A few years ago, I met up with a lady who was launching a new business. We had been following each other on social media and decided to get to know each other in real life. Not only was I inspired by her passion for her business, but I also became quick friends with her, which was something awfully sweet.
Annie’s Signature Sweets is a small business started by Cleveland native Ann LoParo. Ann has grown her business exponentially, receiving local and even national press attention. Let’s learn more about her sweet success in her own words…
What gave you the idea to start Annie’s Signature Sweets?
I had spent 10 years working as a Pastry Chef in Restaurants and Private resorts all over the United states and had finally burned out after 10 years. I was physically and mentally exhausted. I worked endless hours and barely took any time off or time for myself. At the time I was ready to move on, I had the opportunity to go on a yoga retreat to Bali and on that trip, I was with a lot of entrepreneurs who encouraged me to explore starting a business. I am the type of person, when something comes in front of me, I am going to explore the idea. It took me a few months, but then I started taking it one step at a time.
My business slowly grew and I started figuring out what I wanted to focus on. I knew that in the restaurants there was not always a “need” for Pastry Chefs and a lot of shortcuts were made to be more efficient. When I finally decided to start a business, I wanted to focus on fresh, handmade mini desserts because they can be versatile, fun and elegant. I love baking and exploring my creativity through my desserts.
Tell me about how your business first started and how it’s grown since then.
I started my business as Annie’s Sweet shop in 2017 and that first year I really had no idea what I was doing. I signed up for classes at Lorain County Community College that were free and met with counselors there to discuss my business and what my vision was. I really had no clue at that point, other than, I loved creating desserts from scratch. I joined the Women’s Business Center, and Keep it Local and started attending any show that I could. I was a vendor at small churches, events, and started networking any way that I could. I knew I didn’t want to do wholesale right away. I needed a break from the monotony of what I identify as “kitchen life”. I lost myself and lost any kind of connection with anyone who was eating my desserts. My desserts would be served, but I rarely met my customers because I was always baking in the back.
I wanted to make sure that I found a way to connect with people. I had friends and family that would buy my desserts and then I started to get referrals of inquiries from other people and they enjoyed the desserts as well. I was still lacking connection. In August 2017, I changed the name of my business to Annie’s Signature Sweets. All of my desserts on my menu I identified as “signature” so it fit perfectly.
In February 2018, I started teaching baking classes and was able to connect with people from all over Cleveland who loved baking or at least fun experiences.This was a game changer and my business quickly went from catering to teaching. My first year of teaching, I taught 32 baking classes, in 2019 I taught over 100 baking classes. In 2020, I have taught over 85 baking classes already and counting! Because of COVID, my classes are virtual and now I am teaching internationally. It is amazing and so much fun!
How has your business pivoted during the pandemic?
I run my business alone and had to figure out a way to make money. I worked a part time job since I left my full time job as Pastry Chef of the Cleveland Museum of Art in May 2016 and had gone 100% on my own in October 2019. When COVID came about, I knew that I had to adjust again and a few students and friends of mine suggested online classes. My fear was losing the connection with people that we had in real life.
I quickly learned how to use Zoom, thanks to some friends of mine in Sacramento, who tested out the first few classes with me. I posted some classes and started to get students to sign up.
Cleveland.com published an article about my online classes in March 2020 and shortly after that article was published, I found out that In April 2020, I was featured in Country Living Magazine. I had no idea. I had received an inquiry for a private virtual event from someone in LA and she told me about the article. I was shocked and super excited. Since that article was published, I have taught internationally in the Philippines, India, Canada, Panama and all over the United States including: Washington DC, Hawaii, New York, Minnesota, Iowa, Virginia, Connecticut, Utah, Colorado and several other states. I have received a lot of inquiries for private team building events, bachelorette parties and birthdays and taught a sold out summer camp to 10 kids in New York.
Tell me some of your favorite local businesses to work with and why local partnership is so important.
I love supporting local businesses and most recently worked with Campbell’s Popcorn and Storehouse Tea for a Mother’s day gift basket. My signature lemon lavender shortbread was part of the gift box. I know Jeff & Lynn Campbell and Paula Hershman since we all work in the historic Hildebrandt building where I create my signature sweets and teach my in person baking classes. It is important to form relationships with people and work with people who you like and respect and their businesses pair very well with my sweets.
I attend my friend Alicia Hansen’s yoga classes as often as possible. I love her ability to connect with each student and we share a love of carbs and sweets.
How do you give back to the community, either personally or professionally?
I have worked with several businesses by donating sweets and/or a baking class for events. 2 of my favorite businesses that I have worked with the last couple of years include Prayers from Maria and the Children’s Hunger Alliance. I have a big heart for kids and am happy to help both of these causes. Prayers from Maria works to find a cure for cancer and the Children’s Hunger Alliance works to help end childhood hunger. I was a social worker prior to being a Pastry Chef so this definitely is close to my heart.
What are your personal favorite products you create?
My lemon lavender shortbread is literally my first born and what started my business. I carry it in my purse and it is still my best selling item. I wanted my desserts to be simple, fun and full of flavor without all the extra fluff and frosting that is everywhere:)
Other favorites of mine include my Apple Rosemary Goat Cheese Tart, Strawberry Thyme Whoopie pies, Flourless Chocolate Basil torte, Pretzel Salted Caramel cheesecake and my Toffee coffee almond cheesecake. I love decadent desserts and these are all pretty indulgent.
During the shutdown, I took one of Ann’s virtual baking classes and it was both tons of fun during the class, plus tons of fun after (enjoying all that decadent goodness.) Plus, I have the honor of being the first person to sign up for her first in-person baking class. I love her sweets, as well as her authentic spirit and spunk.