Life is filled with moments.
Some are fleeting and forgotten. Some are magical and memorable.
It’s these moments that shape us and define us.
At Sweet Frostings Blissful Bakeshop in Spokane, Washington, they celebrate the moments.
“We love being a part of people’s lives– having those special moments and being able to share those with others,” says Jessica Atkinson, Sweet Frosting’s CEO. At just 25-years-old, she’s found a recipe for sweet success. It starts with a powerhouse mother-daughter duo, strong instincts, and remarkable business savvy. Oh, and butter. Lots and lots of butter.
Gathering the Ingredients
The story of how this young entrepreneur got here is a series of moments. That moment of choice that alters the course of your life. That moment of inspiration that creates something new. That moment you plan for– and the moment you never saw coming.
“My mom has always been a baker,” explains Atkinson. “She’s been a baker since she was 20, working at Safeway in 1980.” Sally Winfrey worked her way up– starting in grocery stores. Then she worked in sales, allowing her to visit lots of bakeries as she sold her products to them. “But she didn’t love the ingredients that people would buy,” Atkinson says. “Just because they were cheap did not mean they were good… you know, some ingredients in a few of those products you can also find in things like antifreeze! She didn’t love the products.” By 2000, Winfrey was a Bakery Sales Tech at ADM Milling Co. and enrolled in the American Institute of Baking. Living in Spokane, she and her husband were raising 3 kids.
Fast forward a decade or so, and retired businesswoman, Judy Rosier Beebe, started stirring around a new idea: a cupcake shop. Beebe was an avid hobby baker but she needed help. She needed someone with real baking experience and expertise. That’s when she thought of her friend, Winfrey.
In the summer of 2011, the two teamed up and sold cupcakes at a booth at a local thrift fair called Funky Junk. Joining them was an eager, bright-eyed 14-year-old: Winfrey’s youngest child, Jessica Winfrey (now Atkinson).
“It was super busy,” Atkinson recalls. “It shot off like a rocket.” Beebe asked the Winfrey women to go into business with her and join her in a new venture. “And so,” Atkinson remembers, “we hopped on board. Sally quit her job, cashed in her retirement, and we went all in.”
Donning the Apron
A few years later, the Winfrey women bought out Beebe. Then, Sally passed the torch to her daughter, although she still works part time as the CFO. Atkinson is in charge now. “I do the daily operations management,” she explains. “I bake sometimes… I love planning holidays and being creative and seeing ideas being executed into reality and being part of that process.”
Today, Sweet Frostings, going on 12 years, has two retail locations in Spokane. “We are women owned and operated,” Winfrey proudly states. They’ve been in the same historic downtown building since they first opened. They launched a second bakeshop in 2013 that moved into their current location by Whitworth University in 2018.
They are all about celebrating the moments at Sweet Frostings. “We bake and sell all sorts of celebration related items. We sell candles, cookies, cakes, and cupcakes. We use the best ingredients. We use real butter. We bake like your grandma used to!” Atkinson gushes. “We use some family recipes in some of our items, as well.”
In fact, the newly released, Spokane Cookbook, by Ari Nordhagen, features their red velvet cupcake recipe and their cinnamon roll recipe. “Those are traditional classic recipes that you can only find in Spokane,” attests Atkinson.
Following the Recipe
Cupcakes are, overall, their best seller. “We change flavors all the time,” she explains. “We do a monthly Baker’s Choice. We have two new flavors every month that come for a limited time. We celebrate anything there is to celebrate! If it’s National Peanut Butter Day, we’re going to have a peanut butter cupcake. If it’s Girl Scout Day, we have some Girl Scout cupcakes… We just love to add to those moments and make them extra special. That’s what we specialize in: making your special moments even more special.”
The city of Spokane seems to specialize in that, too. “We’re just a little town on the river that loves to celebrate big and small things,” comments Atkinson. Spokane hosts HoopFest, the nation’s largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament. They also host the Lilac Bloomsday Run, which draws thousands upon thousands to Spokane. “We shut down almost all the roads. We shut down the city streets and do these things, which is not something you do in big cities. But we do that here.”
“Spokane is super special to us,” Atkinson continues. “We love Spokane because you get the best of the big and the small town vibe here. It has a city life. It’s got some of the best food culture and coffee culture anywhere in the U.S. But it also has that small town feel. We’ve got a lot of historical buildings here… It’s just a really good place to raise kids and be involved in your local activities.”
“We have a tight-knit business community,” believes Atkinson. “Everybody is really supportive of each other.” That includes Atkinson. She isn’t just a business owner. She’s an active and engaged member in her community. Sweet Frostings supports a myriad of local charities by donating money, their space, and of course, delicious treats. “We donate to the Wishing Star Foundation and Union Gospel Mission. We donate to the Lutheran Community Services, which helps refugees and foster kids. We donate our old cupcakes to Catholic Charities that support the homeless,” she adds. They even partnered with a company that used to provide birthday cakes to foster kids, providing moments to remember to children that needed some happy ones.
In addition, Atkinson serves on the board for the Business Improvement District for the Spokane Downtown Partnership and has won a slew of awards, including a 2022 Women in Business Leadership Award and Washington State’s 2022 Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. She’s also a graduate of the SBA Emerging Leaders Program.
Stirring the Pot
But for all the accomplishments– and there are many– it’s easy to forget that this woman is just 25.
Atkinson’s path wasn’t always crystal clear, though. “When you are young, you think it’s so cool and your mom is the coolest person. But then as a teenager, you go through a rebellious stage,” she confesses. Atkinson ventured off for a bit, working at some other restaurants, trying to figure out exactly what she wanted.
And what she realized she wanted was what she had all along: working with her beloved mom in her cupcake shop. “There’s a stigma of when your parents own a business and then you take it over and you aren’t even good at it. And your parents just kind of put you in it…” Atkinson shares. But Atkinson discovered she wasn’t just good at it, she was really good at it.
Atkinson’s business acumen allowed her to develop a much-needed web presence, allowing customers to purchase items online. It launched, most fortuitously, just one month before March of 2020. The pandemic hit Sweet Frostings hard– they were forced to close their two mall retail locations and their employees dropped from 40 to 8. Their other locations, though, stayed open. “We decided that happiness is essential so we declared ourselves essential,” she laughs. “Food is essential.”
Heating the Oven
Sweet Frostings seized the moment. “We started making bread. We started experimenting with other products that were pandemic worthy,” Atkinson states. “We had flour and sugar… So we thought, ‘Let’s make some stuff that you can’t find in the grocery store right now.’” They launched a program to help feed families, too, with a Pay It Forward bread campaign.
“The fact that we survived it,” Atkinson adds, “is a big success story. We were hit with a pandemic. And now a recession. I feel like I’m invincible after this year!”
Frosting the Cake
“Things are changing, post-pandemic. You have a whole new side of business you have to look at and learn and adjust. I think that’s the thing about owning a business: you are never not learning,” Atkinson muses. “And I think that’s what’s fun about it. It’s not boring– it’s not the same thing every day. It’s always new. It’s always exciting. It’s always a party if you’re working at Sweet Frostings!”
And that party seems to be just getting started for Atkinson. Sweet Frostings is on the uptick, back up to 25 employees. As she looks toward the future, Atkinson dreams of having a production facility someday, to be able to produce a higher volume of products. That would allow them to remodel the stores. “Right now, we have ovens in both of our locations,” comments Atkinson. “We bake different products in each location and swap them. We bake breads out of our Whitworth location. We also bake dog treats, cinnamon rolls, turnovers, scones and more!” All the cakes are baked downtown. “We make the cakes, cupcakes, frostings, fruit fillings, and curds from scratch.” They go through upwards of 4,000 pounds of powdered sugar and some 2,000 pounds of butter each month.
It’s been hard work. It’s been moments of uncertainty. But through it all, Atkinson believes the best thing is “being able to work with my mom. That’s just so much fun. We’re best friends. It’s great to be able to see my mom every day. I wouldn’t give that up for the world.”
“I absolutely love what I do,” she continues. “I enjoy the atmosphere of working in a bakery. It’s something that’s extra special.”
It’s those extra special moments that make life extra sweet.
And Sweet Frostings’ Jessica Atkinson is just getting started.