After more than a decade in business and countless cakes later, Erika Oldham of Chic Sugars could finally be resting. The self-taught pastry chef has worked tirelessly to take her customers’ ideas and bring them to life as jaw-droppingly realistic, gravity-defying cake creations. Business for her Fort Lee, New Jersey, cake shop hasn’t slowed down during the pandemic. In fact, her customers’ dedication to supporting the shop’s endeavors is one of the things Oldham enjoys most about entrepreneurship.
With business booming and exciting plans on the way, Oldham has no plans to slow down anytime soon. And her next steps are sure to change the trajectory of her business.
The First Bake
Eleven years ago, Oldham set out to make a first birthday cake for her eldest daughter. While confidence carried her far, her lack of skills prohibited any real expression. “I got started by sheer accident. This was never part of my plan. I just had decided that I was gonna make my eldest daughter's 1st birthday cake, and I was watching Cake Boss and saw that they were able to do it in a half-hour and I thought I could too,” says Oldham.
It was a disaster. So much so that Oldham scrapped the whole cake idea and made cupcakes instead. The following year, she tried again. With each video tutorial she watched, and each attempt to craft that perfect cake, Oldham’s skills improved, launching her to where she is today.
The now completely self-taught baker had no idea she’d been learning what would become her full-time career.
Tweaking the Business Recipe
Like most small businesses during the pandemic, Oldham and her team adapted their business model to account for consumers’ change in priorities. With weddings, baby showers and extravagant birthdays, and most other gatherings that might call for a large cake, rendered essentially obsolete, Chic Sugars began to offer Quarantine Cakes. Instead of a cake that offered a minimum of 20 servings, Chic Sugars pivoted to offer a minimum of 10.
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And instead of a decline in business, Oldham saw an uptick of orders—perhaps from people finding any reason to celebrate in this tumultuous time. Up until August 2020, Chic Sugars was a one-woman show with Oldham baking 15 – 18 cakes per weekend all on her own.
With the growth in orders, Oldham was able to hire a team of decorators and bakers who help fill cake orders. And the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
Chic Sugars has inked an exclusive deal with American Dream mall, which will expose the brand to an even greater audience. Chic Sugars will be the exclusive provider of cakes and cupcakes as part of the malls’ birthday packages, which also include decorations and free admission for guests, and Oldham is beyond thrilled for the growth opportunity.
“They’ll still be customized cakes… we've just scaled them down to something much, much more simplified. But cakes will still be [made to] order. We're giving customers three options to choose from, and they can still add some tweaks to customize those,” says Oldham, who quit her office manager job in 2013 to focus solely on Chic Sugars.
But with the exciting plans to scale the business, Oldham doesn’t want the process to grow so much that she loses direct insight into the quality. She’s considering opening more shops but wants to do it in an intentional way, so it’s still manageable and still reflects the careful consideration that has made her sweet treats popular thus far.
“I don't want to be a cake boss where we're just a normal cookie-cutter type place and we're mass-producing. So that's why I was thinking of expanding to smaller locations where we can still maintain the artisanal aspect of our brand and the very personal touch,” says Oldham.
A Professional Touch
At this point in her career, Oldham is a seasoned veteran of the cake world. And she’s full of nuggets of wisdom. “People get so wrapped up, and they fall in love with the idea of entrepreneurship that very rarely do people actually focus on the actual business side of it,” says Oldham. “My advice is always to know the numbers, know the actual business.”
And her advice for those who want to try their hand at tackling a large, elaborate cake for a special event? Oldham advises you to leave it up to the professionals. But for the brave, Chic Sugars has put together a cake kit that sends blank cakes, supplies icing and more, straight to your door.
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After more than a decade of making sweet treats, it’s hard to surprise Oldham at this point. But with the pandemic affecting event-related businesses, what struck her the most was the kindness of people. “There were people wanting to make sure that the business was solid. I’ve had clients who have become friends. The kindness of others has definitely been surprising.”