Categorized | Shoestring Startup

Watch Out for those Missing Rungs on the Ladder to Success!

Grandma’s Secrets was founded in 1994 at the urging of friends. You can say I accidentally fell into business. Although I had baked all of my life, only family members had ever tasted my delights. After completing my first NYC Marathon, I attended a holiday party for the runners. We each were requested to bring something, and I bought my soon to be famous sweet potato pies. No other desserts were touched that night, as my pies were devoured. People kept trying to put money in my hand, requesting that I bring them a pie in the next time I came to run. I left out that night with several paid orders, and thus was my business born that night in the basement of the running club. I literally began my great adventure with $10 and 9 pies!

As I bought pies into the office to drop off after work, people on the NY subway smelled the butter and cinnamon oozing out of the desserts, and gave me their numbers, asking for pies for themselves. As I got more and more orders, I began to seriously think about this as a business. When asked what I could make besides pies, I made a list which eventually became my menu, which eventually became a flyer, as I quickly slid into a real business. In March of 1995, after one too many pie in the office, and one long lunch hour too many, I was terminated from my position as a well paid senior paralegal in a prestigious NYC law firm. I made up my mind right then and there I would never work for anybody again. I got a tax ID number, filed a business certificate, made up business cards, and was on my way to struggle, strife, stress, disappointment, tears, and ultimately, success!

Watch Out for those Missing Rungs on the Ladder to Success!

Regina McRae

The best advice I never got was how hard it would be. As I began promoting my business with an ad on a local cable station, since I had no storefront, and this was at least a decade before the internet, I promoted myself as “Home Baked Goods to Go”. I told customers I was only delivering until I could open a bakeshop. However, there was overwhelming support for what I was doing. Customers urged me to continue delivering no matter what. I then realized I had found a niche, and I was determined to fill it. I began billing myself as “New York’s only Dessert Delivery Company”. But I had no car, and no money to buy one! So I got on trains and buses with a shopping cart full of pies and cakes. I had no money for flyers, so I gave the copy shop pies and cheesecakes in exchange. I traded strawberry shortcake for computer time. And brownies to the clerk in the token booth so I could get on the train! Many nights I cried myself to sleep. What had I done?

I believed in my product, and in myself, so I had plenty of enthusiasm, but the continual struggle almost made me give up so many times. I believe there was one thing I did right: I never gave up. The skills I had developed as a paralegal: multitasking, focus, attention to detail, all helped when it came to being on my own. The hardest transition was the lack of a steady income, and the nagging fear of failure.

In 2002, I developed my website,, and began advertising on a very new search engine called Google. I set my budget at 5cents a click thru, spent about $25.00 a month on advertising, bought a car, and soon found myself with more business than I could handle. In 2003, 8 years after I began, I hired my first employee! I had always been a publicity hound, and had been in my share of publications and radio and tv shows. The clients I got from this exposure, coupled with continual new business began to propel me to a new level. Gone were the days of peach cobbler and sweet potato pies. This pie lady soon became known as the Cake Lady. I became increasingly sought after for my children’s character cakes, wedding cakes, and creative custom cakes.

As Google began to grow, so did my exposure thru them. In 2007, I became honored to be chosen as Google’s Spokesperson for Small Business Success. We sort of grew up together!

During the early years of the business, when I had no money, I used to go to the big bookstores, take cake books off the shelves, and sit on the carpet, turning pages, dreaming of the days when I could afford these books. Or even better, when customers would actually ask me for these creations! One thing I noticed in each of these books was that they were so over the top, and I could not find any cake books with ordinary cakes. Nor could I find flavors and recipes that might appeal to a more ethnic clientele. One day in 2006, I went into a bookstore, once again to look at cake books, and once again was disappointed to not find any cake books for the average person. Standing there that day came my inspiration: since no one else had done it, why not me? This idea eventually became my book “Taking the Cake”, Your Ultimate Cake Guide. Unhappy with my first edition, I republished it as a paperback, and an E-Book.

Between promoting it on my website, on my Facebook page, , and the radio show I developed to encourage and inspire others either in business, or thinking about it “Small Business Matters, Where Your Small Business Matters”, I anticipate having huge success with this version.

As I look at all the projects I am working on, from developing a product line to be used with a dessert being launched by a national grocery chain, to working with a production company to launch a baking show for cable tv, increasing the popularity of my radio show, growing book sales, I look back on my meager beginnings, and marvel at how far $10.00 has taken me in 17 years. I have been in Black Enterprise Magazine, Time Out New York, New York Magazine, Oprah Magazine, and been featured on the Food Network, and Fox Five News, just to name a few. I like to think I took that shoestring and turned it into a suspension bridge. I love my life because I love what I do, and that should be the true meaning of success!

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