Community kitchen helps bakery rise
Sweet Occasions is a bakery with no display case, no sales counter, no kitchen and no storefront. Despite this, business has been good for owner and operator Tracy Romero.
What Romero has in lieu of a traditional brick-and-mortar bakery is her website and the Socorro community kitchen.
“The way I’m running it, it’s a virtual bakery,” she says.
And her model seems effective. She reports that, after a year, the business is doing well — “better than expected in a small town.” Her product is made to order, but her website has a gallery of her confections, which acts as a virtual display case.
“I try to create things that people can go look at a picture, say that they want it, and they get it,” she says.
The bakery, though, is not even a year old. Romero had been working for an electrical contractor, but she regularly baked for her family. It was her frosting, though, that really caught attention among both family and friends.
“I started making my own buttercream (frosting) and everybody just loved it,” she says.
Romero was (and remains) passionate about her sweets, so she started investigating business options.
“It’s one of those things where you’re good at it,” she says. “You love to do it, so why not just go for it?”
Romero started Sweet Occasions as, at the very least, a trial to see if running a dessert bakery was viable.
This is where the Socorro community kitchen enters the picture. Romero could not have afforded everything that goes into a commercial kitchen, and the FDA’s certification process in order to cook commercially from home is both arduous and expensive. The community kitchen offered a very affordable option. Romero didn’t have to rent space or purchase commercial equipment.
Using a digital storefront built on free web utilities, Romero drove her startup costs down from the thousands or 10s of thousands of dollars into the hundreds of dollars. All of a sudden, thanks to this low overhead, starting her new business was a more modest risk.
“It gives people like me an opportunity,” says Romero.
This kitchen isn’t just an option. For Romero, working in the community kitchen is an enjoyable experience. The kitchen is spacious, and members have 24-hour access. And the kitchen has a community element of its own.
“Working with the other members has been great,” says Romero. “It’s a really cool thing Socorro has.”
One of the big advantages of a storefront, something Romero’s business lacks, is visibility to passersby. In lieu of this, Romero has found ways to advertise. She makes use of social media, mostly Facebook, as an ad tool. Also, she has traditional print advertisements, like flyers and business cards.
Still, as with many quiet successes, most of her advertising is word of mouth.
“It started off in the family, but then once I make stuff, it’s ‘Oh who made this?’ … or ‘Oh, it tastes great!’ and it just took off,” she says.
Still, Sweet Occasions is not yet Romero’s full-time occupation. She still works for a local electrical contractor, which keeps her busy. However, she says, “You know, you find your passion, and it’s just something I love to do, so there’s time for it.”
But baking full time is still her plan, should Sweet Occasions take off. She may move to a full storefront in the future, but for now, “(There are) more pros if I don’t have one,” she says.
People like Tracy Romero, especially in lower-income communities such as Socorro, don’t often have the opportunities to pursue their passions like she has. But between the marketing opportunities afforded by the Internet and resources, such as the Socorro community kitchen, the bar for success gets much lower. Romero’s efforts and successes have made the moment she found the resources available to her a very sweet occasion indeed.
Sweet Occasions can be found at www.sites.google.com/site/sweetoccasionsnm/