In 2006, Sydney Perry was casually baking for just her family and friends. Fast forward almost 15 years later, and Sydney’s Sweets is having its busiest year yet. Born out of a genuine love for baking, Jermaine and Sydney describe their bakery as “a place where sugar and smiles come together to create a truly special experience.”
When requests for the extravagant cakes from friends and family kept growing, the Sydney’s Sweets duo decided it was time to open up their own shop. Baking for birthdays, weddings, baby showers, and everything in between, Sydney and Jermaine had the pleasure of meeting people during some of the most important times in their lives. We sat down with Jermaine to hear more about their story, community work, and what sets them apart in a crowded marketplace.
How did you two get started?
Sydney always baked for our family holiday parties, and everyone loved it. Once they tasted how good it was, they would say, “You have to make this for me!” And Sydney is so sweet—she started making them for whoever asked. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, so immediately I thought, she should start charging for her amazing treats. At the time, Sydney was an accountant, and I was an engineer, but I hated what I was doing. I was in a cubicle, crunching numbers, and that’s just not who I am. I was looking for any opportunity to get out of what I was doing, and I saw it—she had talent and a great thing going.
At that point, we weren’t doing any kind of customization. It was just pies and regular cakes that looked like your grandma made them—no specialty at all. Then we started making a holiday menu and had our parents share it with their colleagues. Sydney’s mom worked at a hospital, and my mom worked at a school, so our parents were literally taking orders for us, promoting us. Those were our very first customers: our parents, coworkers, and friends.
From there, someone would casually ask Sydney to make a custom cake. She didn’t have experience with requests like that, but she tried it anyway, and of course customers loved it. We then realized Sydney was seriously talented, so she started owning and refining that skill, and the rest is history!
How has your business managed to soar during 2020?
I truly credit our local community and our client base. They have been the cheerleaders for local and small businesses. I think our community understood how much this all hurt, and they really stood up. The people have been amazing in understanding how much their support means to small businesses and how hard it is to be a small business owner especially right now, and they’ve been going above and beyond.
We panicked the first week, even the first day, that this all started happening, but even so, we jumped into action. Some people understandably froze up and tried to wait it out. For us, the immediate first week we jumped into action and pivoted our business. We said to ourselves, “We have got to start shipping nationwide. We’ve got to have a product that can go curbside.”
And so we started shipping nationwide. We created cake jars and put them out as a product. As a small business, we were scared of the price point. With a shippable mason jar, there was a lot more labor associated with it, so we had to raise the price. Going from selling a $3 cupcake to an $8 cake jar was a big jump. Nonetheless, we jumped into it because there was no plan B. There was no other option.
We didn’t get a chance to stop. We were stressed beyond belief, especially with a limited team for safety as we couldn’t have our staff in at first. On top of that, we have a seven-year-old son who is finishing first grade, so we’re trying to homeschool and work, and it was a madhouse.
The short answer is just knowing that there was no other option. We knew that this can’t fail, and we had to create a plan.
With such an amazing reputation, what do you think sets you apart from competitors?
Aside from really focusing on the community and our customers, our product really is the best out there. We bake from scratch and use the highest quality ingredients. During this time, we had to consider how we can cut costs, but we didn’t let the product suffer. We always bought and continue to buy the highest quality cream, cheese, butter, cocoa, whatever it is. If something isn’t 100% perfect, we are losing sleep to remake it. We are never going to offer a subpar product. We’re telling people they’re going to pay for something great, so that’s what they have to get.
We are always thinking big, and even though we’re a small business, we want a big audience. We make every product as if we’re ready to go toe-to-toe with any other bakery, and the truth is, we’d stand strong against them.
Even though we’re this little small business in West Hempstead, New York, our flavor is big, and our quality is bigger.
What purpose do you serve in the community?
It’s important for young people, especially young people of color, to see people that look like us owning businesses—so that’s one thing that truly drives us. It feels only right to make sure that we do what we can to make the lives of the community better and to make it possible for other entrepreneurs. We are blessed that our parents were in a good enough position to support us and help us when we needed it. And a lot of young people who are talented don’t have that support, so supporting young entrepreneurs and organizations with the same goal is something that’s really important to us. We love it.
If I’m really successful but the people around me are not doing well, then that’s not success to us. We want everybody to thrive. Our business success provides an opportunity for us to help make sure success can happen for anyone as well.
How has it been as a black-owned business with the current and ongoing social environment?
When I think of black lives matter, I don’t think of a movement. I think of black lives matter. Just my life, it matters, just like everyone else who’s black or a person of color, their lives matter. So, it’s not an organization, it’s not a movement—it’s just a reality that America needs to stand behind so that everyone is treated fairly.
For us, we can try to just think we’re business owners and not think about anything else. But the reality is that I am a black man. Sydney is a black woman. Along with the stress of COVID plus my business being in a position to fail, and now with the weight and the pressure of the world, thinking I could be another George Floyd just because I’m black… it’s tough. I’m an upstanding community citizen. I focus on giving back, working hard, paying taxes, but at any given time, I know I can be a victim just for being black.
I don’t think people truly understand that pressure, especially with everything else going on. Despite what we’re going through, we have to show up to work every day and provide ultimate quality service like nothing is happening. It’s a huge emotional task that I think black people kind of just learned to push through while being in America.
Being so busy, you have to be somewhat numb to that. I think it’s sad, and I think it’s just time for it not to be something that has to happen. We shouldn’t have to be emotional about being a certain color—that shouldn’t even be a thing. I try to put all my focus on taking my business to the next level, being a great father and husband. Then some of that energy is leaving my body to deal with being black in America.
What advice do you have for business owners that are just starting out?
When people are first getting started, they think they don’t have the right content or pictures for Yelp or Instagram. So then they wait and wait until they have great photos or something great to say, but you have to just start. Things are not going to be perfect but don’t be afraid to put out what you have. Don’t be afraid of it not being perfect. Don’t be shy! Just put it out and share it with the world.
You have to be out there for people to find you, and you have to be willing to be wrong or have something that doesn’t look good. If you scroll back to our first Instagram picture, I am so ashamed of it, so ashamed. I’m surprised people were paying for that. Then 14 years into our business, we’ve given ourselves the opportunity to grow and learn.
So I would say stop putting the pressure on yourself for it to be perfect. It will never be perfect. Put it out as it is today, share it with the world, and be proud and willing to learn, grow, and embrace. The process is truly going to make you who you are. Even in today’s society, people appreciate the story of watching where it started versus where it came to.
People will grow with you, and some people will be lost along the way. We’ve lost some clients of course, but as people leave, more people will get on the train. Be willing to just start, put it out there, and think to yourself, today is the day. It won’t be perfect, but so what? Get it out there today.