Hope Jones Interview
(This Chick Bakes)
In September 2013 This Chick Bakes was sold to Hope Jones of Cookie Mogul and Hope Faith and Gluttony, by the original owners Jen Houston and Charley Tucker.
Hope combined the best of all the bakeries into one of the strongest wholesalers of baked goods with a special focus on gluten-free.
Q - Hope, what were you doing before you bought This Chick Bakes?
A - I had my own company. I bought This Chick Bakes from the original owners, creators Jen and Charley. I had Hope Faith and Gluttony. I started that almost 20 years ago. I started that in Red Bank, New Jersey. I closed it in Red Bank after 2002 and then I came to New York and took a couple of years off and started Hope Faith and Gluttony up again in 2005. Then in 2013 I bought This Chick Bakes. I merged the two companies and kept This Chick Bakes. This Chick Bakes for the last six years before I bought it had been working out on my facility. So, I already knew who they were I knew what their profit was and how they ran it.
Q - Why did the original owners want to get out of the business? Do you know?
A - Personally I think they were just tired of it. (Laughs). Jen and Charley are actors so they were a couple. When I met them in 2008 or so they had just split up. So, you can imagine working with your ex.
Q - It would be tough.
A - Yeah. (Laughs). I definitely felt like the kid in the divorce at times but I also watched what they did, knew they had a great product. We were not competitors in that they were doing a lot of wholesale and I was retail. I’d be offering for the last 3, 4 years that they were working out of my place to buy it from them. We finally got to the point where they said yes. We agreed on a price and the rest is history.
Q - Is there a big demand today for gluten-free baked goods?
A - Yeah. We have a whole line of products that are gluten-free.
Q - As a wholesaler you sell to restaurants and retail stores?
A - I sell more to retail stores then I sell to restaurants. Some caterers. Places like that that are looking for gluten-free options for their clients. I don’t do as many desserts as I do cookies.
Q - How big is your presence online? People who try your cookies then go back online and order from you? Is that a big part of your business?
A - They do. Here’s where the merging comes in because I actually bought another company. I locally owned three different companies and now I’m down to two. I bought Baking For Goods which is my charity portion of things because every time you buy something from Baking For Goods a portion of the proceeds goes to a charity of your choice. I should say a charity style of your choice like kids or education. That sort of thing. This Chick Bakes merged with Hope Faith and Gluttony. Hope Faith and Gluttony was predominantly an online presence. I also do cakes and custom cookies. So that was a very niche market. I do a lot of things for the film and TV industry here in New York. The wholesale thing which I really hadn’t gotten into was This Chick Bakes part of it. When I bought them out I bought the gluten-free part of things because they had started making a lot of gluten-free by the time I took them over. Vegan was another one of those big demands and they were already into the wholesale. That allowed me to bring those recipes to the online; my current online people aren’t quite there yet with ordering as much gluten-free items as non-gluten-free items online as they do for the wholesale. Basically I bought a company when I bought This Chick Bakes that had an established cookie line. I bought a bunch of things, when I merged the two, from Hope Faith and Gluttony that were not gluten-free over to This Chick Bakes and vice versa. I chose This Chick Bakes as the main name now with a conglomeration of products. So, the gluten-free products have definitely increased and we’ve added to that product line. But it hasn’t jumped as much as my online order as it has on my wholesale orders.
Q - I can’t even imagine how much time it takes to design one of your custom cakes. They look so good you don’t even want to eat them!
A - Some of them definitely do look like that. Some of the cakes I had a mentor with me and she actually did through her company before she retired. She just taught me how to do them and allowed me to use those images. There are some that are mine. I can copy her style into the things she has taught me and then you can look at some of mine that I’d say were fanciful in terms of characters. A lot of people will look at them and say they don’t want to touch it. Personally they don’t know how to cut the cake like that and they’re a little intimidated because it is so pretty. They don’t want to ruin it by cutting into it.
Q - Somewhere along the line these elaborate cakes started to appear. Was it in the 1990s thanks to the Food Network?
A - Yeah. (Laughs). When I started my first company in New Jersey, Hope Faith and Gluttony I got a hold of a whole lot of people who’d been in New York and said oh, I saw this cake or I’d seen it in Martha Stewart’s magazine. Between her and In Style Magazine they’d show these beautiful photos of wedding cakes and other cakes of stars that people ordered. They’d say, can you copy that? And for a while there yeah, I could definitely copy things. Before the Buddy (Valastro) invasion there was Charm City Cakes. I wish I could remember his name. I loved his show. I really admired what he did. I tried to model myself after him. It takes a week to two weeks sometimes to get a cake from start to finish. Baking it is easy. It’s all the extra stuff that goes on that’s harder. So, some of the wedding cakes you see, and specialty cakes, some of those pieces took a couple of weeks ahead of time to make. Then there are others that I have managed to do in a 24-hour period. Sometimes they look it. Sometimes they don’t. It depends on when the person orders. That’s my blame, as it were, on the TV industry to have people like Buddy of Cake Boss and make it look like he did a five tier cake in a day with all of the extras falling off of it. You know it wasn’t just him. He’s got his whole team behind him helping him out. It took a week to make those.
Q - Do you have any famous clients? Are you able to name names?
A - Yes. One of my first big names was Bruce Springsteen. That was in my New Jersey days. Jon Bon Jovi. I didn’t do something for him necessarily because his wife loves to bake, but, I did things for his band. I did things for some other bandmates of Bruce Springsteen and Geraldo Rivera.
Q - Did Bruce Springsteen specifically buy from you?
A - His chef bought from me. His personal chef. I made his 50th birthday cake which was lovely. I met a couple of his bandmates and actually went backstage a couple of times. I did his wife’s birthday cake and some other cakes she would order from me. So, those are the ones that I would meet in person. I’ve done a lot of things when I moved to New York. I’ve done a lot of TV shows. I’ve met the stars and I know there eating my stuff, but, I can’t claim they ordered from me. But, I know Michael J Fox and people on his TV show loved my stuff. I’ve done Tom Selleck’s birthday cake a couple of times. Donnie Wahlberg’s birthday cake. Debra Messing. I’ve done things for her. She has special dietary needs. I got a lot of calls for that too. Ugly Betty was my intro into a lot of TV shows. Someone can’t eat sugar or they can’t eat flour before the gluten free thing happend. They have all these dietary things. They need to eat a doughnut I would make something that looks like a doughnut. That has the allowed ingredients in it.
Q - How do you get a fresh baked cake to Virginia or Connecticut? Do you FedEx it?
A - I FedEx it yeah. Virginia and Connecticut are two spots that are one day ships which is lovely because FedEx ground is a lot cheaper than going overnight obviously so, we bake it one day, ship it the same day and it arrives the next day. I don’t ship too many cakes unless they are solid. I do freeze them so they don’t get mushed too much by putting ice packs. In heat, when it gets over 90° I can’t always guarantee even if it goes overnight that it’ll arrive intact or not be smashed on the top because once it leaves my facility the FedEx guys and girls have got free access to it. I always tell my staff packet as if you saw Jim Carrey pretend UPS guy at the beginning of Animal Detective kicking the box down the street.
Q - You must insure those cakes you send?
A - Yeah. We insure it with our clients who send it with FedEx. They have a very good policy about it.
Official website: www.thischickbakes.com
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