Passion to Persevere: 2017 Icing Funds Winners

The team at Easy Peasy Decadent Desserts
 
When Erik and Traci Rankins of Easy Peasy Decadent Desserts found out they’d won a $5,000 first prize in Flavor Right’s 2017 Icing Funds Contest, their kitchen literally turned into a dance floor. “We were stunned and so excited! We’ve had a tough road but we’ve persevered, so having our story of what we’ve endured be part of how we won the contest was a huge boost,” Traci Rankins says. “We were dancing around the kitchen like little kids.”

Founded in 2013 in Greensboro, North Carolina, Easy Peasy Decadent Desserts plans to use its winnings to expand a successful French macaron business. Macarons account for about 10 percent of total sales at the bakery, and Rankins expects that percentage to climb to roughly 25 percent in the coming year. “We had a desire to start shipping our French macarons, but didn’t have the extra cash flow to invest in the special packaging needed,” Traci Rankins explains. “Since we won, we have contracted with a box manufacturer to make custom boxes for this purpose. They’re beautiful and exactly what we needed to launch this project.”

High hopes for the future are also evident for the Icing Funds Contest’s other first-prize winner, Sarah Rhoades, owner of Sprinkleista Bakery in Schenectady, New York. She plans to purchase a new oven with her $5,000 winnings. This prize is the culmination of much hard work for Rhoades, who graduated from Schenectady County Community College in 2008 with a baking concentrated degree.

Rhoades was eager to start her career as a professional baker and cake decorator. For eight years, she worked in various bakeries, took high-level decorating and baking classes and attended trade shows to learn as much as possible. When she opened Sprinkleista Bakery, it had been a dream in the making for 12 years.

“Winning this prize will literally change my life, and take the bakery to the next level,” Rhoades says. “I always had two or three jobs at a time working as many hours in a week as I could to save up for the bakery. I waited tables a lot over the years, and I was always baking and bringing in treats for people.”

One of the places where she waited tables was a very small cafe called Ambition. One day the owner came to her and said, “If you’re really serious about this bakery thing, you know you can always open here.” So, Rhoades started small, selling cupcakes at the counter of the cafe just to test the waters. In 2015 she opened Sprinkleista Bakery — literally in the employee coat room of Ambition Cafe.

Sarah Rhoades, owner of Sprinkleista Bakery
 
Flavor Right rolled out its Icing Funds Contest for 2017, after a successful 2016 promotion in which independent retail bakery owners from across the country submitted their unique stories. Entrants were asked to complete a submission form on Flavor Right’s Facebook page, telling their bakery’s story, their inspirations and their dreams for their business.

Five bakeries were second-prize winners in the 2017 Icing Funds Contest: The Bakery Nook in Coplay, Pennsylvania; Choux Cake Studio in Jacksonville, Florida; Tip Top Cake Shop in Easley, South Carolina; Baker’s Bounty in Linden, New Jersey; and Sweetness Bakeshop & Cafe in Miami. Each second-prize winner received $2,000.

Traci Rankins says they were approached about the contest during a visit by their Flavor Right sales representative. Immediately, they were all in. “I’ve been a chef for 30 years, and had been doing private chef work in Winston-Salem when my husband and I got married in 2011,” she recalls. “In 2012, we were at our local farmer’s market, and I commented that it might be fun to sell cupcakes there on the weekend. He thought that was a great idea and bought us a tent, table, a banner, and all the packaging. Three weeks later we started selling on Saturdays. Pretty soon that expanded to include Fridays and Sundays. We’d sell out every day, and I was baking from home, so it was quite a job to keep up with demand.”

Soon, the Rankins were baking six days a week, and what started as a fun side gig turned into a full-time business “that was taking over our house! The next spring, we found a space for a brick and mortar shop, invested in the up-fit, and opened in June 2013. Later that year, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, but we just weren’t going to give up on the bakery. So, through radiation, chemo, and several surgeries, we hung on and even continued to grow as a business. Now, five years later, we couldn’t be happier or prouder of how far we have come and our fantastic bakery team!”

Rhoades shares that, for the first year and a half, she ran her little bakery out of a closet-sized kitchen, “before I realized that I didn’t have enough space to be a profitable business. I knew I had to make a change to be where I wanted to be and that started the hardest year of my life. I didn’t have enough money to move, but I couldn’t make enough money in that tiny space. So, I started waitressing again on top of running my bakery.”

Rhoades worked days at a time without sleeping. “I would sleep for 30 minutes in the car in a parking lot, or in a booth at the cafe. When I opened the doors to the new bakery last fall, I knew everything would be worth it.” Fortunately, her first day proved the start of something big. “On our first day open, a Tuesday, we sold out of everything in the cases. People were raving about how much they missed us and new customers were coming in saying how happy they were to have a bakery downtown. Everything I struggled for would be worth it. Now the bakery is thriving, and we even added soft serve ice cream! We have more orders a weekend than we can handle in our tiny oven, and we have lots of walk-in customers every day. I am so happy and so incredibly proud to be where I am now. I have the space to grow and continue to build this bakery.”