BizTimes Bubbler Executive of the Week: Erica Elia

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:24 pm


Erica Elia, owner of Classy Girl Cupcakes
Company address: 825 N. Jefferson St., Milwaukee, WI 53202
Industry: bakery
Number of employees: 20
Family: Husband, Dario, and 3-year-old daughter Ansley

What inspired you to start your own company?
“I got married in 2009 and wanted cupcakes at my wedding, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for in Milwaukee. So I decided to bake my own wedding cupcakes, which I don’t recommend! I was up all night baking, but it paid off because everyone loved them and wanted to know where to purchase them. I realized there was a hole in the market, and so I started a small wedding cupcake catering company while working full-time as an attorney. Business exploded in a short time. So I left my former career and opened a retail bakery in fall 2010. We now cater cupcakes and cakes for 10 to 12 weddings and corporate events per weekend, sell at Summerfest and other festivals, and have a strong retail business.”

What was the smartest thing your company did in the past year?
“Invest in our online presence. We overhauled our website in early 2013 and are in the process of adding e-commerce capabilities now. Customers planning weddings or looking for Milwaukee’s best cupcakes will search online first, and we have more comprehensive information about our products and options than anyone else. I hear constantly that our website draws people in and makes them feel knowledgeable (and hungry!) before they even set foot in the door.”

Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?
“I plan to hire a couple more bakers and decorators and several more event assistants before the busy season. It takes an army of people to sell at festivals and cater weddings all over southeastern Wisconsin at the same time! In the next couple of years I plan to expand our kitchen within the building as we have definitely outgrown our current kitchen space. Additional locations are in my long-term plans as well.”

What will be your company’s main challenges in the next year?

“Continuing to grow without stepping on each other. When we opened in November 2010, I had one employee. Now I have 20 employees, and about a third of them work in the bakery while the rest do deliveries and staff offsite weddings and events. In the thick of the wedding season, we are literally tripping over each other and baking 24 hours a day. We need to make it through one more summer in close quarters before I’ll feel comfortable investing in expansion.”

What’s the hottest trend in your industry?

“My goal is to create the trends, especially for the Milwaukee market. In addition to traditional cupcakes and tiered cakes, we make cupcake push pops, cupcake mousse parfaits, cheesecake cupcakes, cupcakewiches, and cupcake bombs and truffles. We make baked donuts, donut cakes, mousse cakes, personal-sized cakes, and the list goes on. Whenever I get even a little bored, that means it’s time to come up with a new flavor or new product.”

How do you stay ahead of competitors?

“It’s really important to me that we always bake fresh 100 percent from scratch – never from a mix, never frozen – and use the most natural ingredients we can find. It’s a little known secret that most bakeries do not bake from scratch. So having a quality product keeps our customers coming back. Our pricing is also very competitive, which is easy to do with well-trained bakers baking from scratch. We have the right balance of quality, price, innovation and customer service, and that’s why we’ve grown so quickly.”

Do you have a business mantra?

“I’ve been trying to think of a catchy phrase to encapsulate my business philosophies, but no, I don’t really have a mantra. I’m making this all up as I go along. Aren’t we all? The most important principles I run my business with are investing and believing in my staff, never shying away from new ideas, and dreaming big.”

What was the best advice you ever received?

“My father is an entrepreneur. So it’s in my blood. He has always told me that it’s better to work for yourself than work for someone else. Create something that’s yours, that you’re passionate about, and then you won’t notice the long hours and hard work because you love it. I have two babies – my beautiful 3-year-old daughter and my business. You may have noticed that my daughter and my business are the same age. That’s because I opened the bakery when I was on maternity leave, and I even baked a wedding order the day I gave birth!”

What do you like to do in your free time?

“Finally after three years, I do in fact have a little free time! I take off work every Tuesday to spend the day with my daughter, and lately we’ve been going on a tour of all the museums around the city. I also like to run and have been a member of the downtown YMCA all of my adult life. And every once in a while my husband and I even get a date night! Sometimes I have to remind myself to be fully present in the rest of my life because my business can be all consuming, but it’s worth it.”

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display