Bria Day is a bold baker, a humble humanitarian, and the owner of Disheveled Diva. Although she works full-time at Cigna, she turned her passion for baking and giving back to the community into a cottage food business that creates bespoke sweet treats and makes a local impact.

MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Bria about her experience starting a cottage food business in the Hartford area.

NAN PRICE: Have you always been entrepreneurial or known you wanted to start a business?

BRIA DAY: I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I started my first nonprofit, I Want to Walk the Talk Chicago in 2008. I moved to Connecticut to take a job at Cigna in 2014 and, in 2016, I co-founded Girls on the Run Greater Hartford, another nonprofit. So, starting something new from scratch isn’t foreign to me. However, even though I spent many of my formative years working front of the house jobs at restaurants, moving into the food space as a business owner was new.

NAN: How did you develop the concept for Disheveled Diva?

BRIA: In 2018, I started watching cake tutorial videos on Instagram. I was mesmerized and thought it was something I’d like to try. I bought some equipment and began experimenting and baking some cakes. But I didn’t want to eat them all! So, I found a small group of individuals who were willing to take a cake less one slice so I could try my recipes.

That triggered a thought. I was involved in Girls On The Run and the Junior League of Hartford. I wondered if I could fundraise for those organizations—sort of like a modern day bake sale where people could donate money. I set it up so with qualifying donations, so if you donated a certain dollar amount you received a certain baked product. Through that I raised thousand of dollars for both organizations.

Then, when then the pandemic hit in 2020, I took a step back to reevaluate what I felt safe doing. I looked at the cost of what I had invested myself to raise money and decided to go through the process of getting my cottage food license. Thus, Disheveled Diva was officially born.

With an established business, I’m still able to create delicious treats while continuing to give back to my community.

NAN: How did you figure out how to get started?

BRIA: It’s mostly been self-navigation. And then here and there, I’ve made community connections. For example, I went through the Leadership Greater Hartford Quest Program in 2018, which is where I met Hartford Chamber of Commerce Director of Small Business Development Shannon Mumley.

Also, through one of my Quest relationships, I got introduced to Beth Bolton, who is now an entrepreneur coach an author. While she still owned A Little Something Cake Studio, she allowed me to shadow her in her kitchen for a couple of weeks, which was amazing. I learned a lot about the bakery side of business.

I also connected with INGroup Creative Co-Founder Jeannette Dardenne, an awesome resource in the entrepreneur community, who introduced me to you!

As far as getting started, the state of Connecticut has a good process that’s very transparent with a clear outline of what you need to do. So, it was fairly easy to go through the steps.

NAN: How have you been building clientele and getting the word out?

BRIA: It’s been organic growth through word of mouth and referrals from people and the nonprofits I’ve supported. I’ve also been using social media.

From a consumer experience perspective, because I work full time and I do Disheveled Diva during my mornings, nights, and weekends, I tried to launch a website that was very customer-friendly, where you can customize any products you want to order. I feel like a lot of businesses that do this type of baking don’t have an e-commerce buyer mindset. They have more high-touch conversations, which, of course, I’m happy to do. With most of my clients, I’m communicating via text or social media. At this point, while I have some new clients, I have a solid repeat base, which has been so much fun!

NAN: As someone who’s working full-time and launching a side business, how do you find alignment?

BRIA: I feel like having a creative outlet makes me better professionally. I’m very passionate about the work I do at Cigna. That’s why I moved to this community. Starting Disheveled Diva was just a happy accident that enables me to learn so many different skills. As an entrepreneur, you’re everything from the content creator to the art director. And, in my case, I’m the baker, the dishwasher, the customer service line. It exercises a lot of brain muscles, which I get during my workday too, but this is just different—and it’s more fun. I mean, you can’t get stressed out about sugar and sweets and making delicious desserts!

NAN: What’s next?

BRIA: I love the idea of packaging and making things look beautiful. So, I would like to launch Disheveled Diva as a consumer packaged goods brand and have extensions that can be carried elsewhere. I can’t do that with a cottage food license right now.

The growth plan would be to move into a commercial kitchen space and set myself up that way to expand and scale. I’ve also started launching some of my elements independently, like my buttercream.

I recently started baking rainbow challah that can be paired with my buttercream. And, it can be made into an incredible French toast! I’ve also been getting requests for dessert bars, which allows me to truly showcase many of my treats and popular items.

NAN: Would you bring on a team at some point?

BRIA: Yes, I 100% want to make Disheveled Diva be someone else’s job. I would love to create jobs with this business.

NAN: Any advice for others?

BRIA: The cottage food license is an awesome gateway to dipping your toe in the water. I commend the state for passing that legislation, which became effective in 2018. It’s a way to have really low operating expenses and be able to sell your goods legally and test things out. For anyone thinking about it, it’s so much fun. I highly encourage anyone to try it out.

Learn more about Disheveled Diva | Facebook | Instagram

Disheveled Diva Owner Bria Day photo courtesy Jamie Bannon Photography