Competitive baker Charlise Johnson opens new shop in Georgia.
Charlise Johnson is the chef and owner of In My Fillings cupcake shop in Suwanee, Georgia. Her unique business model offers customers an opportunity to make their own cupcakes by combining different base cakes, icings and toppings. She opened her first, what she calls the “Chipotle for cupcakes,” style location during the pandemic in November 2020 and aspires to open locations across the country. A competitive baker, Johnson has been featured on the Food Network, Bravo and VH1.
Johnson’s earliest memory of baking cakes was as a child in her Easy-Bake Oven. Her mother, Joyce Jenkins, has a catering and event venue in Pine Level, North Carolina, and she taught Johnson how to bake, serve and run a business.
After graduating with a degree in computer science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Johnson worked full-time in Atlanta as a database developer. But her true passion was baking. She opened a home-based cottage bakery called Intimate Eats, through which she made custom cakes during nights and weekends. She worked seven days a week for about six years. “It was a lot of work and I never had any time off,” she says. Meanwhile, Johnson won second place on Food Network’s “Cake Wars” in 2016 and competed on “Holiday Wars” in 2020.
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Flavors to Please
Last year, Johnson turned 40 years old and wanted to ensure that she had taken the time to pursue her ideas and dreams. She still liked to bake, but cake decorating involved laboring over fondant and piping for countless hours. She quit her corporate job and opened a brick-and-mortar cupcake shop in the suburbs of Atlanta. “I got the idea when my clients came for cake tastings and were looking to mix and match the flavors,” Johnson says about her new concept. At In My Fillings, customers can walk into the store and design their own cupcake combinations on the spot.
Choices include made-from-scratch five base cake flavors offered every day (including sweet potato and red velvet), five fillings (like crushed pineapple and chocolate ganache), seven icings (such as salted caramel, buttercream and peanut butter), and eight toppings (for instance pretzels, pecans and coconut). Seasonal flavors may include summer lemon, carrots, or Georgia peaches, and Johnson happily accommodates off-menu requests as well. She recently made vanilla cupcakes with guava filing for a pickup.
The custom-created cupcakes are especially popular with kids celebrating birthday parties and bar mitzvahs. “Thankfully, I have a lot of repeat customers. I get calls for cakes every day, but I tell them to buy a cupcake instead,” humors Johnson.
When asked about what it was like to open a new business during the pandemic, Johnson responds, “Just like any other time. I never had a storefront before, so I don’t know what it should have been like. It’s not any different than opening a business at another time, except there’s more uncertainty.”
Johnson took a leap of faith leaving her comfortable paycheck to start her own business during uncertain times, but she feels it was worth it. “There’s a lot more to business than baking cupcakes. I have to deal with administrative paperwork, manage employees, and serve customers. It takes different skillsets, but I am learning them over time. The idea of running your own business may seem scary, but if you take small steps, you can do it,”
Johnson motivates others just as her mom and mentors encouraged her. She advises entrepreneurs to reach out to the city about business licensing requirements and to speak to other small business owners about their learnings.
Though In My Fillings has been open for only a few months, Johnson is already dreaming of hiring a business manager and expanding to locations all over the country so that she can focus exclusively on baking cupcakes. “Regardless of what happens, I feel great knowing that I did it.”
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To learn more about Charlise Johnson or her cupcakes, visit In My Fillings. The storefront in Suwanee is located at 2855 Lawrenceville Suwanee Road Suite 780. You can also follow along on Facebook and Instagram.