The College of Business and Technology at North Central University in Minneapolis prides itself on teaching hands-on business skills. Student Micah R. Zupke has put those lessons to use in operating Uniquely Me Bakery from her home.
Zupke, 21, is a senior entrepreneurship major with severe peanut and tree-nut allergies. She started her nut-free bakery in high school as a way for people with food allergies to enjoy baked goods. Friends and family helped promote it by word of mouth. She discovered a love for decorating cakes in 6th grade after watching the TLC reality show Cake Boss.
“For me, there’s nothing better than baking,” Zupke says. “Seeing my customers’ faces when I create what they want makes me happy.”
Zupke checks every ingredient label when baking. She’s licensed by Minnesota Department of Agriculture to run a home bakery.
Uniquely Me offers cakes, cupcakes, cookies, bars, and brownies, all made from scratch. One popular product is a gluten-free chocolate cake. Despite being flourless, customers say the cake has a rich, smooth chocolate taste with a texture like cheesecake.
While she outgrew previous allergies to dairy and soy, Zupke plans to offer more products that are gluten-free, dairy-free, and egg-free.
“It’s hard for people with allergies so that’s why I created this bakery,” Zupke says. “I want people to feel safe that they can get something and enjoy it, and they don’t have to be missing out on anything.”
Aside from falling in love with North Central’s business program, finding out that its cafeteria is nut-free was icing on the cake for Zupke. At many other universities, she says she would have needed to cook all her own food. She says the entrepreneurship classes have helped her the most in operating the bakery and spreading the word.
Entrepreneurship professor Brian B. Stewart is Zupke’s academic adviser and has worked closely with her on business development. Stewart, 45, encouraged her to launch a website, and they met on a regular basis to design it.
”She’s an A student who knows how to get things done,” Stewart says. He also helped Zupke with creating a realistic flavor profile, because the products are different from other bakeries.
Zupke received recipe feedback several times from school functions as a result of baking hundreds of treats to hand out to students. Those students completed an online survey about the desserts, and Zupke honed her methods based on the feedback.
From day one, North Central trains students to put their business ideas into action. The entrepreneurship and small business management class takes students through the process of creating a start-up. Stewart encourages students to learn the fundamentals early so they’re equipped to launch the business of their dreams later.
North Central students have created a wide variety of businesses, including window-washing and car-washing services.
Stewart says part of Zupke’s success comes from sticking to a niche. Bakeries are generally a hard industry to break into, but Zupke’s business targets a specific group. Because Uniquely Me is nut-free, Stewart believes it has all the ingredients to do well.
“There is a market demand, people are willing to pay a high price point, and she’s an incredibly gifted baker,” Stewart says. “So all three of those are the combination of a successful business.”
After graduation, Zupke will pursue a one-year baking certificate from St. Paul College. Her dream is to open a bakery storefront in her hometown of Lakeville, Minnesota.