From private equity to pastries
Insights from Teresa Ging, Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique & Sugar Bliss Patisserie (Loop)
Teresa started out on a conventional path: after receiving a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Statistics from the University of Chicago, she spent her twenties working in the world of finance, dabbling in everything from equity research to investment banking. But after six years of facing sexist double-standards and industry politics, she decided it was time for a much-needed break.
But she wasn’t taking any typical vacation; she knew she wanted to do something meaningful with her time off. She had always had an interest in cooking, but after looking for culinary schools across the city of Chicago, she couldn’t find one that fit her goals--or her wallet. So in an entirely unexpected turn of events, Teresa decided to venture into a whirlwind, three-month trip to Paris: "I kind of just need to get out of the state... I'd rather just be in the heart of pastries, I'll be in Paris."
That’s how she ended up attending Le Cordon Bleu Paris, widely recognized as the world’s premier cooking school in the culinary capital of the world. It was exactly the change she was looking for. Three months later, Teresa found herself leaving France with a pastry certificate and a newfound passion. She decided to permanently leave her position in finance, hoping to somehow break through in Chicago’s culinary space. But she didn’t want to be just any chef. She wanted to pick one thing and make it exceptional: "I decided just to focus on one product and be good at that product versus doing everything.”
That’s how she picked an item that has held the hearts of consumers - young and old alike - for years: cupcakes. As Teresa puts it, “Cake will never go away.”
She spent eight months developing cake batters and buttercreams in an extensive range of flavors, eventually leading her to what’s now a twenty-flavor catalog: five staple flavors always in-house, six flavors rotated weekly, and a brand-new seasonal flavor chosen each week.
Experimentation is clearly her forte, so what are the weirdest flavors she’s ever tried? “Root Beer,” she says. “Or maybe Red Hot, which is like a chocolate cinnamon chili.”
In the ten years since she attended Le Cordon Bleu, Teresa’s life has turned upside down. Unfortunately, one thing hasn’t changed: the discrimination she faced in finance has continued to follow her. Even in a completely different industry, she’s still a woman in a “male-dominated sphere,” she says.
“Even with the construction of the store, it’s funny, I feel like sometimes I had to put my ‘big boy pants’ on, and show the contractors that yes, I know what I’m doing.” When trying to get a loan to build out her business, despite the high sum she was personally investing into Sugar Bliss and her strong financial history, banks often discriminated against her: “‘You’re too young to own a business,’ and ‘you don’t have a secondary income’ - meaning I wasn’t married.”
But Teresa hasn’t let any of that interfere with her drive for success: “Yes, I could have just walked away from [starting a business]… but you know what, you just have to stick up for yourself.”
Today, Sugar Bliss offers a warm, bubbly space (literally). The baby blue walls are peppered with little brown circles offering the menu of the day; a string of pastel bubbles wraps around the store, and the logo itself is charming and playful. The centerpiece of the store is the pastry display: the eleven flavors of mini and regular-sized cupcakes, the twelve macaron types, and the six cake pop specialties are guaranteed to make your mouth water.
Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique’s selections could seem somewhat limited, but it all circles back to Teresa’s original goal: excellence. By focusing on cake and cupcakes at this location, customers are always sure to be satisfied. That innate excellence is what keeps customers coming in week after week, month after month: “We have one woman who comes every week, either Wednesday or Friday… It’s really important that we strive to get customers that come back every time.”
And if customers are looking for a more diverse selection, Teresa’s second store, Sugar Bliss Patisserie, is less than a three-minute walk from the Cake Boutique. There, you’ll find a full menu of options, from coffee to tea to crepes, cookies, and of course, more cupcakes.
Next time you’re looking for a dose of sugar-induced bliss, head over to either one of Teresa’s locations on the outskirts of the loop for a signature cupcake that’ll take you right back to your childhood. And best of all, as Teresa likes to say, with a cupcake, you never have to share.