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Meet Toni Gary of Sweets by Toni in Bellflower

Today we’d like to introduce you to Toni Gary.

Toni, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I started off as a school bus driver for LAUSD, and we were having a potluck at work. I didn’t have much money. So I decided to bake a batch of Chocolate Chip Cookies. So my cousin and I went to the grocery store, to gather all the ingredients. The cookies turned out pretty good. They were so good at the potluck. I was asked, what other flavors did I bake. At the time I was ending at a six-year relationship and was looking for a way to subsidize my income. Now that I would be living on my own.

So I called my Nanny (grandmother) and would ask her for different recipes. Oatmeal Raisin, peanut butter, lemon cookies. The list goes on, and she was happy to help me. As time went on, I started selling cookies in the driver’s room at work. I would bake right after work, to be ready the next day. But I would sell out so fast, it was hard to meet the demand. So I started selling on certain days to give myself a break. This seemed to work out easier for me. I would keep my cookies packaged in a large plastic container on my bus. So anywhere I went, I had cookies for sell. Moving forward I began to learn about branding and pricing.

Someone asked me one day, what was the name of my company. When I thought about it, I said I wanted it to be short, sweet and memorable. That’s how Sweets by Toni was born. Shortly after, someone asked why the name ‘sweets’, when all I make is cookies. Why not cookies by Toni? I said because the name leaves room for growth. At the time, I had no idea what direction my new business was going in.

Over time I began to purchase baking tools, and ingredients in bulk. Moving forward, customers began to ask what else did I make? I was still new to the baking world. So I was very hesitant to try anything new. If someone would ask me to make cupcakes. I would give an excuse that I didn’t wanna get into cupcakes because everyone was doing it. That makes me laugh every time I think about it. Once I started making cupcakes, those were a hit. Then I was do I bake cakes. Cakes to me were like the epitome of baking. Because you can do almost anything on a cake. It was so intimidating. But like everything else, I took baby steps. Cakes are now my number one seller.

It has now been almost ten years since I started Sweets by Toni. I have since resigned from LAUSD, as of March 2019. I now work my business full time from home. I am a new mother, to a beautiful baby boy named Jacob. Every Saturday I have a stand at the Lakewood Farmers Market, by the Lakewood Mall. Taking the leap of faith to work my business full time, after becoming a new mom, took a lot of courage. I wasn’t happy at my job. I knew I was great at what I did. The timing was so perfect. Since the start of Sweets by Toni in 2010 to now. My business is doing well. There is always room for growth. I’m now focusing on growing my employees. Which in its self has been challenging on my part. Learning to trust. But I am definitely enjoying the process. The good, the bad and the ugly. Along with my baking, I also offer baking parties and classes. I travel with my business. I’m looking to eventually purchase a dessert truck and my long term goal is to purchase a building.

Has it been a smooth road?
It has definitely not been a smooth road. I would say the most challenging part, is realizing that those you think should be supporting, aren’t. That was a hard pill for me to swallow. I felt like, the ones closest to me should’ve been my #1 cheerleader. Then I learned. I am my #1. I’m the only one, that’s going to care as much as I do. The emotional rollercoaster and the mental focus have been the two hardest obstacles I have ever encountered. Yes, my money has been low, but I can make more money. I have had sleepless nights, body aches, crying moments. But gathering the will to continue, is the real challenge. I believe in me first. Once I realized, that’s all that matters. I became unstoppable.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
I came up with the slogan, ” Homemade is back”. I fell in love with this saying because it’s so personal, and that’s what I want my desserts to be. I want to create something for my customers just for them. I now bake almost everything. Cakes, pies, cookies, brownies the list goes on. I would say, I am best known for my creativity. I came up with an idea to do a monthly birthday cake giveaway. The rules are if you are chosen. You can only give me your favorite colors and flavors. But I have creative control. I find this helps me stay fresh with the new trends in the baking world. What am I proud of as a company? I am proud of the growth and of myself.

I’m proud of myself for sticking to my plan. Committing myself to a dream, that seemed so far away. But with each new level, it still seems unreal. I think what sets me apart is my undying commitment. You have to be committed, no matter what a situation looks like. You have to know, that without a shadow of a doubt. This has to work. This is going to work. If no one gets up at 4 am with me, and if no one wants to work with me anymore. I still have to go. My hard work and drive set me apart. I don’t want to be a trend. I want to be everlasting.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
What is there not to love about Los Angeles! It is the Mecca of all things beautiful and ugly. We have it all. I love that I was able to change my whole life off of baking dessert. Meaning, Los Angeles is the land of opportunity. You just have to reach out and grab it. The downside to all that is, it gives room to the good and the bad. The bad would be, stupid trends that come in and burn out. For example, a lot of people are now doing the Keto diet or gluten-free. Don’t get me wrong, there are those who have health issues and need certain dietary restrictions. But right now this trend is at an all-time high. So instead of changing my entire menu, I just incorporate new desserts. Like peanut butter cookies are now Gluten-free and I’m working on a vegan dessert now. So if the trends die out, I haven’t lost anything.

Contact Info:

  • Website: Sweetsbytoni.com
  • Email: sweetsbytoni@yahoo.com
  • Instagram: @sweets_by_toni


Image Credit:

Wayne Ferguson
Syerra Carter
Spencer Carter
Kahliah Parks
Jacob Parks
LaTesha McLucas

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