Cool job: Culinary Artist
Inspired by what she saw as a lack of good and affordable cupcakes in Toronto, event planner Tania Grafstein-Ho (BA 2010 VIC) launched her own home-based baking business, Sugar Tooth Fairy, last November. Since then, Grafstein-Ho, 26, has been creating innovative pieces of edible art, from customized cupcake bouquets to bold twists on traditional flavours, from the comfort of her own kitchen.
Where did you get the idea to start your own baking business?
It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a while. As an event planner, I had the opportunity to work on a cruise ship and meet many talented chefs and bakers. I always felt that desserts in Toronto were either overpriced or too sweet – so it was important to create a product that was designed beautifully, yet also tasted great. Like many bakers, I started off by making treats for close friends and family. They’d always say, “You need to start selling this stuff! They’re better than anything else we’ve had in the city.” So I did.
I don’t suppose you picked up your baking skills at university…?
No! I’ve always been a foodie and a baker, but my undergraduate experience at U of T definitely inspired me to pursue the entrepreneurial route. I served on student council, worked at the University of Toronto Students’ Union, and participated in campus events while balancing a full-time course load. Somewhere along the way, I met a lot of people at the university who went on to do amazing things with their lives. I think it’s hard to go to U of T and graduate without having good time management skills and a strong work ethic.
Do you have anyone helping you bake, or is it just you?
It’s just me! It can get overwhelming if I have to make 500 cupcakes, but I typically rent commercial kitchens to do those. It’s too expensive for me to own a storefront at this point.
What are some of the challenges you’ve come across in your business so far?
It’s very difficult to compete with stores that mass produce factory-made cupcakes, or even cupcake shops that have a storefront. I sell my cupcakes online, so I don’t have the same exposure that some of these popular storefront bakeries have. Many consumers would rather walk into a shop and buy fresh cupcakes that they can see in front of them, rather than buy them online. Advertising can be very expensive, so I depend heavily on social media and word of mouth. It’s tough, but I try to show that my products are unique.
One of my top-selling cupcakes has edible cookie dough in the middle, cookie dough icing, and a homemade chocolate chip cookie on top. I also make my red velvet cupcakes with an Oreo cream cheese centre, which is different from the traditional cream cheese frosting you usually find.
Have you ever gotten any odd cupcake requests?
I had one friend who requested a cupcake made of bacon.
That doesn’t sound very tasty. Did you make it?
Not exactly. I did make my own fresh and caramelized bacon, which was placed on top of the cupcake – so the end result was a maple cupcake with bacon. I don’t think my friend thoroughly contemplated what a real bacon cupcake would actually taste like.
What are your long-term goals for this business?
Hopefully people come to recognize us as the premier cupcake destination in the city.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
If you go for something you love, it won’t feel like work.
Click on the image below to start a slideshow (with captions) of Tania’s cupcakes.
Photo at the top by Dianna Lee/OTC Media.