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Meet Ali Kenis of Sugar Lab Bake Shop in Ventura

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ali Kenis.

Ali, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Like many kids, I grew up baking with my mom, especially around the holidays. My favorite part was getting to lick the beaters after we made the cookie dough. I even made my own sweet 16 cake! My cake decorating journey officially began just before the start of my senior year of college. I was attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and working towards my degree in Biological Sciences. I was unexpectedly home the summer of 2010. I was supposed to be in summer school, but my depression took a turn for the worst right before classes were to start. My parents and sister came up to SLO to bring me home.

Since it wasn’t planned, I wasn’t working and didn’t have much to do. My mom had been taking cake decorating classes for fun and brought me along. I was instantly hooked and my cakes looked pretty decent. I took the next two courses and moved back to school. I found an excuse to bake and decorate cakes while at school. It was my distraction; I learned pretty quickly that I wasn’t depressed or anxious while decorating. I graduated with my degree in December 2011 and moved back home. I kept baking and decorating for friends and family. Suddenly, people were asking what I charged. I sort of stumbled into the business. I told my parents that I wanted to own a bakery and my mom told me to write a business plan.

After a quick google search on business plans, I wrote a pretty simple plan and presented it to my mom. She then told me she was now my partner. We found a commercial kitchen in April 2012 and Sugar Lab was born. We started as a made to order bakery. We then saw the need for a retail space but wasn’t sure if we were right. So we expanded to the space next to the kitchen and started a really small retail cupcake bakery. We sold mainly cupcakes for walk-in purchase, but also the occasional cookie. We eventually outgrew both spaces and searched for a larger space with more typical retail foot traffic. In May 2016, we opened in our current location: a 2200 square foot bakery in a shopping center. The majority of our space is the kitchen, with a dedicated cake decorating room and consultation room to meet with our wedding clients. Our business is pretty evenly split between retail/walkin-in, weddings, and custom orders.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I don’t think entrepreneurship is ever a smooth road. One of the things we’ve struggled with is the fact that my mom and I have never worked in a bakery. So all of the production questions (how to do what, when) has been figured out as we’ve gone along. We’ve always been able to figure things out so that’s turned into my own personal mantra “everything is figure out-able.” We’ve also learned some lessons the hard way, especially when it comes to staffing. I’ve had to find a balance between artistic skills and speed, but also finding those that are willing to learn and grow. I feel that we’ve been able to find our stride within the last year.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Sugar Lab Bake Shop story. Tell us more about the business.
Sugar Lab Bake Shop is a mini dessert and custom cake bakery. We make cupcakes, cookies, brownies, French macarons, mini pies, signature designed cakes, and fully custom cakes, including weddings. We also have an extensive line of gluten-free items and have been developing more vegan as well! Many of our customers initially discover our cupcakes, but then realize we make so much more! I’m honestly most proud of our customer service. I fully believe we make beautiful and delicious products, but sometimes things happen and we need to correct it. The way we handle complaints and mistakes is what sets us apart. We strive to start off with a smile and warm greeting and making sure we are doing everything we can to make sure the customer is satisfied.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Not sure if I’d call it luck or just a series of fortunate and sometimes unfortunate events. Certainly and unfortunate event led me to discovering a talent and passion I didn’t know I had. Some bad luck with an employee early on led to one of my most talented and loyal employees. I feel like we’ve been able to roll with the punches and find ways to overcome that bad luck.

Pricing:

  • Cupcakes $39 per dozen
  • Mini pies $33 per dozen
  • Tiered wedding cakes start at $7 per serving
  • Mini cupcakes $22 per dozen
  • Cookies $27 per dozen
  • French macarons $27 per dozen
  • Brownies $45 per dozen

Contact Info:


Image Credit:

Amber Jean Photography, Wonder Tribe, Sarah Kathleen Photo

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