wars on the Food Network, and more about how the Sugar Geek Show has grown (and where it’s going).

From Sugar Geek to Online Influencer with Liz Marek – Part 1

With over 300,000 followers, Liz Marek has become very well-known in the cake decorating community! She lives in Beaverton, OR and teaches beginner and advanced bakers how to craft amazing custom-decorated cakes through her online business, The Sugar Geek Show.

Liz began her cake decorating business as a side job just 13 years ago. After running that business from her licensed home kitchen for many years, she started winning cake competitions and making more of a name for herself.

Liz has written books, appeared on television and the Food Network many times, and traveled around the world as a professional speaker. She is a mom to two young children, and she now focuses solely on teaching online through The Sugar Geek Show.

In this interview, Liz shares plenty of helpful tidbits about running a cake business, but what I found most compelling were her many missteps and consistent persistence along the way. Things often didn’t go the way she hoped or planned, but she still made something great out of it by constantly reinventing herself!

In fact, by the end of this episode, you will learn that if things had gone the way that she planned, she almost certainly wouldn’t be where she is today.

Bold Branding & Even Bolder Spice Blends with Jennifer Knox

As a creative writer and published poet, Jennifer Knox was never in it for the money. But when she made $6,000 in one weekend from selling her salt blends, she knew she was on to something!

Jennifer sells unique, preservative-free spice blends with her business, Saltlickers, which she runs from a commercial kitchen in her home in Nevada, IA.

Jennifer’s branding is fearless and unforgettable. Each of her salt or sugar blends have a creative product name like Das Bigfoot, Queen of Tarts, or Herky Perky.

Although her marketing skills spark people’s interest, it’s the products themselves that keep customers coming back again and again.

After using her home kitchen for many years, Jennifer and her husband converted their basement into a commercial kitchen so that they could sell in retail stores and ship their products nationwide.

And in 2020, although Jennifer’s farmers market closed down due to the pandemic, she used email marketing to stay in touch with her fanbase and keep on selling.

How To Start An Eco-Friendly & Socially Responsible Cookie Business with Barry Sherman

For Barry Sherman and his life partner, Scott, their cookie business is about a lot more than the cookies!

Since 2018, Barry and Scott have run their eco-friendly and socially-conscious cookie business, Urban Bakers, in Tampa Bay, FL.

Initially they started from home due to Scott being diagnosed with early onset of Parkinson’s Disease, but they quickly expanded to a commercial kitchen.

Their dense quarter-pound cookies are very unique. They come individually-wrapped in compostable bags with compostable labels, and the quality of the ingredients is top-notch. They also come in a variety of flavors, including root beer float, piña colada, and spicy dark chocolate chili.

In addition to operating their business as sustainably as possible, they also give back by donating a portion of each sale to a different charity each month.

Barry talks about the triumphs, challenges, and surprises of running a high-end drop cookie business, and what he’s learned along the way.

Bringing Artisan European Bread To America with Yuliya Childers

When Yuliya Childers moved from Ukraine to the United States, she lost one of the most fundamental staples from her homeland: good bread.

Yuliya is a classically-trained pianist, but when she started making the sourdough bread from her childhood, she found that others wanted a slice as well.

She now lives in Prattville, AL and has fully shifted from a musical career to running her home artisan bread business, Wild Yeast Kitchen.

Yuliya’s story is one of passion, dedication, and plain hard work. Every single Friday, she works for 24+ hours straight to prepare a couple hundred loaves and pastries for her Saturday market.

She also runs a bread subscription service, with many customers getting her delicious items every single week. And she does all of this bread making from one regular home oven!

Yuliya shares some amazing stories in this episode, including her immigration story, the time she brought a customer to tears, and how she sold bread for many years to pay for bread school.

13 Years Old and Already In Business with Lauren Inazu

Lauren Inazu isn’t your average 13-year-old girl. When she was 8, she recruited friends to sell and market her lemonade stand, Lauren’s Sweet Treats. In 5th grade, she started a school newspaper. And now, she recently launched a cottage food business.

Lauren lives in St. Louis, MO and sells all sorts of baked goods with her new business, Count It All Joy.

Between school, homework, piano lessons, sports, youth group, clubs, and Bible study, Lauren is somehow finding time to fulfill baking orders. Sometimes she likes to surprise her classmates with that fact: “I think it’s always kind of fun to be like, ‘Oh yeah, I just have to go make four dozen cookies tonight for an order.’ And they’re like, ‘An order?'”

Lauren may be one of the most ambitious and mature 13-year-olds I have ever met, but she is not unique in wanting to make a little dough from her baked goods. Many kids reach out to me to ask if it is legal for them to sell their creations.

In this episode, Lauren shares what she’s learned about legally starting her cottage food business as a 13-year-old, in hopes of inspiring other young entrepreneurs to try it out as well.

Turning A Kitchen Mistake Into A Thriving Business with Nicole Pomije

It all started with the wrong baking pan. Back in 2014, Nicole Pomije couldn’t find a cookie sheet in her home kitchen, so she made her chocolate chip cookies in a mini muffin tin instead.

And with that, the idea for The Cookie Cups was born: cookies that look like mini cupcakes. Nicole started her business out of her home kitchen in 2015, and she has now expanded into two brick-and-mortar storefronts near Minneapolis, MN.

Although it might seem like Nicole’s unique idea set her up for success, it’s more likely that her many years of marketing, PR, and management experience played a much larger role.

While the cookie-in-cupcake-form is still at the core of her business, Nicole has now expanded well beyond selling cookies. She’s managed to put all kinds of food items into mini cupcake form, such as tacos, mac & cheese, pizza, etc. She now caters events, hosts birthday parties, teaches cooking classes, and has most recently created at-home baking kits in response to the pandemic.

Nicole talks about the importance of sharing your story, managing time, starting simple, building a local following, and constantly being willing to try new things.

From Failed Kickstarter to Successful Storefront with Melvin Roberson

These days, Dough Boy Donuts is a popular gourmet donut shop that is bustling with customers and employees, but it all started from very humble beginnings.

In 2014, Melvin Roberson used Texas’ cottage food law to start his donut business from his home kitchen. A year later, he expanded to a food truck, and eventually, to a brick-and-mortar location in Fort Worth, TX (now relocated to Burleson, TX).

Melvin has faced plenty of obstacles along the way, including negative customers, family feuds, and a failed Kickstarter campaign.

But through perseverance, sacrifice, and plenty of hard work, he has built a loyal customer base that keep coming back for one of his unique signature donuts, like the Sriracha Maple Bacon or The Last Call.

Melvin’s has a tremendous amount of experience in the food industry… before building a successful food business through three different stages (from home, food truck, storefront), he held just about every food service position available, ultimately managing hundreds of employees as the kitchen manager at a popular steakhouse.

Marketing Cake Art with Jennifer Lopez & Emily Blattel – Part 2

Over the past decade, Jennifer Lopez and Emily Blattel have sold dozens of custom cakes that run the gamut from elegant buttercream cakes to realistic cake sculptures. The results are always exceptional, and sometimes they are nearly unbelievable!

This dynamic duo runs The Cake Mom & Co. from their homes in Paducah, KY and Scott City, MO.

Because they are both amazing cake decorators, I thought this interview would be focused solely on cake artistry.

But they ended up touching on so many facets of running a cake business that I had to split this episode into two parts. This is Part 2, and you can listen to Part 1 here.

In this second half of the interview, they covered startup advice, the ordering and design process, business partnerships, social media platforms, cake supplies, promotional giveaways, and cake competitions.

Jennifer also explained how she helped changed Kentucky’s cottage law, even though she initially had no intention of spearheading that effort!

Marketing Cake Art with Jennifer Lopez & Emily Blattel – Part 1

Over the past decade, Jennifer Lopez and Emily Blattel have sold dozens of custom cakes that run the gamut from elegant buttercream cakes to realistic cake sculptures. The results are always exceptional, and sometimes they are nearly unbelievable!

This dynamic duo runs The Cake Mom & Co. from their homes in Paducah, KY and Scott City, MO.

Because they are both amazing cake decorators, I thought this interview would be focused solely on cake artistry.

But they ended up touching on so many facets of running a cake business that I had to split this episode into two parts. This is Part 1.

In this first half of the interview, they covered their startup journey, online marketing strategies, photography, pricing, delivery, and many stories of their triumphs and near-failures.

Make sure you listen to the end to hear the “beach cake” story, which led Emily and I to agree that Jennifer is a veritable “crazy cake lady”!

From Bread Factory to Artisan Home Bakery with David Kaminer

For David Kaminer, sourdough bread is a way of life. After graduating from culinary school and spending 15 years working in commercial bakeries and restaurants, he built a pizza oven into his kitchen and opened Raleigh Street Bakery in Denver, CO in 2015.

He now has dozens of customers who show up each week to pick up their near-perfect sourdough baguettes, boules, and batards from his in-home bakery.

After working in a factory that produced 40,000 loaves of bread per day, David appreciates the slower pace of his cottage food business, plus the opportunities it brings to connect with his local community.

David talks about the ins and outs of running a lucrative home bakery, intentionally limiting business to prioritize his family, and why he only sells one type of product: sourdough bread.

Wholesale Strategies That Work with Sonia Chang

Sonia Chang never planned to start a food business, but now she has two of them!

Sonia lives in Pasadena, CA and runs a granola cottage food business called Cali Granola (formerly named Chef Sonia’s Granola By The Handful). After successfully selling her granola for a couple years, she purchased and operated My Sweet Cupcake, a popular cupcakery.

She has sold her granola in over two dozen stores and has used a variety of marketing strategies to build her businesses, such as her “leap frog” and “flavor profile” techniques.

Her journey is filled with many unexpected surprises, but every step of the way, her service-based approach and collaborative spirit have carried her forward.

How To Live On What You Make with Lisa Kivirist

Farmer, baker, author, law advocate, speaker, mother, podcaster, entrepreneur… Lisa Kivirist wears many hats!

She and her husband, John Ivanko, run a B&B ecofarm in Wisconsin, and co-authored the most popular book for the cottage food industry: Homemade for Sale.

Lisa is a national speaker, runs a podcast, and was one of three plaintiffs in the lawsuit that gave Wisconsin bakers their freedom to sell. Most recently, she spearheaded a new project to help farmers make the most of their produce by selling it as cottage foods.

Lisa talks about living off the land, moving away from the corporate life-style, creatively packaging products, diversifying income streams, advocating for your laws, and everything in between.

How Many Products Should You Sell?

One mistake startups often make is offering customers too many choices. Initially this may seem backwards and unintuitive… wouldn’t you sell more if you had more to offer customers? Not necessarily.

Feasibility Study: Testing the Market

While you may have a great-tasting product, you still have to test it in the marketplace. It’s one thing if everyone you know loves your muffins — especially, if they’re free. It’s something completely different to see if customers will buy them at two dollars a pop. This process of testing the market for your products is often called a feasibility study; it may take the following route: