Ashley Howell welcomes me into her Queens, NY apartment with a warm smile. Her hair is neatly pulled back into a loosely tied ponytail as she sports a black sweat suit with her most comfortable slippers. As she leads me to the living room that overlooks the beach, her daughter is fighting her afternoon nap in her bassinette. Every-so-often, she peeks through her beautiful brown eyes as if to check her surroundings.
It’s been less than a month since the Bites Galore Founder welcomed her Queen, Aubrey Kali, who she refers to as her greatest creation yet. I sat down with the 24-year-old entrepreneur to discuss her journey to Baker’s success, adjusting to motherhood and why she still believes she’s perfecting her craft.
TNJ: Tell me, what was the motivation behind Bites Galore?
AH: (smiles) It was my Goddaughter’s birthday and I wanted to teach myself how to make cupcakes with swirled icing! I didn’t want to use store bought icing, so with my hand mixer I taught myself. I made about 200 mini-cupcakes, brought them to work for my coworkers to taste. The cake mix was store brought but the icing wasn’t and everyone loved them! They told me I should keep it up. So the next weekend, I did the same thing, about 500 cupcakes, different flavors with homemade icing. Everybody loved them again!
For [my Goddaughter’s] birthday, I made about 1,000 cupcakes. (laughs) I don’t know what was on my mind! After that, my coworkers kept pushing me to start my own business. In July 2012, Bites Galore was established. I started watching videos on Youtube because I wanted to teach myself how to make cakes. I started reading and researching. As of today, I’ve never taken a baking class! I’m completely self-taught and everything I bake is from scratch. When I want to learn more, I research.
TNJ: As far as the BG team, is it just you?
AH: Last year, business was so busy that I had to look for help. I found a young lady interested in baking and we worked very well together. I plan to work with her again this summer. I had hired an intern but he never showed for an event, so that was the end of that!
When I first started my business, I was working three jobs. Best Buy, CVS and The Community Center. I was a full time student at Berkeley College and I was running the business.
Because I’m now home full time with the baby, I will be working with the young lady I mentioned. Other than her, I’m not interested in looking for more help on the baking end. Event wise, because I do plan to expand my event planning business, yes, I have looked into working with other people.
TNJ: From starting the business, to working alone, to trying to find help and it not working out; what are some of your lessons learned from this experience?
AH: I am not superwoman! I cannot take on the world. I have a love/hate relationship for my business. I can stare at cakes all day because I do have a passion for it. But when it’s stressful, I hate it! With learning that I’m not superwoman, I don’t know how to not do anything. I take on a lot. Even now, people are looking at me like you just had a baby and you’re taking orders already?
Also, time management! That was always an issue for me; I’ve gotten better though!
TNJ: Who do you credit for instilling in you that drive that you have?
AH: Myself and my parents. My father has had his own business since I was a baby, he’s a mechanic. Coming from Jamaica, and developing his business and growing it, that has pushed me. As well as watching my mother, she’s a retired Corrections Officer and is in the process of starting her Funeral Home. They started it [that drive], but ever since I was 8 or 9, I decided I wanted to work for myself. At 11, I wanted to have my own daycare in the attic. I would call my cousin and ask to watch her child. At 16, I figured if I could work two jobs, I could run two businesses. It’s always been push yourself ten times harder.
TNJ: Let’s talk about some of your greatest accomplishments. Correct me if I’m wrong, about a year ago you did an event for VH1’s Love and Hip Hop NY cast member, Yandy Smith. Is that in your list of greatest accomplishments?
AH: Yes, but I wouldn’t say I have greatest accomplishments yet. I have a few small ones. I was able to do an event for Black Ink, that was cool. Last year, I did a birthday cake for Tara from Love and Hip Hop. She loved it!
TNJ: How did that come about?
AH: This woman I know is a publicist, she’s amazing! Her business is called Prime Visions PR and she’s actually given me many opportunities. Back to accomplishments, I was really looking forward to working with Yandy. She’s so focused on maintaining her businesses and family, and I definitely look up to her.
The day of that event was so stressful, I had to push myself to do it! At the time, I was 5 months pregnant and no one knew. So imagine working a cupcake station for kids, bending over for hours helping them decorate and being pregnant! I was able to meet her and Kimbella, that was definitely cool.
TNJ: You did an event for Teyana Taylor as well, correct? Let’s talk about it.
AH: That was another crazy day! That event was for Cupcake Mafia, a t-shirt brand that now has a store in Atlanta. For that event I made 200 cupcakes and I drove to Philadelphia by myself on no sleep. To see her walking around holding my cupcake, that was a great accomplishment! She didn’t want to put it down and that was the shining moment for me. Other accomplishments have been watching my growth. Having people watch my growth, especially other bakers who notice me getting better. Inspiring others is probably my biggest accomplishment. I know what it feels like to start out and not have anyone in your corner.
TNJ: What keeps you going?
AH: The support of my boyfriend, he challenges me. Also, my child. When you have someone that you have to care for, and you want to be how your mother was for you, that definitely keeps you going.
TNJ: Outside of Bites Galore, who is Ashley?
AH: Who is Ashley? Hmm, I’m a soon to be 25 year old, who has hopefully retired from working for others. I’m focused on changing the world, inspiring others, raising my child and growing my family. I want to make sure my daughter knows that she is a queen, and inspire her to never work for anyone unless she’s learning from him or her.
TNJ: Speaking of motherhood, have you discovered your work-life balance or is it a work in progress?
AH: Because I’m home full time, I do start my cakes earlier. I have found that balance. I have an order for Saturday, so I’ll bake the cake tonight, decorate it tomorrow and have it ready for Saturday. I’m definitely improving on my time management so that I have more time for my child and boyfriend.
TNJ: How do you make time for him?
AH: See, he works a lot as well. During the day he’s at UPS, he has his own photography business called So Siick Photography and he’s on a record label, Whose House Entertainment with JoJo Simmons (son of RUN DMC MC, Rev. Run) We make sure to spend a lot of time together but the goal is to make our daughter a millionaire by age 5!
TNJ: What’s next for Ashley and for Bites Galore?
AH: Next for me, to become a licensed real estate agent.
TNJ: I’m sorry, say that again! What a change of lanes!
AH: (laughs) I know, I’m working on online classes right now. I’m also taking event-planning courses to become certified in that. Then, I’ll work on becoming certified in wedding planning. I want to develop a collection for my daughter, not too sure if it will be fashion or jewelry. I’m working on expanding a business called Cupcakes and Cosmetics, a business with my cousin who is a makeup artist and has her own line, Glam Inc.
For Bites Galore, I didn’t think of it long term. I never sat down and really thought I would still be doing cakes today nor at the level that I’m at. I don’t see a bakery because I do not want one, but I do see a commercial kitchen where I can still create, and be officially licensed to do so. My event planning side, BG Signature Events will work hand and hand with Bites Galore, I plan to launch on August 15th.
I watch a lot of bakers get better over time and I want to be able to do the same.
TNJ: I admire that nothing is ever enough for you.
AH: That’s true, it’s not! I can keep learning, keep pushing myself to be better. I’m still perfecting my craft.
TNJ: One word that describes Ashley.