The Sugar Sisters baked for Donnie Wahlberg!Read More
What would it feel like to know that you could do anything that you want to do? That you could be anything?
Wouldn't it feel amazing to know that all you had to do was pursue your dreams and you could be anything?
Growing up we were fortunate to have a lot of strong examples in our lives of independent women pursuing their dreams:
Our Grandmother. The one that taught us how to own the kitchen, also taught us you could have anything if you just reached out for it. She was not highly educated, nor did she work in a career or even have a paying job most of her life. That being said, there is precious value in the lesson of surviving the greatest depression the country has known and doing anything to hold your family together while your husband served his country overseas in the War. Our Grandmother taught us to be strong, to love fiercely and the power of being well-respected. She was loved by all because she was a loving woman. Be kind, be gentle, be fair, love life, laugh, surround yourself with family and friends. To know that she survived what she did and kept her six children safe and healthy, then went on to have an amazing life---that was inspiration to know we could do anything too.
Our Aunt Donna. The independent career professional that taught us we could be anything. She was a psychologist that embarked upon having a family while doing her thesis and traveling the world with our uncle while he was in the Army. In fact, her first child was born when they were stationed over in Germany. Our uncle later became an attorney and they moved to Chicago and later our little hometown. Not surprisingly, our family's love of food took hold and even though both had professional careers they also opened a small pizza restaurant. Although they had the restaurant briefly, it was a lesson that you could do MANY different things in life at the same time.
Our Mother. She taught us perserverance and to keep pursuing our dreams. Finding herself pregnant at 18 with an absent husband, she had the courage to leave so that she and her daughter could have a future. She went on to re-marry, add to her family and put herself through nursing school. You CAN reinvent your life.
We are career reinventers ourselves. Most of you know we had different careers but you probably don't know the story of how hard it was for us to bring about The Sugar Path. Unfortunately we did not receive a lot of support from the people in our career circles to pursue our passion. When we had to choose how to make more time for The Sugar Path and grow our business, they made it an easy choice for us to leave our day jobs. We decided to surround ourselves with people that were supportive instead. That choice made all the difference in the world, not just in our business, but in us personally. It was very hard to leave jobs we had worked so hard for and to lose the income of those jobs while building a new business. But because of our upbringing and determination, we kept going. What we discovered on the journey has a value that we could not imagine now never having. What if we had not tried because of fear?
We want a life filled with variety and passion and know that we can do many things on this big beautiful journey. We want to encourage others to have the same. There will be people who will doubt you, who will laugh at you, who will try and tell you what you SHOULD be doing with your life and how to do it. If you listen to the doubters and the naysayers you may not have what you really want in life---your dreams. You CAN do many things in life---and even do many things at the same time if you choose. It WILL require work and you may have to make sacrifices. But it's worth it. Trust us.
When you stand on the precipice and know that you can be anything and do anything if only you will try---that is an amazing moment. You WILL have failures. Just like Thomas Edison failed 999 times trying to create the lightbulb (aren't you glad he kept trying?) But if you keep going and you surround yourself with people that encourage and inspire you, you WILL achieve. The journey is so amazing if only you will start.
Not everyone has people in their lives that encourage them they can be anything. However, there are a lot of wonderful mentors out there and these mentors are more accessible than ever through social media.
It is a joyous occasion to be the recipient of an award. It is an even bigger joy to be notified that you won a contest sponsored by Barbara Corcoran and that an element of the prize is traveling to New York City to meet her in person. That happened to us recently. Barbara Corcoran and OnDeck Financial sponsored a contest for small business owners. We entered the contest detailing what we would do with a cash prize and national social media exposure. The recent launch of our new cake jars (a slice of cake in a portable jar that we ship nationwide) seemed a perfect product fit for the contest and we wrote an essay describing how the cash money would help launch the product by helping us to buy labels and necessary shipping supplies. Because we want to sell our product nationwide, the exposure of the contest fit our needs well. We jotted off our essay and crossed our fingers.
In December we were notified by OnDeck that we were chosen as one of three finalists! What an amazing feeling to be chosen! Some of the deciding factors included our plan for the money as well as our usage of social media. While we were so excited to receive a cash prize that would help us pay for necessary expenses of our new product, we were more excited to be offered the chance to meet Barbara Corcoran and have a private consulting session with her. We did not hesitate in agreeing to travel to New York City---not even when we learned that we only had a short time to plan the trip and that the trip would fall on the same day of a very large catering order! We pulled our team together and none of us hesitated---the Sugar Sisters would travel to New York City and the rest of #teamsugarpath would pull off the order!
We packed a lot of cake jars for the trip. Thankfully so, because our flight was slightly delayed and we were stuck on the plane. We still had plenty when we arrived at the OnDeck office in Times Square. We were fortunate to meet so many wonderful people from OnDeck and spend time talking to them.
We will never forget that moment that Barbara Corcoran arrived in the OnDeck conference room where we were all meeting. As she walked into the room, the air seemed to change. While she is small in stature, her presence is larger than life. Barbara is one of the friendliest, kindest people we have met on this journey. We were quite taken with her personality---down-to-earth and so easy to talk to, yet so powerful and impressive. We got to spend an hour with her for one-on-one consulting. That hour flew! We wish we could get ten more! Our discussion with her has helped us so much already. Not only have we put into action some of the things she advised us on, merely speaking to her about our business plan helped us in other ways too.
By planning for the meeting with Barbara and speaking our plan out loud we have been reminded why we started our business, who we are, and the direction we want to take for our business. Sometimes, (read--OFTEN), you start a business with a plan and that plan changes as you go along. Our baking business is fast-paced and we are often too busy to really "work" on our business plan or to make sure we are making decisions that go along with our plan. Barbara not only provided us with great advice for our new cake jars, the subject of the contest, but she also gave us advice on our business in general. We were excited to hear she loved our ideas and that she thinks we are doing great!. That was a great boost to us because we hold a great deal of respect and admiration for her.
Since meeting with Barbara and receiving the money from OnDeck we have launched our Cake Jars and have been selling them on our website and shipping nationwide. We have launched gift boxes with our Cake Jars as well. Additionally, since we specialize in weddings and event catering, the launch of more items for weddings and events have made their way on our product list. . . .and, we have lots more to come!
This year has been a great one for us because we have not only focused more on our business plan, we have been following our passions, building our team and following Barbara's important advice on something very specific. Want to hear more about what that was? You can retain the Sugar Sisters to speak at your event by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to know more about our cake jars? You can find them on our website!
We also have packages for all of life's celebrations!
We are excited that the business advice we received from Barbara, the award we received from On Deck and the business planning we did have all moved us further on our path. We are so excited at the possibilities of the future and we have many more ideas we hope to implement.
One of our best selling line of cakes--whether as a layer cake or in cake jar form is our Celebration Cakes. This is what we do---we help others Celebrate: birthdays, parties, weddings, events. Even everyday moments in life are to be celebrated. For us, we will always celebrate that day we met Barbara Corcoran and she helped us with our vision.
On November 11, 2015 our bakery celebrated four years in business. This weekend we also celebrate the third anniversary of our first storefront. When we look back on our journey it seems a little unbelievable to us that we have come so far.
Our love of food and gathering started when we were kids. We lived in a small town (much smaller than Geneva) and many people grew their own fruits and vegetables. Our great-grandparents on our mother's side were from Ferentino, Italy and when they settled in Illinois they started a vegetable farm. The entire family would help in the fields and then our great-grandfather ("Pa") would drive them to the City. Al Capone was one of his customers. Pa did a lot more than tend the fields--he also made wine and was the head cook. He taught everyone how to make the Ravioli and the sugo.
Our grandmother Mary always hated working in the fields and was sent inside to care for the children and do the cooking. These are areas where she excelled, and she continued to be known for her abilities in cooking the most amazing food for a large amount of people throughout her lifetime, as well as becoming the beloved and best friend of nearly every child and adult near and far. She and our grandfather, Don, married young --she was 21 and he was 19. They married just before he left for the Army during World War II. They were separated for many years but fortunately our grandfather returned to raise a family---a large family of six children and nine grandchildren. After 40 plus years of service he retired from the Army and became a farmer of sorts himself---a vegetable garden that spanned his property, an orchard of fruit, vines of grapes, blackberries and raspberries, and more. We learned early on how to hoe a garden, plant a seed, grow it and pick its fruit. We learned the difference between a raspberry and a black raspberry and how to make it into jelly. We learned how to climb a ladder, pick the cherries, pit them (by hand) and turn them into pie with our grandmother's instruction.
Our love of food was born in a family that loved food. When you plant something from a seed, care for it and grow it, it becomes a part of you. We ate by the seasons. In spring, there was spinach, dandelion salad, early lettuce and radishes. Summer and fall were bountiful with tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, beans, lettuce, onions, eggplant, carrots, herbs, and plentiful fruits. In winter we had root vegetables harvested late (potatoes, rutabaga, squash) stored in the basement, as well as jars of tomato sauce, jams and pickled vegetables, and all of the frozen items (even herbs). Cooking came naturally, recipes were not needed.
My most favorite childhood memory is any gathering that occurred at the table. There was the meal and then dessert with coffee. The smell of coffee always reminds me of my grandfather. He loved dessert and coffee and he indulged in it every single night. (until his death at 89). Upon reflection I believe he felt it was his little pleasure after working all day (even after retirement he was the hardest working man I have ever known---he arose early and kept working outside all day long until dinnertime). After the dishes (which he washed every night) he would stroll over to the old Bunn coffeemaker and get out his Folger's and the smell of the coffee dripping would bring everyone back to the kitchen to gather for dessert.
When you gather---whether just for dinner or for a family party---amazing things happen. People talk, they laugh and suddenly the daily burdens are lifted, even if for just a little while.
When you pursue a job or a career you often ask the question "what do I like?" For us, when we decided to chase a dream to have a business we answered that question with "food and gathering". I had taken an interest in cakes when my children were young and started to study the science of them and decorating techniques. Nina had become amazing with pie dough and had managed a restaurant for ten years. While working other jobs we often gathered together on the weekends to bake and develop recipes. At some point we decided to experiment with Farmer's markets and selling our products there.
Looking back, when we started our business we did not have a clue what we were doing. We just loved food and wanted to share it. It was exciting for us to see others love the food we created as well. But as our business grew we realized we had to learn how to run a food business. Every business is different. When you run a food business you need to get food certified and you need to learn and comply with the rules of your local health department and the State. You actually don't just make food and sell it. It's really not that simple. Our journey brought us to the point of creating this business. Now we were about to embark on the real adventure of opening our storefront. . .
(to be continued)
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They told us we were crazy when we told them that we were going to quit our stable, paying, professional jobs and open a bakery together. Some (namely Michelle's husband) requested (read "begged) us not to. They told us it wouldn't work. They told us it wouldn't be worth it. They must have forgotten that our heritage is Italian and Italian women are fighters who rise to a challenge.
We did it anyway. . .and here we are, a long way from the professional, heel-wearing, briefcase toting, dolled up girls we used to be. Nowadays we wear flour-coated jeans and aprons. Nina has developed an affinity for her pink crocs and is never seen without them. Our hair is always up, our faces are smudged with chocolate and we sport tattoos (read "oven burns") on our arms. We climb ladders to change filters, do dishes endlessly and scoop drains when needed. Eighteen hour days find us crooning to The Dixie Chicks, baking away, waiting on customers and trying to keep up with emails.
We truly had no clue. We have learned a lot. If we had it to do over again we would definitely do things differently. BUT, we would never give up where we are right now for anything. Owning your own business is hard. That simple phrase cannot encompass how hard it actually is. But if it were easy, everyone would do it. If it were easy, it just might not be worth it.
We LOVE what we do. Every week we will try to give you a glimpse into our life. Follow along here for real life stories of two sisters turned bakery owners, recipes, baking tips and a whole lot more.
We may be Islands in the stream, but honestly, it doesn't get much better than Kenny and Dolly.