A business that is icing on the cake
“After I finished grad school some years ago, I was bored. I was looking for something to keep me busy,” said 39-year-old Nneka Onuma, owner of Sweet Heaven by Nne. “So, I took a cake decorating class, kind of a basic-level class,” said Onuma, who specializes in custom-designed cakes. “It was kind of a lightbulb moment. I said, ‘Let me just give it a shot.’”
Sweet Heaven, which Onuma launched during the pandemic in January 2021, is run out of her home. “I got to a point where I realized that I was quite skilled at [creating cakes] and it gives me an opportunity to make some additional income.”
MSR: What inspired you to start your business?
NO: I have been around baking all my life. My mother got me into baking at a young age. In high school, I worked at a Dairy Queen. At one point, the cake decorator was leaving, so I had asked the supervisor, ‘Instead of hiring a new cake decorator, why don’t you just train me?’ And that’s exactly what he did.
MSR: How does your business impact the community?
NO: I like to say that I’m in the happiness business. Oftentimes, when clients send me photos of my cakes at events, there’s always someone smiling at the cake or smiling because of the cake. I think my business contributes directly to the joy that I bring to the community that I serve.
In this day and age, we need so much more of that positivity, and bringing a smile to someone’s face impacts the community. I pride myself in the fact that I bring that joy and happiness and positivity to my community.
MSR: What’s your most popular item?
NO: I love making cupcakes, and custom-designed cakes are my specialty. I can create a cake based on any theme. I’ve made everything from fire-breathing dragons to an edible chessboard cake. I’ve made a lot of floral cakes with fresh flowers.
I consider myself an artist. And cakes are really just the medium that I’ve chosen to share my artistic expression with the world. Each cake is just that—an art project for me.
MSR: Is there a favorite cake or a memorable cake that you created?
NO: I always ask my son what cake he wants for his birthday. He told me he wanted a fire-breathing dragon. I didn’t have a clue how I was gonna do it at the time, but I was determined to give him exactly that. I was able to accomplish that, and it made me really proud. It looked pretty cool.
MSR: What’s your biggest challenge in running your business?
NO: I work full-time for Hennepin County. My business is part-time, and it’s my side hustle. I do have young children, so I have a lot of other things that require my time as well. I have to balance my business, family and work.
For now, I’m a one-woman company. That makes it challenging because I’m doing everything from baking cakes to marketing to whatever I need to do. I have to do it by myself.
MSR: What’s the most rewarding part of your business?
NO: The most rewarding part of my business is that it’s a creative outlet for me. Even if I never got paid to design cakes, the fact that I’m creating a cake is enough of a reward for me. It brings me joy. But the most rewarding part is the fact that I make other people happy. It’s not just a cake, it’s so much more than that.
I’m honored for my cakes to be the centerpieces of the celebrations that my clients are celebrating. Whether it’s a wedding, a birthday, an anniversary, or graduation, I just really, really love that I make people happy.
MSR: What’s your vision for your business and where do you want to go with it?
NO: I definitely want to grow my business. I see the potential for cake decorating to be used in unique spaces. I think it is a really important tool that brings people together. It’s not one you may necessarily think about when you think about relationship-building, but it does bring people together.
I would love to provide more services that are curated events and experiences for people, which are centered around cake decorating. For example, it could be a professional development exercise for organizations, or a group of girlfriends getting together, or guys who want to do something fun and unique that they’ve never done before.
I have an event that’s coming up on July 15. I invited Porsha Kimble, who’s a national cake decorating instructor and an artist. She’s coming to Minneapolis, and we are having a cake workshop. She’s going to be teaching a class where we have another local artist—Liana’s Cake Pops. We’ll be doing some demonstrations about how to make certain treats.
It’s a workshop that serves as a learning experience for lots of other aspiring and established cake artists. It’s also a space that’s going to allow us to network with each other, learn from each other, and be in a space where you have a common passion with other people. I’m looking for more people to register for that event, as well as any potential sponsors looking for organizations to partner with.
MSR: What does success look like for you in your business?
NO: Success for me is at the end of the day, I want to be able to say that I’ve made a difference. And that shows up in so many different ways. It could be a couple of friends who book a class with me and become a little bit closer. It’s that a five-year-old boy saw his dinosaur cake and thought it was the coolest thing in the world. It’s that even though I’m tired, I’m fulfilled.
MSR: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
NO: I would encourage other aspiring business owners to “just do it” like the Nike slogan. Just go out there and do it. That’s the hardest thing. You can kind of figure it out as you go.
For more information about cake-decorating classes and workshops, or to inquire about ordering a custom-designed cake, go to www.sweetheavenbynne.com, or call 612-234-2724. You can also follow Nneka Onuma’s cake designs on Instagram (@sweetheavenbynne, and on Facebook.