The baking industry is rife with start-ups that sprung from people seeking a career change. For Luda Tchijova, owner of Sweet Discoveries in Antioch, Ill., baking was in her blood even while she pursued other work–it was only a matter of time before she made it a full-time career.
Born in Russia, Tchijova grew up baking with her mother while she worked in various other jobs. “When I came to the United States, I was thinking of changing my career,” she says. “Baking is something I always knew, but decorating skills were very new for me.”
She happened upon the bakery’s location in Antioch, Ill., by accident. “We were originally planning to just open a studio that concentrated on special occasion cakes by appointment,” she says. “One day we drove by this location and it was a cupcake place with a ‘for rent’ sign. Our plans changed right away.”
In addition to custom wedding and special occasion cakes, the bakery offers gourmet cupcakes, decorated cookies and European-style pastries. “I wasn’t scared of doing cupcakes because they’re similar to cake,” she says.
Presentation is very important to Tchijova, as it’s the main thing that sets the bakery apart from supermarket and mass merchant competitors that offer cheaper prices. “When customers come and see our prices, they might go to Walmart or Jewel-Osco instead,” she says. “We are trying to create something different, something that’s only going to be in our store. That’s the main reason bakeries can survive in this economy–they offer something special.”
Tchijova spends a lot of time crafting unique decorations for each cupcake variety, from lemon adorned with candied lemon slices to chocolate chip, which is dipped in ganache and chocolate curls and piped with the bakery’s initials. “Every cupcake is a piece of art for me,” she says. “Every flavor has to have a certain look.”
The bakery opened its doors Nov. 11, 2011, and has a staff of four. Everything is produced by hand, including fondant, which limits weekly production numbers for wedding and special occasion cakes. The primary equipment is the convection oven, though Tchijova plans to purchase a sheeter as orders increase. The retail area is limited to one consultation table and display cases, as the bakery doesn’t have a public restroom. “Our shop is not big, but we are happy with the rent we are paying now,” Tchijova says.
While Tchijova hopes to one day expand the business and possibly move to a larger location, for now she’s content to keep learning and growing as both a decorator and small business owner.
“I’m still learning and learning. There is so much to discover still, which is why I chose the name Sweet Discoveries for my bakery.”