EDJ interview with Hollis Wilder of Sweet By Holly
Tell us about Sweet by Holly.
Sweet By Holly came out of Good Golly Miss Holly, my catering company in Los Angeles. Good Golly Miss Holly first became Sweet! By Good Golly Miss Holly and a retail dessert destination was born! We opened what we believe to be the first cupcake and frozen yogurt store anywhere.
…were you making cupcakes as part of your catering in Los Angeles?
Absolutely! My food has always been comfort food with a twist, and what's more comforting than a cupcake?
Why did you choose to move to Florida?
My children were young and I wanted to take a break from making food for others to focus on my family. Of course, in the back of my mind I knew Florida was a growth market, so I guess I was already planning my exit strategy from domestic bliss, which happened when I got the itch to get back into business.
With your background in catering why not just start with catering in Florida?
Cupcakes were something different. I had been doing savory for a long time. I know what I like to eat and I know how to create flavors that make people feel like they're going home. The creation of the cupcake store was an offshoot of taking all my childhood family favorites that my family had been making for generations. I just took all our traditional desserts and put them in a cupcake pan. It was very hard work. My neighbors were relieved when I finished six months of testing, as every day they would find cupcakes on their stoop, which are pretty hard to resist!
How long was your store open before Cupcake Wars happened?
Cupcake Wars happened when I was about a year and a half into the store. We were building the business the old fashioned way, one happy, satisfied customer at a time. The media exposure on Cupcake Wars blew that up overnight. The second Cupcake Wars sealed the deal. We are blessed with loyal local customers and visiting customers from all over the world - the power of the media is incredible.
Did you start with the idea of growing to multiple stores?
Our plan was not to stop at one. Of course it's the customers who ultimately decide if a brand should expand. We didn't take any chances and tried to create the very best product with the absolutely finest ingredients and not worrying about how much it was costing to make individual cupcakes. We charged what we think a cupcake should cost and backed our way into profitability by doing high volume and negotiating good pricing from vendors, based upon our volume. For example, we use the finest Madagascar bourbon pure vanilla extract in the world from Neilsen-Massey and buy it in cases of 4-one gallon containers at maybe a sixth of the price you might pay buying a 4 oz. bottle of the same product from Williams-Sonoma.
…how do you manage quality control, now that you've grown to two stores?
I have head chefs and managers who have been with me from the beginning - and we're on the same page. Most of the time I'm working on the business, not in the business. I'm not micro managing what I know my team can do. My job is to grow a successful brand and a company and have harmony within the company so people feel they are a part of something - that they're building something. So now I am not alone when it comes to dreaming about cupcakes. I have lots of company. We are very collaborative. For example, we have a collection of cupcakes coming out for the holidays and they're the result of much give and take and back and forth amongst front of the house managers, chefs and ownership. When we get to the finish line we all know it and everyone has a part in the result. I have over 50 employees now between the two store and it may sound corny but it really is a sweet family.