North Salem small business spotlight: Cole’s Cakes
There was a moment–many moments, in fact–when Nicole Utschig was ready to pack up her stand mixer and call it quits. The North Salem resident had launched Cole’s Cakes in May of 2021. By late that summer, orders for her custom layer cakes, cupcakes and macarons had dwindled. Utschig wondered if she needed to put her passion on the back burner, and focus on a job that would provide a steady and sufficient paycheck.
Despite the slow start, Utschig’s family encouraged her to keep going. Her fiance, Jonathan Perez, pointed to research that showed that summer months are historically slow for the baking industry. “You work so hard,” he told Utschig. “You can do this.”
Utschig didn't want to give up baking but she had realities to consider. She had a young son at home, and needed to make sure she could support him. She decided to take a job with a paycheck, working as a barn manager at a horse farm in North Salem. Nights and weekends were spent toiling away at Cole’s Cakes, one custom order at a time.
For Utschig, baking was a way for her to stay busy–and sane–during the pandemic. “Baking was always an outlet for me, a form of therapy and a way to get out of my head,” she said.
“Slowly Cole’s Cakes started to build and build and build,” Utschig recalled. “I was like, I’m running out of time, I don’t have time in the day. People wanted deliveries Friday afternoons, plus there were retail orders,” (Utschig had already made inroads at North Salem eateries Hayfields and The Market at Union Hall, which were both selling her vegan, gluten-free cupcakes). “I didn’t know what to do,” Utschig recalled. “Leave a comfortable paycheck to go out on a whim for something that’s not guaranteed?”
Utschig wrestled with which path to pursue, but ultimately the universe helped make the decision for her. On the last day of March 2022, the barn where Utschig worked closed; she was out of a job.
“I took it as a sign,” Utschig said. “Since then, I’ve been all in on Cole’s Cakes and it has definitely paid off. It’s been so worth it.”
Just three months since Utschig threw herself into pursuing her dream job running her own cupcake business, Cole’s Cakes is thriving. The business has a steady stream of custom orders, is being sold in more local shops–including Harvest Moon and the recently opened Daniel’s on June–and is a vendor at the Mt. Kisco Sunday farmer’s market.
Some of Cole’s Cakes more popular cake flavors are cookies & cream and devil’s food. Seasonal favorites include the strawberry shortcake and carrot cake. Funfetti cakes are a hit with younger customers. Fillings include Nutella, dulce de leche, caramel as well as organic fruit compotes. “I only sell things that I know I can do and am good at,” Utschig said. “My [online] menu is basic, but really it’s endless. If you have something in mind that you want, I can do it.”
Utschig attributes much of her business’ rise in popularity to having a significant focus on gluten-free and/or vegan desserts that also taste delicious. “When I first started, you could find a gluten-free or a vegan option. I didn’t find there was much of both, and whatever you did find wasn’t the best. It was a really big thing for me that if someone had an allergy or an intolerance, that person could still enjoy their birthday cake.”
“There’s so much science that goes into baking,” Utschig explained. “It’s a lot of playing around, but ultimately it's a combination between the type of flour you use (for gluten-free, Utschig recommends King Arthur’s Gluten Free Measure for Measure flour) and how you incorporate the oils.”
With the business now successful on several fronts, Utschig’s latest challenge is to consider where to take Cole's Cakes next. “We are at a crossroads with which way we want to go, whether that’s more toward retail or focusing on custom cakes,” Utschig said. Together with her mother and her fiance, who help support the business behind the scenes, Utschig is consulting with her business mentors and actively weighing pros and cons.
“We’re trying to figure out where the next step is. It’s definitely bigger,” Utschig said. “I don’t intend on staying small. We’re pushing to double in size in the next six months.”
Utschig is confident that the future of Cole’s Cakes is one that is both sustainable and successful. “I don’t want to do anything half. I want to make sure I’m fully invested,” she said.
“I never thought that a product with my name, my logo and all of my hard work would be something that people would be interested in," she said. "It makes it OK to work that much harder.”