Christmas is my favorite Holiday. I like it all; from the over the top decorations to the never-ending Holiday movies. But my most treasured pastime is dinner with my family. Every year we all sit together to laugh and reflect on the year’s special memories. Then finally, we close the night with a slice of cake in celebration of our actual reason for celebration, Jesus Christ’s birthday. But, as you can imagine this year will be different. There will be no togetherness or Holiday cake. Everything will be virtual.
So, to at least try and recreate some of those feelings I spoke with Erica Oldham, founder of Chic Sugars, a full-service bakery based in New Jersey. Erica has created cakes for talents such as Nicki Minaj, Jay-Z, Missy Elliot, and more. In our discussion, we chatted about a few ways to celebrate the Holidays safely, her unique career path, and of course advice for entrepreneurs.
Erica didn’t expect to create Chic Sugars. In fact, until one year on her daughter’s birthday, she hadn’t even baked a box cake. However, being a fan of the television show Cake Boss, she became dedicated to creating a cake of that magnitude. It took lots of determination and hard work but as time passed her skills became sharper and she started selling cakes to peers and colleagues. Through word of mouth and intentional networking Erica became the go-to person for elaborate cakes in the tri-state area and beyond.
“As an entrepreneur, you can’t be afraid to get out there and pitch your business, you never know who may be interested. I would tell everyone, I remember seeing Emily and Fab in New York, and I walked right up to them and handed Emily a business card.” It was this mindset that landed her a partnership with popular NY radio station Hot 97. Whenever the station had a special event, she’d create their custom cake. And as demand grew, she decided to leave the comfort of her traditional career. “I’m a numbers person. I was already doing well by creating cakes in my off-time. I remember simply doing the math, if I dedicate “X” more hours to Chic Sugars, I could make even more than what I’m making.”
And that’s exactly what happened, as word spread, her demand grew immensely.
Erica’s hustle remains out of this world, but like many, a balance has become a major difficulty for her. “I have the mentality that you only eat what you kill. As an entrepreneur, you have to think like that. I remember once I agreed to an event in August but got pregnant in November. I delivered on my due date, and the next day I was back in the kitchen baking!”
Erica’s career path is very non-traditional. Prior to creating Chic Sugars, she worked in social work and even attended law school but her goal has always been consistent, to help others. Through, The Birthday Party Project, she’s able to help homeless children celebrate their special day by providing cakes. The non-profit partners with homeless shelters to celebrate kid’s birthdays monthly. “Cakes are great but if we can uplift the community it’s even more important.”
Unfortunately after a time, burnout happened. And after suffering a back injury and many missed moments, Erica was strongly considering changing career paths. However, when COVID-19 happened, the demand of clients reignited her passion. “We’ve been very busy from “Zarties,” Zoom parties. We’ve put cakes in jars and shipped them out so others can virtually enjoy them with their loved ones. We’ve done cake and sips, where customers decorate cakes while enjoying alcoholic beverages. We even sell cake kits, this consists of three layers of cake and all the decorations needed with a picture of how the cake should look. This can be nice for date night, or to entertain the kids.” Finally, they sell their popular Quarantine cakes, small treats perfect for small gatherings.
Today her resume includes Food Network, a client list of celebrities and influencers, and a thriving business with plans of expansion. When asked how she knew when she “made it” her response was very surprising. “I knew I made it when I felt undervalued,” she replied. “A country club reached out about Chic Sugars doing all of their weddings and special events. And I just didn’t like the way they were speaking to me, it sounded disrespectful. Then, they accidently sent me a client invoice instead of a personal one. And I learned that while they paid me $400 per cake they were charging the client $1000. All they were doing was taking the cake out the fridge, yet the company was making a $600 profit off my efforts.” This experience taught her a valuable lesson about knowing her worth, as all entrepreneurs should.”
I throughly enjoyed my interview with Erica. She’s very down to earth and her hardworking spirit shines through in conversation. Her transparent journey speaks to the importance of dedication, hard work, and relationship-building. I’m excited to try a few cakes in a jar and of course the cake and sip! I hope her story inspires you or at least provides some cheer during this unique Holiday season.
- Kirby Carroll Wright (@askKirbyCarroll)