When Hillary Landry walked onto her front porch one afternoon, she was surprised to find a mysterious box of mini pink and white popsicle-shaped cakes, each with a white chocolate shell and pearl-like sprinkles.
“We were cakesicle bombed,” said Landry, a resident of New Orleans, Louisiana.
The culprit was Zoe Guillen, a communication and leadership freshman who is also from New Orleans. When her school closed for the pandemic in March, Guillen baked for Landry, a longtime family friend, and others across her community to spread joy.
“I’ve been baking for as long as I can remember,” Guillen said. “It’s kind of therapeutic for me. We all had our spirits down, and I realized that if I could just package up little baked goods, it would bring a warm feeling to people. It’s instant gratification.”
Guillen launched a “campaign for kindness” — a series of baking projects that included delivering 20 customized cupcakes to her fellow high school seniors on National College Decision Day. In April, she turned this campaign into a baking business: Sprinkled Gems.
“During corona when things were closed, my kitchen was still open,” Guillen said. “People (in New Orleans) are really supportive, especially of self-startups.”
Guillen said her friends encouraged her to make a Snapchat account to showcase her baking. Word of her business spread through her community and people began contacting her for birthdays and other special occasions.
“The cakes, cupcakes and cookies are really what skyrocketed my business,” Guillen said. “It’s a treat to remember that we didn't forget about you. This day is still important.”
By late May, Guillen said she had enough orders to make Sprinkled Gems her official part-time job. She designed the Sprinkled Gems logo, an image of a purple, glittering mouth, and began taking orders through the @sprinkledgems Instagram page. The requests continued to pour in, and by the end of the summer, Guillen had made over $1,000.
Landry said she orders from Guillen “too much,” and she has used Sprinkled Gems to celebrate both of her daughters’ birthdays.
“I always want to support women-owned businesses,” Landry said. “There’s no better thing than waking up to find those cakesicles in my fridge.”
For massive orders, Guillen asks to borrow friends’ ovens, but more often than not, she bakes without one.
“I've had a broken oven in my household for three or four years,” Guillen said. “So I have become this very skilled toaster oven baker.”
Using her toaster oven at The Callaway House in West Campus, Guillen transferred Sprinkled Gems from New Orleans to Austin. To promote her business, Guillen offered free baked goods to her new Instagram followers.
“I'm trying to get a feel for the UT community and how people will respond,” Guillen said.
Gabby Perez, a sophomore at George Washington University, attended high school with Guillen and watched Sprinkled Gems grow from the onset.
“(Guillen) is very driven and determined, so I think you can see that reflected in her business,” Perez said. “She's basically an artist in the kitchen.”
For the time being, Guillen said she wants to keep making people smile, one cakesicle at a time.
“I never expected (Sprinkled Gems) to grow this type of way,” Guillen said. “I hope that Sprinkled Gems inspires the same kindness it started with.”