Kelli’s Cakes and Confections a sweet deal for everyone
In the end, there were just too many signs pointing Kelli Smith Russell towards starting her own business. Needing a job that could fulfill her creative side, and talent for making a cupcake look almost too good to eat, Russell, 24, sat down and prayed. And prayed, and then prayed some more.
With the help of her mother, Paula Smith, and a bevy of other family members, including her husband Cole Russell, her father and Russell’s uncle, Bruce Patterson, the leap of faith early this spring turned into Kelli’s Cakes and Confections.
Located at 1944 University Ave. in the East Oxford Shopping Center, the decorative shop is filled with cookies, cupcakes and petit fours, at least early in the day when Russell first opens. Since Easter weekend, when Russell first started taking orders as a new business order, the demand for high-quality baked goods has been almost nonstop.
“We have been swamped. We have been a lot busier than I expected us to be,” said Russell, who also does special cake orders and wedding cakes. “I had people constantly calling me, trying to have me make stuff at home and you just can’t make stuff at home.”
Finding her way
A career in baking and decorating – the part that Russell really thrives at – started when she was in college and needing a place to perform an internship as part of her hospitality management degree. That place turned out to be Emileigh’s Bakery where Russell learned some of the nuances of baking and decorating.
“I baked some when I was needed. My main thing was I wanted to decorate cakes, ice the cakes. That’s what I mostly do here,” Russell said. “My mom does a lot of the baking. I learned to bake from my mom. She always cooked and baked.”
Following her time at Emileigh’s, Russell found herself back working at Oxford Printwear for Robby Ferguson, another person she really credits for her early success, designing T-shirts. While the job helped fulfill the creative, artistic side of Russell, the thought of starting her own business kept popping up, in large part to signs and occurrences that made her mind drift that way. With the support from her family, and the community, Russell ultimately followed where her heart and prayers led her.
“I really wanted to see if this was something I could do. I had a few interviews and just didn’t know what I wanted to do. We just prayed about it. We had so much support in the community. I just really enjoy doing it and it makes people happy. That’s what we want to do,” Russell said, looking back at how everything came together. “If it was up to me, I would have quit months ago. I don’t know how to run a business, but I do like to create and I love to decorate cakes. I love to draw, do graphic design, I love the art of it. As far as the business goes, it terrifies me because I have never done that. It was really scary. I’ve paid bills but not to pay taxes and employees and it really was a leap of faith.”
Paula Smith was quick to point out that Patterson really made a difference, as has all the family members, the second and third cousins that have all pitched in, to the family friends such as Deanna Denny of Deanna’s Confections that also gave valuable advice.
A month into the new venture, Russell said she felt much better about the actual business part.
“We’re learning as we go. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback. Deanna Denny came up here and she really has been encouraging me for years to do this. She came up here our first week and helped us out so much. She has taught me a lot. I’ve been telling everybody she’s been back here because she has such a popular name,” Russell said. “I have an amazing support system. It may say my name out on the front, but it’s not me doing it all.
“The whole process is just so much bigger than you expect. We had to get gas running in here, we had to get water. There were little things that I would have said I can’t do this if it hadn’t been for people like my mom, for my sister, my uncle, my dad. I just said I’m young, I don’t have any children. I just thought we’re going to give it our best shot, hope for the best.”
And her husband, who came up with the design for her business cards and sign on the door, has also been a stabilizing force.
“He works at the university printing services as a graphic designer under Hilarie Bain. They have been awesome to help us get (cards) printed. He comes in after work everyday at 4:30 p.m. and rolls out cookies or sweeps or does whatever he can to help. It’s just been amazing to have so many people that want to help,” Russell said.
When it comes to special ordering a cake, Russell said she would like a week to prepare. She has email and a Facebook page, but the ideal way to see her in person, or call.
“We’ve had a ton of people come in asking about wedding cakes and what I tell them is send me an email with your date, how many people are attending and pictures of cakes they are interested in just to make sure it’s something we can do,” Russell said. “We don’t do anything with fondant, everything is just butter cream.”
When it comes to chocolate chip cookies, Russell said 250 are gone within a couple of days. Another popular item are the double doozies, which include two cookies sandwiching butter cream icing and topped with sprinkles.
“Even if we stayed up all night I don’t think we could keep everything stocked like we should. I would like to get to the point where we have things everyday and we’re working on getting there,” Russell said. “We really want to focus on what children like. My aunt Cheryl taught for 33 years, first- and second-grade. She’s awesome with the children and she was showing me pictures of some cupcakes that she saw on Pintrest that were on some cartoon. I’m trying to take more pictures to show people what we can do, it’s just so tough to take pictures since I’m so busy.”
Another main goal for Russell, since she’s had so much help, is giving back to the community. Last month, and for the rest of May, she is taking up tips for the Boys and Girls Club. Other organizations are also welcome to stop in and drop off a bucket to get filled, she said.