Local bakery displays entrepreneurial resilience amid pandemic


The balance of familiar flavors with a nuanced palate is part of the reason why local small business Small and Sweet Bake has found success. Photo credit Cindy Choi.

Isabella Ratto, news correspondent

For Cindy Choi, founder, owner and sole employee of Small and Sweet Bake, the past two years have been full of immense, positive change. The Chinese-American Boston native was inspired to start her entrepreneurial business in 2019. She eventually decided to produce a cultural fusion that combined traditional Asian flavors and a popular dessert: cupcakes. 

Choi started small by securing spots in farmers markets to better understand the demand for her product. By the end of February 2020, she launched the official website for Small and Sweet Bake. 

“I got the idea of infusing my background, Asian flavors and cupcakes, which I hadn’t really seen before,” Choi said. “I had never even baked a cupcake before I started this business … [so it] took me a good half-year to nine months to get the basics down, but by early 2020 I was ready to say ‘let’s really do this.’” 

The balance of familiar flavors, such as chocolate or red velvet, with a nuanced palate is part of the reason why Small and Sweet Bake has found success. 

“Cindy’s mission is really amazing, trying to introduce people to Asian flavors through such a familiar vehicle like cupcakes. I love sharing her flavors every month on my platform,” said Mollie Heintzelman, a Boston-area food blogger who runs Green Line Eats

In addition to staple cupcakes on Small and Sweet Bake’s menu, including bruleed french toast mochi and miso caramel, Choi introduces a line-up of limited-edition cupcakes on a monthly basis. Some of February’s flavors included matcha rose mochi, red velvet White Rabbit candy and black sesame chocolate banana. 

“For me, [experimenting with flavors] is the most fun part. Coming up with recipes and branding them has provided this creative outlet which I felt I was missing before,” Choi said. “I love when the line-up comes together, like when I did a breakfast [theme] last September. It forced me to branch out and play with some savory flavors, which was challenging but really fun.” 

Choi’s ability to pair ingredients and flavors in an unexpected way keeps her customers engaged and excited to see future monthly creative fusions. 

“Small and Sweet Bake has exposed me to unique flavor combinations that I would have never thought would complement each other. One month, [Choi used] black sesame, which I had never really tried and paired it with peanut butter and banana. It was seriously delicious,” Heintzelman said. 

Introducing a new small business just a month before pandemic regulations were put in place across the United States meant that Choi encountered some difficulties early on in her entrepreneurial journey. 

“I was about to sign with a commercial kitchen who had to refuse me, which forced me to backpedal a little bit. I had to take some time to really reflect, to think about how I could pivot. I started doing deliveries in September of [2020],” Choi said. 

The delivery model proved highly effective for Small and Sweet Bake. Choi continues to drive a majority of orders to her customers. Anyone within a 25-mile radius of the city of Boston, as well as residents in Providence county, Rhode Island, can get their cupcakes delivered. 

Local businesses have proved important to Small and Sweet Bake’s ever-expanding customer base. Various locations in the New England area have hosted Choi and her cupcakes, introducing her to a wider clientele. 

Choi has made several appearances at Kimochi Boba Cafe’s Attleboro location, where she sets up inside the store for a day and sells her cupcakes. 

“Small and Sweet Bake has definitely experienced steady growth since we started working together. I’ve seen her do a lot more collaborations with other small businesses,” said Bobbi Insisiengmay, a co-owner of Kimochi Boba Cafe. 

What started as occasional collaborations for Small and Sweet Bake have turned into frequent pop-ups, often with the same businesses on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. In addition to Kimochi, Small and Sweet Bake has been featured in the Newbury Street location of Arc’teryx Equipment, an outdoor apparel brand, as well as at Charuma, a tea bar in Providence, Rhode Island. 

“We originally started working with Cindy for one of our ‘Surprise and Delight’ events heading into the holidays and new year where we were looking to bring in local vendors. She was such a hit with customers and staff that we have brought her back twice already through the new year,” said Griffin Simmonds, Arc’teryx Equipment Boston’s marketing lead. 

Heintzelman recognizes Choi’s open-mindedness regarding partnerships as another way to grow her business. 

“She’s done an amazing job using word of mouth and the influencer model to get her business out there. She’s really started to expand,” Heintzelman said. 

Much of Choi’s communication about business updates, including pop-ups and new flavors announcements, occurs on Instagram

“Social media is huge for small businesses, especially now. It allows us to regularly interact with customers, discover other [business owners] we may want to collaborate with and just generally spread the word about what we’re doing,” Choi said. 

While she has no definitive plans for the future, Choi said she has numerous aspirations for Small and Sweet Bake. One thing she has learned since starting her business is to take her time planning.

“I think the next step is to see if I can land some sort of brick and mortar or a food truck, that would be awesome — it would allow me to remain mobile. That being said, I don’t want to do anything too quickly or be too rash,” Choi said. 

The individuals she’s worked with, as well as her customers, are very excited to see where the next few months and years will take Choi.

“She puts passion and exuberance into her cupcakes. I’m excited to see what’s in store for Cindy and Small and Sweet Bake,” Simmonds said.