Baking Dreams into Reality-Cupcakin’ Bakeshop
“PCV has been instrumental in our growth as a company by providing financing at key inflection points. The lending application process is streamlined, efficient, and offered us solutions where traditional financing failed.”
In the heart of the Bay Area, a journey of passion and perseverance began with a simple allure of cupcakes. Lila Owens, a proud alumna of Howard University, began a delicious journey of making sweets for her friends and family out of her home in 2007 and launching Cupcakin’ Bake Shop. Transitioning out of a 15-year-career in residential real estate, Lila started a home-based cupcake catering business, but her goal was to open a brick-and-mortar shop where she could showcase her passion for baking to a larger audience. With the support of some key people in her life, Cupcakin’ Bake Shop became a reality with the opening of the Berkeley, CA location in 2014. What started as a modest venture soon erupted into a thriving chain of storefront cupcake shops of now five located in Oakland, Berkely, Walnut Creek, and the Chase Center.
In 2016, Lila discovered Pacific Community Ventures (PCV) through a search for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI’s) and business advisors. She was specifically seeking assistance in managing cash flow and finances and making the money work well for the company. After speaking with Lila and understanding the needs of Cupcakin’, our business advising team was able to pair her with multiple pro-bono advisors through our program over the course of 3 years, which included Robert Bronner, a business consultant and coach based in New Jersey. Robert specializes in business operations and process improvement; exactly what Lila was seeking. Lila shares, “A lot of our focus was on operation strategy and finance where we were developing as a small business, an integral piece of our growth.” Together this pair was able to create solutions for Lila’s top goals of scaling the business and streamlining her operations while maximizing her budgets. Not only was she able to apply her learnings from Robert to her business but also to her personal development as a business owner, “the partnership played a key role in grounding myself and ensuring I’m analyzing things, and critically thinking about ideas and strategies before chasing pipe dreams”, says Lila.
Triumph Over Traditional Financing Challenges
In 2019, Lila started on her mission to expand to another storefront location in the Oakland area. However, her path was met with a familiar obstacle faced by small businesses-the challenge of securing funding through traditional lending institutions, even one she had been a personal customer at, and turning to high interest loans from fintech’s. Lila then applied for a $200,000 loan through PCV’s loan program and qualified after getting valuable financial management support for her paperwork through her advisor, Robert, providing a solution for her financial needs from an organization that recognized her dedication. The loan obtained through PCV provided Lila with the opportunity to expand to her second storefront and offer more quality employment opportunities within the community. In addition to moving her original Berkeley shop from Durant Avenue to a larger space at 2391 Telegraph Avenue, she also started a location in downtown Oakland, and took over the historic Virginia Bakery 1690 Shattuck Avenue in North Berkeley during covid, as well as a delivery service to cater larger events. Her revenues in return increased by 99%, with 57% job growth. Lila stated “PCV has been instrumental in our growth as a company by providing financing at key inflection points. The lending application process is streamlined, efficient, and offered us solutions where traditional financing failed.” In addition to the local jobs created by Cupcakin’s growth, Lila also qualified as a PCV Good Jobs provider by offering her employees career-building opportunities, basic benefits and health insurance, direct deposit, performance-based incentives, and a fair and engaging workplace.
After her grand expansion to her second location, Lila faced the unforeseen challenges of COVID-19 as other business owners had. Walk in customers began to decline, catering requests dwindled, and event cancellations surged. Taking the resources and advice from her PCV advisors, she strategically pivoted, introducing same-day delivery service accessible via social media platforms. This innovative approach not only addressed evolving customer preferences but also carved out a distinctive niche with daily specialty flavor offerings that were posted daily on social media. These changes kept the business afloat and generated two new employment opportunities, effectively mitigating losses incurred from declining walk-in sales. Furthermore, Lila embraced the advanced remote opportunities by beginning to utilize online advertising resulting in her sales increasing to pre-pandemic numbers.
A Glimpse into the Future of Cupcakin‘
In April 2023, Lila was selected as a PCV Good Jobs Entrepreneur Fellow, joining a cohort of 14 exceptional PCV clients dedicated to providing their employees with high quality jobs that promote racial and gender wealth building outcome. This new accolade aligns with the Cupcakin’ objectives to continue being a Good Jobs provider by adding quality employment opportunities in her communities and ensuring employees receive the necessary benefits to grow and develop. As Cupcakin’ continues to grow, her vision extends beyond cupcakes. With the forthcoming launch of two Atlanta based locations during the Fall/Winter of 2023, Lila’s impact extends to the East Coast which acts as a second home to her family. She also seeks to introduce a merchandising line of cupcake accessories and décor, which will not only expand Lila’s creativity but also enhance the customer experience. “We wouldn’t have been able to expand without the capital, and our advisors were very instrumental in guiding us on a path and mindful in decisions we made, key hires, and debt to equity ratio”, Lila. She is excited to continue serving the East Bay community who has embraced her since day one!
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