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Sweet Sensation

With her artfully crafted gourmet treats, Sunny Days Bakery’s Rachel Blanks spreads a little sugar all across the Florida Panhandle

WHO DOESN’T LOVE a cupcake? Just about no one — and Rachel Blanks, the founder of Tallahassee, Florida–based Sunny Days Bakery, can spot a wide-open market when she sees one. “Our ideal customer,” she says, only half joking, “is a paying customer.”

There are likely plenty of those in Tallahassee; the area’s high concentration of students (Florida A&M and Florida State University both call the Sunshine State’s capital city home) means a double-dip business opportunity when it comes to gourmet baked goods like the ones Blanks offers. Her customer base is made up not only of those students, but also their parents, who want to deliver a little home-baked love to their often far-flung kids. (Blanks also caters to those who are extremely meticulous about what they eat; Sunny Days offers a full line of vegan baked goods as well.)

Blanks, 26, first got interested in running a bakery during her sophomore year at FAMU, majoring in business administration, “when friends and church members would ask me to bake cobblers, pies, cakes and cookies for them,” she says. “During my business training, I learned something that changed my way of thinking: ‘When you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.’ I realized I wanted to do it professionally.”

She’s now doing exactly that, gaining additional visibility as well through regular appearances sharing recipes and other tips as “The Domestic Diva” on WCTV, Tallahassee’s CBS affiliate.

Perhaps the biggest boost to Blanks’s business, though, is her husband, Michael, who recently got involved with Sunny Days’ daily operations. He “handles the deliveries and Web site orders, and also works with frosting the cakes,” Blanks says, adding with a laugh that “we complete each other — I always have the huge ideas, and he has the ‘let’s keep this in perspective’ attitude.” Sounds like a sweet partnership — and a promising business model to expand within Tallahassee and beyond.

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What inspired you to get into the gourmet-cupcake business in the first place?
I’ve been cooking for as long as I can remember; it’s a passion for me. There’s just something so rewarding about preparing an amazing meal for someone and watching as it delights their taste buds and warms their soul. I decided to venture into cupcakes because of the ability to create tiny works of edible art in individual packages. I was content with baking and giving them away, but starting a business opened a new door to giving back to my community.

Cupcakes have been very trendy lately. How’s the competition in Tallahassee?
Pretty steady, but we try not to “fight” competition. We have our own little cupcake-bakery world since we don’t have an actual storefront yet. We focus on giving our own clientele the very best. We pride ourselves on having no existing product — everything is made fresh to order. We believe it’s a growing market. We have the ability to stay at the forefront of the market with creative new offerings that fit the gourmet, trendy customers we serve — cake pops, pie pops, homemade marshmallows, cupcakes in a jar, etc.

Cupcakes are a non-necessity — yet they’re also a way for people to indulge a little without breaking the bank. Do you consider your business somewhat recession-proof, especially with the colleges nearby?
It has been said that cupcakes are a sweet, affordable escape from the frowns of daily life. We appreciate the business from the college scene — sorority houses, sports teams, academic departments and parents. I don’t know if we can be completely recession-proof, but we can always try to be prepared to overcome roadblocks and obstacles with a comprehensive business road map — the importance of which I learned during our business boot camp with 100 Urban Entrepreneurs.

Does most of your business come from the college scene, or is that not something you even track?
It’s important for us — for marketing and other planning — to know the breakdown of our customers, what products particular segments most frequently buy and when they buy them. For instance, our red-velvet cupcakes are popular during football season at Florida State, because we top the deep red cakes with a rich golden frosting that is perfect for Seminole tailgates, and our football-shaped cookies with orange-and-green icing are perfect for FAMU games and tailgates.

What lies ahead for Sunny Days Bakery?
I wish I could say that an appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network lies ahead, but there’s nothing concrete . . . yet! We plan to begin bakery/pastry classes solely for young people in the Tallahassee area, and specialize in birthday parties where the birthday child and their guests are pastry chefs for the day and create their own dessert table. Most importantly, Sunny Days Bakery has a plan for continued growth — slow but steady growth — that will help us solidify our presence. We’ll never stop looking for chances to have our products on the shelves of grocery stores and on the dessert menus of local restaurants. And our plan for giving back is always in effect. •