Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Cory Anderson-Sweeney, Owner of Baby Deer Bakery, located in Atlanta, GA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Baby Deer Bakery focuses on cookies, cakes, and cupcakes for the Atlanta area and specializes in dietary modifications. We offer gluten-free and vegan options for almost every item on our menu and often work with customers to adjust our recipes to fit their needs. Our goal is to be as inclusive as possible, so if we can find a way to adjust a recipe for you, we will. If you’re looking for a birthday cake made with all the traditional ingredients, we’ve got you covered. And if you need a pie that’s free from 8 different allergens, we’ll work with you to figure out a recipe so your favorite dessert is part of your holiday table. We’re not magicians, but we are stubborn, and if there is a way to make it happen, we will make it happen. As far as I’m concerned, if we are baking for you, you are family, and family always deserves dessert filled with love and care.
Tell us about yourself
Baking (and cooking) has always been a creative outlet for me, and sharing food is definitely one of my love languages (or maybe the way I express any and all of the love languages). When I moved to Atlanta, more often than not, I baked for my weekly acting classes, and I give full credit to the idea of creating Baby Deer to my teachers and classmates. People would ask whether I thought about baking as a business, and I always brushed it off until a month when three or four people asked back-to-back. It was really an “Ok, Universe, I hear you.” moment. I researched the legalities of it, went through all the certifications, and dove in. The name “Baby Deer Bakery” actually comes from my nickname in that acting class.
I knew from the start that if I was going to have a bakery, I wanted it to be as inclusive as possible, so vegan and gluten-free options were mandatory for me. I have a number of close friends with severe food allergies, and it’s just never sat well with me that they have to bring their own food to parties. As far as I’m concerned, everyone should have the option of a birthday cake! If I’m hosting a party, I am the person that will make sure there is something safe for everyone, regardless of what allergies I need to work with. Thank goodness for that part of my personality (and my friends with allergies educating and trusting me) because I’d already learned so much about allergy-safe baking and how to substitute ingredients.
I joke that I want to be everyone’s personal cheerleader, but honestly, I do. Celebrating people is my absolute favorite thing to do. First day of school, birthday, new job, holidays…if there is a reason to celebrate, I am ready to go. Owning a bakery, I get to be part of so many celebrations. Every time I decorate a birthday cake, put together a cookie spread for a wedding, or cupcake favors for a party, I am so honored and thrilled to play a small part in the occasion, and I am convinced that you can taste it when something is baked with joy and love.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
The part of Baby Deer that I am most proud of is our commitment to giving back. Our Cookie of the Month Club (in addition to serving up unique, off-menu flavors every month) donates 15% of every box of cookies to charity. This year, we are supporting Solve ME- a charity that funds research for myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and, now, long COVID. We’re also participating in Blue Sunday- the Tea Party for ME, which is an international day of awareness and connection for the ME community, and 100% of the profits from those sales are being donated to ME Action. ME is one of the most debilitating diseases in terms of daily impact and quality of life but is largely ignored when it comes to research and funding, despite how common it is. Most people, doctors included, haven’t heard of it, and most patients (85-90%) are undiagnosed but unable to function. Being able to use the bakery to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives while doing what we love and sharing delicious treats feels like the best-case scenario. There’s absolutely no downside.
Locally, we donated all prizes for last year’s Summer Reading Challenge at Little Shop of Stories and have teamed up with non-profits and small businesses to bake on behalf of their mission or to create thank-you gifts for their employees or clients. Food, cookies, and cake, especially, play such big roles in how we celebrate and connect, and we are honored to be part of those traditions and memories. Essentially, food is about community- how we live and thrive together. Using our bakery to strengthen and support those around us feels like the best thing we can do.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
Owning a business is a full-time job (even if your business is part-time), so you have to learn when to dive in and when to step away. I think anyone who’s ever worked from home can probably relate to how easy it is to do just one more thing and have it turn into working late into the night. When you own a business, your attention can be needed at any time, so you have to learn to balance being available and responsible while also making sure you’re still engaging in your life, your family and friends, and your hobbies.
In the last year, I’ve learned a lot about pacing- making sure you’re not over-extending yourself and causing physical/mental/emotional burnout. For me, this means building in breaks to mentally and physically reset, delegating more, and checking in with myself and my systems to make sure they are serving me and the bakery. Think of yourself as a battery with 10 energy points to use per day- do you use them all on admin? All on product creation? Do you leave any points for yourself (physical health, household chores, errands, energy to spend time with the people you love)? Learning to be more deliberate about how and where I spend those energy points has been an absolute game-changer for me. Pick the things that matter most and then assess where you are and make a plan for the rest of it. (PS. Ask for help; people are much more willing than you think.)
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Find your cheerleaders- the people who will hype you up, give you feedback you can trust and keep you inspired on the hard days.
- Trust yourself- you know where you excel and where you might want to ask for help. Follow those instincts. Lean into your strengths, ask questions when you don’t know, and get help when something isn’t in your skillset (yet). Think of yourself as both your boss and your employee- where can you grow? How do you shine? Set yourself up for success and help yourself along the path toward those goals.
- Say no (sometimes)- if something doesn’t feel right, question it, and don’t be afraid to say no if it isn’t right for you. Sometimes you can squeeze in a last-minute or specialty order, but not always. Set clear expectations for how you run your business and keep your sanity in mind when deciding whether to make an exception. Sometimes, a same-day order when you’re ahead of schedule is no problem, but if you’re already busy and it’s going to force you to pull an all-nighter, ask yourself if it’s really worth it or if you’re just uncomfortable saying no. Better boundaries are more sustainable in the long run, and as long as your customers know what to expect, I’ve never had an issue when I can’t fit something in. Communication from the first point of contact (which is probably before you even know the person exists) is key.
Where can people find you and your business?
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