Debra Sandlin never planned on opening a bakery. It just kind of happened over time. What started as a bonding time baking with her mother at a young age soon became a necessary skill to help her family after the loss of her mother. Then, as a teenager, baking was a way for her to fill idle time and turned into a creative outlet that followed Debra throughout her life. Eventually, many years later, her skills at creating beautiful baked goods turned into a thriving business.
Growing up in a large family on a tight budget, store-bought cookies and cakes were definitely a special treat – and limited. However, Debra learned that she and her siblings could enjoy more sweet treats if she baked them. And so, leaning on the baking memories with her mother, she started to practice her skills with flour and sugar. And at 12-years-old, she successfully made her first cream puff.
Over the years, and through many stages of life, Debra’s love of baking came in handy while trying to keep food costs down when times were lean. However, it never occurred to her to start a business. Again, baking was something she did out of necessity – and fun – as she raised her own family while working full-time.
REDISCOVERING HER INTERESTS
Once her children became older, Debra had a little more time to expand her skills by learning to decorate cakes and sculpt with fondant. Nieces, nephews, and grandkids gave her the opportunity to practice making themed decorative cakes.
Word quickly spread about her talents and soon requests from other family and friends started trickling in. Technically, still not a business, Debra couldn’t sell her cakes, so she limited her baking to close relatives and friends. Then, Missouri passed the Cottage Food law, which opened the door for her to fulfill more requests and actually sell her cakes.
It was still more of a hobby or side business than anything. However, just like all small business owners, there comes a day when we have to make a decision. We have to get off the fence and jump in with both feet or abandon ship. It was apparent that Debra’s cakes and cupcakes were a viable business opportunity, but to go into business meant she would have to give up her full-time job.
Such a major decision can be scary. Giving up a regular paycheck and take a chance on a business. Yet, with the encouragement of her husband, that’s exactly the direction Debra took.
TAKING A CHANCE
Armed with decades of experience making cakes along with a list of regular customers, Debra stepped out and officially opened her bakery a little over two years ago and is doing well. She seems to have the business acumen for it, too. Running a bakery, as with any business, is more than just whipping up a bowl of batter.
To get the word out about the new bakery, Debra and her husband sent out cards to all his landscaping customers inviting them to try the new bakery. Other family members stepped in to help as well. Her brother-in-law assisted with the website and a bit of the marketing while her sister gave her a hand with wedding clients. It worked and she has a steady stream of regular customers.
While Debra does the lion-share of the baking and day-to-day administrative duties, the support and help from other family members make it possible.
At the moment, like most of us who run our business, she’s putting in long hours. Coming up with scrumptious new flavors, searching for unique ingredients that give her the quality, color, and flavor that keeps customers coming back, and keeping everything running smoothly takes an incredible amount of time and energy. But every time I see her she has a huge smile on her face.
I asked her how she does it all.
In response to my question, she just laughed and said, “If I didn’t love it I wouldn’t work the hours”. But she also added that having the right support system in her family makes it possible.
More Than An Income
These days you’ll find her daughter, Amanda, by her side, learning the ins-and-outs of the business. And occasionally, her 13-year-old granddaughter steps in and gives a hand decorating cupcakes. (Maybe a new family business is in the making??)
You can see AND TASTE how much Debra loves what she does. The attention to detail is evident in everything. From the bakery decor to the presentation and flavors of the cupcakes and other baked goods. They are miniature works of art and taste as amazing as they look. I became a quick fan of her bakery after I discovered it not long after moving to Missouri.
I admire how hard she works and it reminds me of how under-appreciated entrepreneurs are. We focus on the big success stories and marvel at how much money some entrepreneurs make once they get their big break, but we forget about the years and years of hard work and meager budgets that came beforehand.
And sometimes the reward for entrepreneurs is bigger than the income.
While Sweets and Smiles is doing great, even seeing a 30% increase over last year, Debra admits that her business came at a time in her life when she was redefining who she was after years of investing herself into raising a family. She put so much energy into being a good mother and trying to prove herself that she hadn’t taken the time to develop her own interests. That is – until the opportunity for the bakery came along.
Debra loves the freedom to change and create; making her cookies, cupcakes, and cakes into whatever she wants them to be. She enjoys being able to take suggestions from customers, inspiration from other types of desserts, and then, like a scientist, experiment and brilliantly create flavor profiles to delight the tongue.
In the end, her greatest joy comes from the artistry of creating beautiful cakes that elicit a gasp and expression of joy from her customers the first time they lay eyes on their custom cake.
And like so many other business owners who initially never planned to start a business, everything has come full circle. Those bonding moments Debra shared with her mother as a little girl was more than just treasured memories. It was a seed, planted out of necessity at the time, but that seed has developed and grown with her over the years until it blossomed into a business. A business that is producing fruit which not only helped Debra redefine herself in a new phase in life, but is a source of joy and blessing for her, her family, and those who enjoy her treats. Not only that, but it has opened the door for other family members to follow in her footsteps if they so choose.
Sweets and Smiles Bakery is located at 14965 Business 13 Reeds Springs, MO 65737 Visit their Facebook page here.