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Sweet success

A village of experts and peers helps a Dorchester baker grow her business

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
Sweet success
Teresa Maynard of Sweet Teez Bakery prepares a tray of vanilla cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and coconut cream frosting with toasted coconut flakes. (Photo: Sandra Larson)

Two days before Thanksgiving, Teresa Maynard, founder of Sweet Teez Bakery, sounded happily frazzled. With her year-old business still a solo operation, she had created and delivered 200 apple and sweet potato mini-pies to Capital One Bank’s cafe in the Back Bay, each packaged in its own container to be given out as a free holiday treat. That was after nine dozen mini-pies and nine dozen pumpkin cupcakes went to the bank’s Downtown Crossing cafe. For other customers in the past few weeks, she’d made 40 full-size pies, dozens of mini-pies and some cakes, and donated 144 chocolate and lemon cupcakes for a local school fundraiser.

Author: Sandra LarsonTeresa Maynard of Sweet Teez Bakery prepares a tray of vanilla cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and coconut cream frosting with toasted coconut flakes.

On the Web

Sweet Teez Bakery: https://www.sweetteezbakery.com

Sweet Teez on Instagram, Twitter, FB: @SweetTeezBakery

Entrepreneur assistance and training

Center for Women & Enterprise: www.cweonline.org

CommonWealth Kitchen: www.commonwealthkitchen.org

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice: http://lawyerscom.org

WE BOS: http://we-bos.com

Babson College WIN Lab: www.babson.edu/Academics/centers/cwel/educational-programs/win-lab

Cultivate Small Business: http://icic.org/cultivate-small-business/

And just when she thought the pre-Thanksgiving rush was over, family came calling.

“I have made so many pies this past weekend,” said the self-taught baker, who grew up in Dorchester’s Codman Square neighborhood surrounded by her large extended Jamaican family. “Today, I thought I was done, and then my aunt called and asked what I’d be bringing for Thanksgiving dinner.”

All of this is a labor of love for Maynard, who in early 2016 left a full-time job as assistant director of fundraiser and user support at Harvard University’s development office to pursue this dream.

“It’s the holidays, and I’m a baker,” she said simply.

As of this month, Sweet Teez has been operating for a full year out of a shared kitchen space at CommonWealth Kitchen in Dorchester, taking online and phone orders for her custom cakes, cupcakes, pies, brownies and pastries. She makes her confections light and delicious with her “secret sauce” — avocado oil — and “real ingredients” like butter and vanilla. All of her products are nut-free.

A year is long enough for Maynard to start understanding the rhythm of the seasons, for instance, the predictably abrupt respite that follows the holiday season.

“In January, everyone’s on a diet,” she explained. “And then it’s Valentine’s Day, and they give up. So in January I get a lot of paperwork done.”

A turning point

As a young adult, Maynard did not set out to start a business. Leaving Dorchester for college in New Rochelle, New York, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communications, focusing on advertising, marketing and graphic design. Following that, she worked in health care marketing and project management in New York before she moved with her husband and children back to Boston, where she worked at the Brookline Housing Authority and then Harvard.

In her mid-30s, with three young children, she took some time off while recovering from an illness. Having space to pause and take stock, she realized she was ready for a big change.

“I started looking at my life, and I said, ‘I don’t want to sit here and run reports anymore.’”

As a lover of baked goods and a person with a nut allergy, whose daughter also has allergies, Maynard had long been frustrated at the lack of good bakeries in her neighborhood.

“I was out on sick leave for a while, and I would walk around and think, ‘Why don’t we have this in our neighborhood, things like I see in Harvard Square and Brookline?’” she recalled. “And I thought, ‘I’m going to do this.’

She left her job in January 2016. “My husband said I had one year to do this,” she recalled, and by fall she had been through several types of training, won a pitch contest, incorporated the business and had her space at CommonWealth Kitchen. In November, Sweet Teez was born.

“Then December was crazy,” she recalled. “And I still didn’t believe I had my own business.”

Within a few months, Maynard’s products garnered recognition. At the 2017 Boston Food and Wine Expo, she sold all of her cupcakes and “tipsy cake” made from her Jamaican grandmother’s recipe. At the New England Dessert Showcase, her offering — “a simple dark chocolate cupcake with chocolate ganache and a little sea salt” — won first place for best chocolate dessert. These early successes are still bringing in customers and sales, she said.

It takes a village

Maynard counts among her blessings a wealth of programs that have provided training, support and new networks of experts and fellow entrepreneurs.

“I grew up here in Dorchester, and I’m no different from anyone else,” she said. “But when you dig, you really do find opportunities, and people who can help you.”

First there was the Center for Women in Entrepreneurship, where she enrolled in a business planning class. She gained a business plan but still needed guidance specific to getting a food business rolling.

“I read an article about Mei Mei [food truck], and how they worked in CommonWealth Kitchen — and I thought ‘I’m going to call them.’” It turned out that they were launching their Food Biz 101 course. “It saved my life. I learned about entity formation, scaling recipes and all the things I knew nothing about. At the end I did a pitch, and when I ended up winning, I was shocked! But that was a great confidence boost.”

Following Food Biz 101, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice’s Access to Business Law seminar and pro bono legal support helped her master the legal aspects of business startup and take the necessary steps to get Sweet Teez incorporated.

She took a pricing workshop and got logo and website help through the City of Boston’s Women Entrepreneurs Boston (WE BOS) program. There, she learned about a Babson College program called Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab, an eight-month accelerator program on which the City of Boston is a partner.

Applying to WIN Lab brought benefits even before she started the program. Upon learning about Sweet Teez’s cupcakes, the interviewer placed an order for Babson-logo cupcakes, and now, Maynard said, the college has Sweet Teez “on cupcake retainer” for repeated orders.

Maynard is part of the first cohort of Cultivate Small Business, an initiative offered by Santander Bank in partnership with the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, CommonWealth Kitchen and Babson College to provide nine months of training, support and capital grants for established but early-stage women, minority and immigrant entrepreneurs in low-income neighborhoods. That program began in October and will continue to June.

Through these Babson-based programs, she is gaining more sophisticated skills in defining a growth strategy. She is learning customer acquisition strategies and has learned to say no to some opportunities that may seem too good to pass up, but would actually not be cost-effective.

Taking a breath

Hectic as running a business can be, Maynard finds that she actually has more time to spend with her three children, now ages 10, 8, and 3.

“I drop them off at school now, and am available to attend plays or play with them after school,” she said. “And when you’re at a high stress very demanding job, you’re present-but-not-present. And kids grow up so fast, so I’m not willing to give that up for work.”

But the greatest satisfaction may be the very essence of her business: spending time baking and bringing pleasure to others with her creations.

“I love the smell of baking. I love the look on people’s faces when they taste my baked goods. It’s intoxicating,” she said.

Compared to having a steady job, the lack of income is hard sometimes for a new entrepreneur, Maynard said. “But I would say the biggest surprise is my ability to actually run this business. Entrepreneurial confidence can’t be taught. I’m the CEO of this company. It’s mine. I’ve made a lot of money for other people. I can make that for myself. There’s no job in this company I haven’t done. When I have employees down the line, I can tell them, ‘I’ve done that.’”

Next up: ‘Grow, grow, grow’

Sweet Teez’s capacity now is technically about 240 cupcakes per day, but is limited by lack of staff. By six months from now, Maynard would like to have one or two people working for her and have production up to at least 1,000 per week.

“Even having two part-time people would be life-changing,” said the holiday-busy baker.

But her vision is bigger than that. She wants to “grow, grow, grow,” she said. She is envisioning a flagship shop in Codman Square and her own production space, and is working on getting a wholesale license and expanding her catering opportunities.

Talking with Maynard, you might guess that with her passion, energy and outgoing personality, starting a business would be the most natural and easy of decisions. But it was more complicated than that.

“You don’t know me, but I’m a rule follower, so this is very uncomfortable — but I decided to step out on a limb and follow my passion,” she said. “And I’ve loved every minute of it.”