Meet Nicole Baer – Founder of Ann's Cupcakery

Nicole Baer launched her small business in 2013 from her tiny home kitchen. At first, baking was simply a side hustle that helped her pay for college and provided her with a creative outlet, but with an immense amount of hard work, it became a full-time job. Ann’s Cupcakery is a quaint little shop nestled into the streets of Downtown Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Immediately upon opening the gorgeous blue door, you’re greeted by the mouthwatering smell of baked goods and Nicole’s smiling face. The interior is incredibly aesthetically pleasing, with crisp white countertops, an exposed brick wall, lots of natural light, and even a few hanging plants. I recently sat down with Nicole, who said that she never really dreamed of baking as a job, but from the time she was very young she knew that she wanted to have her own business. And thus, Ann's Cupcakery was born. 

Kendra Reeder

Nicole, who is originally from Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, wears all the hats at Ann’s Cupcakery. She bakes from scratch and decorates fresh cupcakes every single morning, manages her own email and social media, buys supplies, and organizes any pick-ups or deliveries. She has a very hands-on approach to her business – which gives her the opportunity to establish a personal connection with her customers and followers. Additionally, Nicole studied finance at Shippensburg University, which she said has definitely helped her navigate the behind-the-scenes aspects of running a business, especially with things like proper budgeting and item pricing.

History and Community

Something that I admire about Nicole is the fact that she is completely self taught. She was very crafty and grew up occasionally baking treats like cheesecakes and lemon bars with her mother and grandmother, but never pursued culinary training or really had a special interest in cupcakes. It wasn’t until her son turned 3, when she made cupcakes for his birthday, that she realized her passion. At that time, she never imagined it ever being a job, but she baked for fun on the weekends, and eventually began getting requests from friends and family. It soon turned into a full side hustle, and took off from there. As Nicole was officially launching Ann’s Cupcakery 7 and a half years ago, she was just starting school at Shippensburg. She was a full-time student and worked as a server, while still baking on the weekends and raising her son Landon. Nicole admits that it was exhausting, but was absolutely worth it.

Kendra Reeder

You may be wondering why the shop isn't called "Nicole's Cupcakery", but the name Ann comes from both sides of her family, and is also Nicole’s middle name. Her grandmother on her dad’s side was named Anna, and on her mom’s side, her grandmother’s middle name was Ann. Nicole and her brother spent a lot of time doing arts and crafts with their mom's mother as children, and frequently cooked with her. Nicole jokes that she never really picked up on cooking but that her grandma always helped her have fun in the kitchen, and that she was such a big part of her life. When asked if she had any culinary role models that inspire her in her work, Nicole said that her grandmothers are a huge part of everything that she does today.

Nicole was interested in opening a shop downtown as soon as she moved to Mechanicsburg. We talked about the way the area, especially Main Street, has really blossomed in recent years, and that there are so many more people walking in the streets and exploring local businesses. Before the pandemic, the Downtown Partnership hosted a multitude of fun events, such as in-store wine and chocolate tastings, in an effort to attract the community to local businesses. Also during the pre-Covid times, Nicole would hand out any leftover goodies at the end of the day to other nearby businesses. Clearly, the small business owners really support each other, and there are so many opportunities to connect with other members of the community. Nicole is thrilled that Chef de Crêpe just opened a storefront down the street from her, and also gives a shoutout to Glitz Soap Company and Smoke & Pickles Artisan Butcher Shop, two of her favorite nearby establishments.

The Challenges of Being a Small Business Owner (In the Middle of a Pandemic)

Social media is such an integral part of owning a small business, and Nicole said that being present online is key, especially because the algorithm plays such a huge role in the exposure business pages get. She has used Facebook since the initial creation of Ann's Cupcakery and eventually created an Instagram account, but only just recently established an official website because she had previously conducted all of her business in person or through different social media platforms. 

Kendra Reeder

I asked Nicole what she would say to business owners who are losing hope or struggling during this unprecedented time, and she said “Just keep going. We will all get through this together”. For her, the hardest part of operating a small business during the pandemic was simply trying to figure out how to actually get products to people, since normally customers would just drop by her shop. Her husband helped her do home deliveries at first, but curbside pickup became the best method of dissemination and is what truly kept them alive during those first few months of the shutdown. Additionally, weddings and decorating classes, which were two of her most successful ventures, were cancelled or postponed for months. 

Coming up with new products can sometimes be difficult for Nicole, especially when she is really busy and immersed in her normal routine, but she had a lot of downtime over the last few months to experiment with new flavors for next year's menu. I asked what that process entails, and she said it is really just trial and error when designing new recipes, and largely depends on what ingredients she is working with. She used to taste one cupcake from every batch and still does when preparing new flavors, or if the batter looks off, but she has perfected her standard everyday recipes. But even after all these years, Nicole laughs and says that some days she will forget to add basic ingredients to the batter, which goes to show that even professionals occasionally makes mistakes. Another general challenge she has encountered is trying to figure out the flow and determine how many cupcakes she should make each day, which has definitely been a learning curve.

To keep customers coming back and interested in her business, Nicole loves to change things up and create new products, such as chocolate chip cookie shot glasses and seasonal cupcakes.  She also really enjoys decorating, which allows her to embrace her crafty side, and offered unique decorating classes and private decorating parties prior to the pandemic. She enjoyed providing people with a stress-free environment to learn something new, and her favorite themed class to teach was the succulent design course.

Kendra Reeder

Moving Forward

As a food blogger, I asked Nicole what the best thing I and other food influencers can do for her is, and she said that just sharing on social media helps to get the word out about her business, which is honestly all she can ask for. Nicole also admitted that in lieu of leaving a public review on a website like Google or Yelp, she loves when people reach out and email her privately about their experience in her shop.

Nicole’s best advice for others looking to start a small business and turn their passion for food into a career? “Be willing to work a lot. Don’t stop, because you are going to hit walls and get frustrated or burnt out, but just keep going and make sure that you plan everything as much as you can, because something is probably always going to go wrong. You just have to figure out how to get around those roadblocks and determine what works best for you. As long as you keep working and stay focused, then hopefully everything will work out”.

Kendra Reeder

Special thanks to Nicole for chatting with me about her story and her beautiful business. You can visit her new website to place an order, follow her on Instagram, or like her on Facebook. And if you're stuck on which delectable treat to try, Nicole recommends the blueberry lemon or the fluffernutter cupcake! Also be sure to check out Retro Sushi, which is her husband’s sushi business! 

All photos in this article were taken by Kendra Reeder, a local food photographer.