Perfect Poundcakes Founder Tamika Mitchell took a well-loved family recipe and turned it into a thriving bakery. She spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about starting and growing her business.
NAN PRICE: Have you always been entrepreneurial?
TAMIKA MITCHELL: Yes. It’s truly in my spirit. It’s something I can’t shut off. I think it’s in my blood. My father was an entrepreneur who owned several record shops when I was growing up. So, a lot of what I’ve learned about work ethic and how to treat others was instilled in me at a young age. Also, family values. We always have three generations at the shop: my or my husband’s parents, our children, and me.
NAN: Tell us when, why, and how you decided to open a bakery.
TAMIKA: My husband and I had been making poundcake for friends and family for years—everyone was always asking for it and loving the new flavor combinations I created. Our decision to rent a commercial kitchen was a gut feeling. I love baking. It’s my passion. We thought we could create a business, so we took a leap of faith.
When we started looking for a space, we ran into a problem because there wasn’t one for us to rent locally. In June 2016, we found a space to rent in New Haven, which was the closest commercial kitchen I could find. I’d go there, bake the products, and sell at farmer’s markets and wholesale to restaurants.
While I was working out of the commercial kitchen in New Haven, I realized that I wanted to help others launch their businesses, so when I opened up my bakery, I rented out my kitchen. I’m proud to say, I helped six other people launch their businesses.
For Perfect Poundcakes, it took about a year to recognize we were on to something and we could bring it to the next level. I had an “a-ha moment” when we sold out at the markets every weekend. That’s when we started looking for a storefront. That had its challenges, too. We didn’t want to have a ton of loans and overhead. We wanted to be able to financially support the business on our own.
We initially started looking in Vernon but wound up in East Hartford. The town has been so supportive by providing guidance about what we needed to do as a business, including license requirements and the floor plan. When we found our location, we had to gut it and the building department walked us through what we needed to do to bring the building up to code. We had the planning and zoning department involved, too. We opened our storefront in April 2018.
NAN: In addition to receiving guidance from the town East Hartford, have you utilized any other local business resources?
TAMIKA: When I realized the business was taking off so quickly, I wanted to learn more about all aspects of business ownership, so I started taking as many classes as I could through the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center and Women’s Business Center to continue to educate myself.
Recently, I learned about reSET. I started participating some of their programming and I just got accepted to their Food Incubator Program. I’ve already received some guidance. reSET sent me a list of other resources I can reach out to; I’m even looking into creating boxes for shipping. So, they’ve helped connect me with the right people to try to figure out what I need to do to get to the next level.
I also got in touch with some other local business owners who have been very successful as my mentors. Some started in similar situations as me and they’ve really taken off. So, I have some people in my ears cheering me along behind the scenes, saying yes to this, no to that, and maybe you should think about this, too.
In terms of getting our name out there, we try to tap into as many resources as we can. We do big events, like the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz, and we still sell at farmers’ markets. We’ve participated in some events through Corporate Kiosk Connections, which helps connect specialty retail vendors with corporate businesses and some state offices. Also, our customers have been amazing at guiding us. They’ve provided a lot of suggestions about getting involved in different things.
NAN: Let’s talk about some of the trials and tribulations of business ownership. How have you evolved over time?
TAMIKA: We’ve made a bunch of pivots. With our initial plan to have a bakery to sell wholesale, I wasn’t thinking about doing retail. But the town of East Hartford encouraged us to create a storefront so retail traffic could walk in.
Our hours were another adjustment. To capture another audience of customers, we had to adapt our timeframe and stay open later to accommodate people getting out of work.
Also, when we originally started, we were just making and selling entire poundcakes. We quickly realized people wanted to try the product, but they didn’t necessarily want a whole cake. So, we had to adjust by creating “poundcups,” a cupcake version of our poundcake. They took off once we started making them because people liked that they could try a variety of flavors. We also adjusted to meet our customers’ needs by tapping into specialty cakes for birthdays and other occasions. So, now we offer a lot of options.
NAN: How has your business been affected by COVID-19?
TAMIKA: I’m glad East Hartford encouraged us to have a storefront, because, during the pandemic, that’s helped us survive. About 80% of our profit has been from retail.
For us, that’s been the silver lining to COVID-19. So many people were at home and online. We quickly transitioned our website. It seemed like people were finding us left and right! They were ordering online and we would deliver right to their car.
NAN: Any future goals?
TAMIKA: My ultimate goal is to own a commercial building where I can produce at a larger scale and create more product. I’d like to get into gifting market. I’d also like to open other locations. I’m grateful for others’ guidance as I started out and our business has been growing, so I hope to pay it forward by helping others, too.