When Tennille Ortiz, our NJ Mompreneur of the Week, left her healthcare job of 17 years to spend more time with her growing family, she knew she wanted to pursue something creative. Always a baker, Tennille used her newly found free time to dive head-on into cake design—she took classes among top cake designers in New York City and let her creative juices flow to create unique 3D artisan designs. When she became pregnant with her second, she knew she was ready to turn her hobby into a biz, opening The Ellinnet Cake Collection. Over the next decade, her business exploded, with a client roster that included Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys. But Tennille, now a mom to 3, wanted to create a business that was inspiring to kids, so a few years ago, she took her ideas and her sweets mobile and opened The Cupcake Carriage. This incredibly gorgeous boutique bakery on wheels delivers beautiful, delicious baked treats and interactive decorating experiences to parties, corporate events, and school fundraisers. We chatted with this North Arlington mama to find out how she balances both businesses, how she’s taking The Cupcake Carriage to the next level, and her family’s favorite Bergen County farm.
Tennille Ortiz, the founder and owner of The Cupcake Carriage and our NJ Mompreneur of the Week.
Please share a bit about your background and family. I grew up in Harlem and moved to New Jersey shortly before high school began. My husband, Brian Ortiz, and I moved to North Arlington in Bergen County because it’s a beautiful small town, very family-oriented, and everyone knows each other and looks out for each other. We also wanted our children, Mateus, 6, Bryson,13, and Brian Jr., 18, to grow up with their cousins who live here, too.
Were you always a baker? If not, why did you pivot to this field? Right out of high school, I worked in the healthcare industry for a large OB/GYN practice. Over time, I worked my way up to business management and administration and only decided to leave after 17 years because, at the time, I was finding it hard to balance my family and my job. Once I was at home full-time and had some free time, I dove back into creative pursuits. I’d already learned cake design and did it as a hobby for my family, but now I was able to get into it, reading and studying everything I could on the subject, practicing as much as possible, and taking professional classes with very prestigious cake designers in New York City. I soon turned my hobby into a business and launched Ellinnet Cake Collection in 2010, when I was pregnant with my second child.
Quality time with family was a major deciding factor when Tennille and her husband, Brian, chose to raise their family in Bergen County.
You’ve designed cakes for famous people such as Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keyes, and DJ Kahled. How did you acquire such high-profile clients? Often, we pitch event planners, and one gave us the opportunity to get into the world of celebrity cakes. We proved ourselves–it was a huge success, the client loved it, and because of that, we kept getting referred for more celebrity events.
How did your business, The Cupcake Carriage come about? I went from strictly cake design to The Cupcake Carriage because I wanted to inspire children, own a business that I could scale, and also utilize the business experience that I already brought to the table. I still design custom cakes, but I’m very selective with what I choose now, and I try to limit myself to one or two cakes a month for high-end events only. The design process of that still excites me, and it’s also important that I hold onto my skills.
Though The Cupcake Carriage has really taken off in a big way, our NJ Mompreneur still keeps her hand in cake design, though she now limits herself to just one or two cakes per month so that The Cupcake Carriage can continue to thrive, too.
Tell us about your different events. The Cupcake Carriage is a boutique bakery on wheels, primarily for private and corporate events. We do everything from kids’ and adult birthday parties to weddings, showers, and more, including corporate events. We start with a consultation to determine the event’s overall design, and then we can sketch up cupcakes that marry the theme with the presentation. Depending on the occasion, we might also suggest adding in a workshop, such as a cookie or cupcake decorating, which is done inside our mobile bakery.
Please share why you decided to open a flagship store now and how it will differ from your boutique bakery on wheels. Our flagship store will allow us to grow our team to meet demand. We look forward to providing beautiful cash and carry products for our walk-in customers, elevating our customer events, and adding baking classes for adults and children.
This boutique bakery on wheels is not for adults only. Though weddings, showers, and corporate events are an essential part of the business, kids’ birthday parties and workshops make up a large percentage of the events in the carriage.
Are there any particular causes that are important to you? I come from humble beginnings, and because of that, I know first-hand the struggle in creating generational wealth, which is why I’m so passionate about doing what I can to uplift underrepresented communities. I stick to my field of cake design and entrepreneurial workshops and work with inner-city children and women—I’ve found these classes and workshops ignite creativity, boost confidence and teach important business skills, too.
Please share some of your go-to local businesses and family spots. My husband and I love Café Matisse in Rutherford. It’s perfect for anniversary dinners and date nights because the ambiance is so beautiful, plus it feels intimate, and the service is excellent, too. Garden of Edith, a flower shop in South Orange, is another one of my favorites. They have unique exotic flowers, and I enjoy going there to pick up pretty gifts for my friends. And, as a family, we love pumpkin picking in the Fall. Along with pumpkins, we always end up with lots of apples to make delicious pies. Demarest Farms in Hillsdale is one of our go-to’s.
What’s your best practical advice for a mompreneur just starting? The most important thing is to know your numbers. If you’re looking to scale your business and want it to grow, you need to understand the business side. Decide if you’re going to work on the production side or handle the business end of things, and you can always bring in people to help you manage the other part. It’s hard to split yourself and find enough hours in the day to get everything done, and if both sides of the business aren’t being fully addressed, you’re looking at a hobby, not a business.