A gem of an idea leads to a successful baking enterprise
The song says diamonds are a girl’s best friend. But for many women, cupcakes aren’t too far behind.
Tami Jewell, owner of Jewell Treats, used this philosophy to help create her cupcakes, mini pies, and cookies that keep residents of Charlotte, North Carolina, asking for more. Each is designed as a piece of art with an edible “jewel” or special touch that makes you feel special before devouring it.
“Each has a ‘gem’ related to it and on it,” Jewell explains. “And the box is a Tiffany blue color.”
Producing baked goods wasn’t Jewell’s first calling. The Richmond, Virginia, native began her career in the mortgage business and eventually moved to Atlanta where she worked for Merrill Lynch for eight years. When the financial industry tanked in 2008, the single mother became unemployed, with two daughters to raise—a high school senior and a newborn.
“I found myself overqualified [for jobs], and I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Jewell says. “I ended up taking some cake-decorating classes for my youngest child’s first birthday but didn’t take it seriously at first.”
After changing her lifestyle, renting out her home, and downsizing, Jewell left her oldest daughter in Atlanta to attend college and took her youngest daughter to Charlotte, where Jewell Treats took off.
“We started in a very popular mall with a lot of foot traffic, and we did very well getting our name out there,” says Jewell, who launched her shop via a kiosk in May 2012. Then a customer encouraged her to open a brick-and-mortar store. So in April 2013, she moved to her current location inside the Hearst Tower in downtown Charlotte.
“We were booming from there,” Jewell says.
Hot off her first vacation since opening Jewell Treats, the 40-year-old entrepreneur took time to talk with Diversity Woman about her business, her goals, and more.
DW: Everyone loves a good dessert. What is Jewell Treats’ specialty?
Tami Jewell: We started just with cupcakes. Now we do mini pies—apple pies, peach pies, pecan pies, and peach cobblers. We do some customized cookies, customized hot cocoa sticks—all reduced size.
DW: What makes your treats unique?
TJ: We use natural alternatives. The fruits and vegetables come from local farms. We make sure that the farmers are not using steroids or hormones. We use coconut or almond milk only. In the beginning, some customers complained that our products were small and yet expensive. Once we educated them, that objection tended to go away.
DW: How did you find a niche market?
TJ: The first thing you have to do is know your target market. If you don’t know your market, then you will get confused when people are giving you back advice. I knew my target market was going to be “granola moms.” That’s what I considered myself. I tend to be health conscious and know what’s going on with the food I eat. Employees sometimes get confused by that. I educate them on how we are different. We use the slogan “Either pay now or pay later”—eat [healthy] right now or pay later with medication.
DW: What does your client base look like today?
TJ: The reason I chose uptown [neighborhood of Charlotte] is because my focus now is more on the corporate side. These clients know what they want, they are usually paying with their corporate credit card, and I tend to get more bulk orders. Of course, we also sell to consumers and walk-ins, but [corporate clients are] my biggest focus.
DW: What are some of the challenges you encountered as a start-up?
TJ: The most difficult challenge was financing and finding dependable people. I want to work with people who have the same vision as I do, which can be difficult. I have great employees, but in many cases, understandably, they come for a paycheck.
Our company is not a corporate setting; I let employees wear what they want and they have an open schedule. [With that] I’m saying, “I’m giving you these privileges if you give me something back in return. And I have to pull back if I see you taking advantage of it.”
DW: What is your biggest challenge as a manager?
TJ: Learning to delegate to others. I try to do everything on my own. I am the baker, the processor, and the orderer. I even do the inventory and the delivery—those are the hard things. So my goal is to become a better delegator.
DW: Can you tell us about a problem that cropped up in your business/workplace and how you overcame it?
TJ: Some members of my staff weren’t reaching their sales goals. I truly believe that you can do anything that you put your mind to. So I created a goal book for each employee that outlined how many cupcakes each was expected to sell. Once I put that in place, most of them reached the goal. In fact, it became competitive and fun too! The numbers truly were amazing!
DW: Where do you see yourself and the company in five years?
TJ: In five years, I plan to open another shop in Charlotte and then start expanding outside Charlotte. I would like to go back to the DC area. In five years, I would like to have four shops and a food truck.
DW: Who is your favorite chef and why?
TJ: Chef Roblé Ali [Bravo TV]. He is so creative and I love him! I follow and study him and how he does the little things that get noticed. I also try to be different—give the customers something that they haven’t seen before.
DW: How are you using social media to promote your business?
TJ: We always post on social media. I am always trying to put up funny quotes, gestures, engaging people. I also offer tickets to games that I get from clients.
DW: What is your guilty pleasure?
TJ: I try not to eat everything! Probably peanut butter cookies or the apple pie—and I can’t eat anyone else’s!
DW: Describe a leadership lesson you learned early in life.
TJ: That you can actually do whatever you put your mind to! A lot of people say that but don’t carry out the action behind the words. I never take no for an answer. I never make excuses for why something can’t be done. I always make a goal, focus on it, and do not let anything stand in the way of it.
DW: How important is it to work with other women in business, and in life?
TJ: It’s very, very important because we only have each other. I’m not saying men are not going to help, but it is a different type of support when it’s women. We need to all get together and support one another, and I try to support women businesses. And I hope to get it in return.
DW: What advice would you give to women who are trying to find a new career?
TJ: First, focus on yourself—figure out how to push your restart button. I didn’t have a choice. I was let go of a job and I couldn’t just move on. I would have never thought I’d be where I am now.
For more information about Jewell Treats, visit jewelltreats.com. DW
Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig is a San Francisco Bay Area–based contract journalist and cofounder of ZM Productions & Media.