There's something very appropriate about the fact that Vicki O'Bryant and Lauren Tanzillo call their new bakery in Frankfort Sweet Dreams Cakes.
This venture not only has been the culmination of their shared dream of having their own bakery, but it's become the catalyst of making the dreams come true for many of the people they've hired.
Sweet Dreams Cakes will have its grand opening from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, with a carnival-like party that will include face painting, raffles and free samples of their freshly made desserts and baked goods. Some of the other neighboring businesses along U.S. Route 30, such as , also will be participating in the opening.
"We wanted to make it a big event because we're celebrating, and everyone's celebrating with us," said Tanzillo, who lives in Hammond, Ind. "We just wanted to have a giant party."
O'Bryant and Tanzillo, who is the bakery's kitchen manager, have been selling their cupcakes, specialty cakes and other desserts and pastries under the Sweet Dreams name since 2009, using commercial kitchens from Tinley Park to downtown Chicago. The two met and struck up a friendship in culinary school at the Illinois Institute of Art.
"We were both outgoing and loud and pretty crazy," Tanzillo said. "We both had that crazy personality, and that brought us together. … We think alike and have the same creative thoughts, but she's like an older sister almost. She's always looking out for me."
When the two graduated, O'Bryant, who lives in Tinley Park, was determined to start the wheels in motion to building her own bakery business. She immediately tapped Tanzillo.
"It brings tears to my eyes," O'Bryant said. "I am an optimist and I am a go-getter. What I want I'm going to go out, and I'm going to get. I knew that this was my passion, and in three years I was going to have a storefront. … I knew [Tanzillo] was who I had to have. She had to be one of our leaders."
The two built a solid reputation for Sweet Dreams in the south suburbs, selling their creations at farmers markets and doing special orders. The business also got a boost when its cupcakes were featured on the TLC TV show Four Weddings.
"It was definitely an eye-opener," Tanzillo said of the TV exposure. "And it was more of a push to get our own storefront, so we could just do so much more with our own space."
A space of their own meant a staff of their own, though. And who they hired was just as important to them as what they were baking. The employees needed to have skills, but they also needed to fit in with the fun atmosphere of the kitchen, O'Bryant said. At the same time, Tanzillo and O'Bryant wanted to give talented people chances they might not otherwise have to enter the baking world.
"We knew what we wanted to do, and the way other bakeries work is fine, but we had our own dream and our standards we wanted to fulfill and just having our own bakery was the way to actually do it, so it's awesome that we can do that," Tanzillo said. "That's why everyone we hire we gave opportunities other bakeries probably wouldn't have, because it's really hard to get into this industry. We just wanted to do it our own way."
In fact, how the staff came together sounds more like it was taken from the script of a feel-good Hollywood movie than actual life. If this was the lineup to an underdog sports team, you would be rooting for them to win the championship at the end of the season. Take these examples:
- Jordyn Gaines was brought on as a cake decorator after O'Bryant's daughter saw a photo of the Homewood teen's work on Instagram. Gaines is 18, has no formal training and learned to decorate in her spare time. But O'Bryant says she can see the passion and talent in her work and knows this job opportunity will only make her better. Gaines, who is now enrolled at culinary school at the College of DuPage, knows that, too, and says she is glad she will get to learn the different aspects of what it takes to be a professional baker.
- David Juby recently graduated from and lives across the street from Sweet Dreams. When he saw the signs go up in the windows of the storefront, he walked over looking for a job. Now he's an assistant baker. "It's pretty exciting because this is what I've wanted to do," he said.
- Kim Jensen, an assistant baker from Oak Forest, and O'Bryant have been friends for years, meeting thanks to their daughters. She established her baking skills as a stay-home mom but didn't have any formal training. As long as O'Bryant had plans to have her own bakery, though, Jensen, much like Tanzillo, had been a part of them. "She said you're going to come work with me," Jensen said, who laughingly makes the job offer sound more like an order than a choice. O'Bryant also hired Jensen's daughter, Ashley Busse, who works at the front counter.
"I'm always the team mom … the supporter," O'Bryant said. "I want to be able to look back when I retire and see all of the staff that began with us successful in whatever they do. And like I told them, no matter if it's staying in this industry or moving somewhere else, whatever you learn here you'll be able to take with you because we're going to teach you values. We're going to teach you work ethics."
Although Sweet Dreams prides itself in its playful style, that doesn't mean the work isn't taken seriously, especially when it comes to customer service. The employees who work the front of the store have to go through drills, so that they're prepared to make sure customers have a good experience at the bakery.
And the person responsible for making that happen is Candace Tomas, the bakery's front-end manager and one of O'Bryant's daughters. Tomas was brought on because of her customer service experience, and she uses the boisterous atmosphere of the bakery to ensure employees are taking pride in their work.
"If you're in an environment where you're having fun, where you're free, where you're not being controlled to the last detail, then you don't mind working the extra hours," she said. "You don't mind going the extra mile. And it shows in your work. … I have very high expectations for customer service."
With the grand opening upon them, O'Bryant and Tanzillo still haven't had time to truly savor the experience. Even though Sweet Dreams had existed as a business, setting up the storefront has been fraught with its own challenges, some of which forced them to push back the original grand opening.
"We've just been so busy that we haven't actually been able to step back and say, I can't believe we're actually doing this," Tanzillo said. "We're just ready for everyone to taste our product and hard work."
"The people who matter the most are the people who are going to come here and patronize us," O'Bryant said. "And their opinion is what matters to me. So until the grand opening is over, I probably won't be able to take a break. Now that we've created the buzz and the anticipation we've got to ive up to it."
Grand Opening Celebration
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18.
Where: The strip mall along Lincoln Highway where Sweet Dreams is located.
What's happening: There will be face painting, free samples of baked goods and raffles for gift baskets and a cake worth as much as $200.
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