Leadership

The millennial founder of Baked by Melissa plans to sell 500,000 cupcakes for Valentine’s Day

As over half of the United States celebrates Valentine's Day on Wednesday, Americans are expected to spend a near-record high of $19.6 billion for the holiday, according to the National Retail Federation. Of those shopping for their significant others, family friends and coworkers, 14 percent are making their purchases at their local, small businesses.

For New York-based desserts shop Baked by Melissa, Valentine's Day marks the business' biggest retail day of the year. In fact, Baked by Melissa co-founder, president and chief product officer Melissa Ben-Ishay, 34, tells CNBC Make It she expects the business to sell over 500,000 cupcakes from the Valentine's Day collection this year.

"Valentine's Day marks one of my favorite weeks of the year," she says. "It makes me super excited for the future and gives me the confidence — which I already have — that, of course, we're going to be able to grow the company and meet our goals. If we can do this, we can do anything."

Baked by Melissa co-founder Melissa Ben-Ishay holds up her special Valentine's Day collection of cupcakes and macarons for 2018.
CNBC
Baked by Melissa co-founder Melissa Ben-Ishay holds up her special Valentine's Day collection of cupcakes and macarons for 2018.

Although most widely recognized for its bite-sized, tie-dye cupcakes, Ben-Ishay created seven cupcakes and two macaron flavors for her limited edition Valentine's Day collection.

"This collection just reminds me of eating chocolate on Valentine's Day. It's a day to indulge and eat things that are sweet with people who are sweet, whether they're your loved ones your siblings your best friends your girlfriends," Ben-Ishay says. "It's just an excuse to show people that you care about them and what's better than that?"

Baked by Melissa operates 14 stores in the New York area and nationwide through the company's e-commerce website, but the business was born out of a mere side hustle.

Throughout college, Ben-Ishay was confident she would figure out her career path after graduation and learn on the job. When she landed a role as an assistant media planner, her heart simply wasn't in it — and her employer could tell. One afternoon, Ben-Ishay was asked to visit HR for what she thought would be a promotion. Instead, she got fired.

"I think it's easy to tell when somebody doesn't care about the work that they're doing," Ben-Ishay says. "It makes complete sense that my employer knew I wasn't passionate about my job and they did me the biggest favor they possibly could have. Being fired is the reason we were able to start Baked by Melissa."

That day, Ben-Ishay packed her things and immediately visited her brother, Brian Bushell, at his office. The siblings had always dreamt of working together, so Bushell told her, "Go home, bake your cupcakes, we'll start a business out of it."

Ben-Ishay went home and baked 250 cupcakes for her best friend's little sister, who worked for a public relations firm, to bring to work.

"The owner of the P.R. firm tried the cupcakes and loved them and put me in touch with her caterer for a tasting," Ben-Ishay says.

Baking was a therapeutic hobby for Ben-Ishay, who would often make cakes and cupcakes after work or during the weekend for friends and loved ones. Ahead of her first official tasting, Ben-Ishay's brother and her friend Matt helped her prepare a logo, bakery boxes and the name, "Baked by Melissa."

"I started doing events with [the caterer] less than a week after being fired and that's how Baked by Melissa was born," Ben-Ishay says.

Although getting fired took time for her to get over, Ben-Ishay says co-founding Baked by Melissa with her brother — with the support of her parents as well — gave her the chance to do what she loves.

"You don't have a lot of people who unconditionally love you and support you in life, but there always are a few," Ben-Ishay says. "I was fortunate to be surrounded by my loved ones. Without them, we wouldn't be here."

In March of 2009, Baked by Melissa had its grand opening to the public.

Since its inception, Baked by Melissa tells CNBC Make It that it has sold over 100 million cupcakes. In October of 2017, Ben-Ishay released her first cookbook, "Cakes by Melissa: Life Is What You Bake It."

Today, Ben-Ishay is the face of the company and creates the company's monthly set of new cupcake and macaron flavors. She tells CNBC Make It that her plans for Valentine's Day will mostly consist of working in her Baked by Melissa store in New York City's Fashion District.

"It's all about making these special moments unique to the time of year," Ben-Ishay says. "Being able to facilitate so many people's gifts to the one that they love or want to acknowledge on this day means more to me than any gift. It's just the coolest thing to be a part of."

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