It started on somewhat of a whim in kitchen space rented from a nonprofit. Five years later, it’s a burgeoning business, with new equipment in a new space. Call it a Sweets success story -– as in Luna Sweets, the specialty cake company now located in the Lydia Pinkham building.
Patricia Francis chuckles when she thinks of the origins of her business, with her and her sister, Laura Valdez, making about one cake per month in the kitchen at the Gregg House, where Valdez worked. They gradually built up a following and the business grew, with Francis taking over the operation and eventually buying it from her sister last year.
Francis was looking for her own space – and much more of it – when a former colleague and mentor, Toyuwa Newton of Salem Five bank in Swampscott, suggested she look into the microloan program of the Economic Development & Industrial Corporation of Lynn (EDIC/Lynn). She applied for and received a $15,000 loan.
“I was looking for space and the EDIC loan opened up that search even more,” said Francis, who also received assistance on her business plan at the Enterprise Center at Salem State University. Between the loan and her own investment in the project, Francis was able to do the build-out of the space and buy new equipment.
A city health inspector recommended she look at the Lydia Pinkham building and she found an ideal, 715-square-foot suite where she does all her cake designing and baking, and runs the business side of the operation.
“The loan allowed me to get bigger space and new equipment,” Francis said. “It opened up so many opportunities and made everything seem attainable.”
Luna Sweets -– named after Francis’ niece, Emilia Luna — provides cakes and desserts for functions as small as 25 people and as large as 250, specializing in weddings, birthdays, baby and bridal showers and quinceañeras. Francis meets with clients to get their ideas then sketches the design of the cake by hand to show to customers for approval.
“We have a loyal clientele, mostly through word of mouth,” said Francis, a Lynn English and Salem State graduate who worked in banking for about 12 years before cooking up a new career. “People responded right away to the designs and flavors. There is a demand for it.”
EDIC/Lynn Executive Director James M. Cowdell said Luna Sweets is exactly the type of business for which the microloan program is intended.
“Patricia built the business from scratch, investing her own capital and sweat equity,” Cowdell said. “We were very pleased to assist her in taking it to a new layer of success.”
After operating as a one-woman show for a period, Francis was happy to welcome an assistant a few weeks ago, Kathryn Barr, a senior in the culinary program at Lynn Tech. Barr is working full-time this summer and when school opens will stay on as part of the co-op job placement program at Tech. Francis credits Mary Jane Smalley of the EDIC/Lynn with connecting her to the culinary staff at Tech.
“EDIC has supported me in addition to the loan,” said Francis, who recently joined the Lynn-based North Shore Latino Business Association.
Francis said her busiest time of year is March to September, though she has been doing more in the winter, around the holidays.
After all, a good piece of cake is never out of season.