Lainie Stewart-Rideout, owner of Sugar Mama’s (160 Old Placentia Rd., Mount Pearl), figured she’d open her Mount Pearl storefront to expand the market for her home-based cupcake business and provide employment for daughters, and then she’d go back to real estate. But the baking business had other ideas, both in terms of the response from customers and the demands on her time. “It is a business that you have to be in all the time, if you’re going to do it at all. I like this. I think it’s good for my girls as well,” she said. “They didn’t go the higher-education route, but they’re kinda getting the business course here.”
Who opened Sugar Mama’s and when?
I opened it. I was doing it from home, from 2007, and we’ve been in this retail location for just over 2 1/2 years.
What does Sugar Mama’s do?
We are a sweets bakery. Primarily cupcakes. We’re the first cupcake bakery in Newfoundland. I went with “Sugar Mama’s” because cupcakes are pretty popular now, but I don’t know if it’s a long-term thing. (laughs) We do a lot of other things. We do pastries, and we do a lot of custom cakes. A lot of custom cakes. The crazy stuff: the fondant, the multi-tier, the crazy ones people want now.
Cupcakes really exploded a couple of years ago — is that still continuing or is it starting to peter out?
It hasn’t here. I get all these industry magazines, and sometimes they say it’s dying out in different locations, but we’ve been pretty good so far, and they seem to be expanding in Canada. There’s still some franchise places that are opening more locations, so it’s gotta be doing all right.
When did you go from working out of your home to realizing that it was time for a storefront operation?
I was doing it from the house, and I would do cakes and whatever for people, and then the cupcakes. I did Republic of Newfoundland cupcakes, and that was actually covered by The Telegram. A website in New York picked it up and put it on their site, and I started getting orders straight to me. I had done that for a couple of years. I was also a realtor, so I kind of got swept up taking care of the real-estate thing and I had stopped with the baking for a while, but I got so many phone calls all the time, still, that I started to think maybe, maybe there’ll be a market. And my daughters — I have three daughters, and my two older ones, they also have kids. They’re young mothers, so it was kind of like getting them a job, too. That was my intention: I was going to start it, my two older daughters were going to take it and run with it, and I was going to go back to real estate, but it just never … I thought it was going to be a nice little spot to have a cup of tea and a cupcake. People come in and sit down, and we were going to have the retro thing going on just for a bit of fun. But as soon as we opened, people were buying them a lot. By the dozens. And we had a lot of corporate things and a lot of weddings, and it was much better received than I thought it was going to be.
You’re a realtor — what about any other business experience? Is this your first retail experience?
No. I started the Real Estate Book and sold that. I started a sewing factory here, I sold that. I’ve had sewing factories in Ontario. I went to school for fashion design. (laughs)
So you’re a veteran businesswoman then.
Serial entrepreneur, I think.
How many people work here?
Who came up with the name, and why?
I came up with the name because, again, I was trying to go with something that wasn’t cupcake-related totally, just because we’re trying to stay with all the trends. We’ve got pies and everything else coming out now, too. Something that was sweet. And now with my older daughters — like I said, they’re young mothers. Several of their friends work here, too. There’s a lot of young moms. We’ve got a young girl who’s pregnant here now. I think I’m a little more flexible, maybe, because I was a single mother for a long time, too, so I know what that’s like. When the kids are sick, it’s always good for the first day when you call in, “Oh, that’s fine, that’s fine.” But after you call in the third day, “He’s still sick,” people start losing patience, but I know what that’s like, too. The girls are really good with each other, and everybody is very close outside of here, too. They always get together and they exercise together and they get their kids together all the time.
We’ve got one girl, she was full time, now she’s going into the Marine Institute, and we work around her schedule. So she works here for the summer, and now she’ll work on the weekends around her school schedule. So “Sugar Mama’s” was pretty fitting.
Tell me about the location. Why here in Mount Pearl? Was there a particular reason?
I think because I’ve lived in Paradise, I’ve lived in Southlands, I’m just in this area all the time. My kids went to O’Donel. It’s an area that I know, that I’m comfortable with. And I thought, for something like this — because it was risky, it was scary. It’s very scary when you start a business, when you’re putting everything on the line, really. I didn’t want to get just a little spot anywhere just because it was cheap rent; I wanted to be where Wal-Mart is and Dominion and Staples, because I wanted it to be more — I don’t know. To seem like a chain. We get a lot of people (who) ask us if it’s a franchise, so I think the location has done well for us because of the traffic that comes here.
Has crime been a problem here?
A little bit. There’s been break-in attempts and that. I’ve got cameras, because I have the young girls here. We close at nine, and I’ve got cameras on the parking lot so I can watch them leave and get in their car. But we’ve got security systems and everything, so I feel that’s just part of having a business at this point. Most of the crimes, I think, that are going on now, it’s just petty stuff, people trying to get a fast buck, and a little resistance goes a long way, I think.
You mentioned people asking you if it’s a franchise — is that something that you might consider?
I have. There are a few people who would like to be involved, but because we bake from scratch every day, it’s not the same as Tim Hortons taking it out of the freezer and dropping it in the fryer and it’s foolproof. It really isn’t. If I could get to the point where we could pre-measure stuff and ship it … but because we’re made from scratch, the slightest thing will change everything. Just like any recipe — if you forget something, everything changes. There’s a lot of variables, and I don’t know if that’s a good model for a franchise.
You can’t be in two places at once.
That’s exactly it. We’re looking at getting a location on the east end, but it’s a lot to take on. I’m already stretched pretty thin. Now, I do have some very good people that are working here now. I’ve got a trained pastry chef, I’ve got a woman who’s an incredible cake decorator. So I’m getting more experienced people, and that’s making me a little more confident, so maybe the east end.
We do have a truck, a cupcake truck. It just got finished being painted. It’s a brand-new Mercedes Sprinter truck, and it’s being outfitted with a vending window. It just got painted pink, so it’s just going for graphics now.
There’s an underserved market in this area, the food truck business.
Yep, and we want to be the first in that, too. I know I won’t always be the only one. I’m sure next year somebody else will have one, but being the first is good for me. (laughs)
Is Mount Pearl a business-friendly place? I’m talking about business regulations, and getting licensing and all that — was it easy to get set up, or could it have been easier?
I gotta say, nobody told me anything. I asked different places for information, I didn’t get a whole lot of information at all. I don’t think that it’s just Mount Pearl. I think that’s probably across Canada, I would say. I don’t feel that anywhere is a really fair environment. Considering I don’t live here, and the property taxes — the business tax that I have to pay is very high. It is very high, but I still have to pay for my own snowclearing, I get my own garbage removal. I’m paying for all the services that anybody else would get. I can’t even vote here, because I live in Paradise, and all except one person lives in Mount Pearl, that I employ. I feel like I’m doing a good part for the city, but I don’t feel like there are breaks.
We talked a little bit about franchising — what do you see in the future for Sugar Mama’s? What other plans do you have for the business?
We do a lot for specialized diets. We are nut-free. I feel like a lot of places don’t want to take the responsibility to say “nut-free,” because they’re scared that somewhere along the line … so even if they are (nut-free) they’ll say “May contain …” so they don’t take the responsibility. I’m more about letting a kid have cake on his birthday. So we do a lot with vegan — egg-free. If anybody has an allergy, we’ll find something to make for them. We do gluten-free daily now, because it took off so much. We were only doing it Thursdays, but now we do it daily. We do sugar-free. So anybody who has any concerns will still be able to get something. I think that that’s going to expand us a little. I’d like to be able to provide more of that type of dessert to different locations around. I’d like to have our desserts in restaurants, even just the regular cakes, and some of our popular flavours of cupcakes we do in full-size cakes, and I’d like to get that out there, too, so that it comes to a point where when a restaurant has a dessert, it’ll say “A Sugar Mama’s ‘Say Cheese’ Cake,” and people will recognize it: “Oh, that is a good cake.” I’d like to have that everywhere.