Ten years ago, Nicole Josey, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, was a stay-at-home mom who was contemplating how she could work close to home and do something for herself. She always had fond memories of baking with her grandmother Leilo—she made her first cheesecake from scratch at 11 years old—and when she thought about her next steps, baking seemed the obvious choice. After mastering the skill of cake decorating, experimenting with recipes passed down from her grandmother, and an order from her first client (her mom), Nicole knew she had found a career. She soon launched Leilo’s Sweet Shop out of a commercial kitchen, eventually moving to a custom dessert studio in West Orange, where she specializes in custom cakes for all occasions and teaches classes in baking and desserts. We caught up with this South Orange mom of two to talk about the secret strategy that helps her prevent business burnout, what most people would be shocked to know about her, and the museum where both her kids can find their thing.
Our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, with her husband, Will, and children, Avery and Aiden, has found that taking a short break from her business and spending quality time with her family is the secret weapon to prevent business burnout.
Tell us a little bit about you and your family. My husband, Will Josey, and I have two children, Avery, 10, and Aiden, 6. When we got married, we were gifted my husband’s childhood home in South Orange, and we live in the house that he grew up in, which is perfect for raising our children. South Orange is an all-around great town. I appreciate the diversity here and love how inclusive a community it is. I also love being as involved here as I want—with the PTA and other community committees. I also feel very fortunate that there are a lot of resources in town for my son, Aiden, who is autistic. And the community rallies around my business–I get so much community support from West Orange, South Orange, and Maplewood.
What made you decide to open Leilo’s Sweet Shop? How has your business changed since you first launched it? I’d been working in retail management for many years before my job transferred me to work in NYC. When I got pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I weighed the cost of childcare and decided it was in our best interest for me to be a stay-at-home mom, which lasted for about a year. I enjoyed all the time with my daughter, but I needed more. I missed working and needed to do something for myself, too. Ever since I baked with my Grandmother Leilo when I was younger, I loved to bake and realized this was what I wanted to do. My husband bought me lots of baking kits, I took Wilton cake decorating classes, and I also started experimenting with many of my grandma’s original recipes at home. And then, as a show of support, my mom ordered cupcakes from me, which was my first official paid job, and I kept going from there. Ten years ago, I started my business working out of commercial kitchens, and now that I’ve opened my brick-and-mortar for custom orders in West Orange, my business has tripled. I also love teaching and have added many types of cake and dessert classes for all ages to my business, and I also host parties here.
Please share your best tip for another mompreneur who might be struggling. As a business owner, finding that work/life balance can be very tricky, but one of the things that have made a difference for me in the last year is realizing that I don’t have to work every holiday. Instead, I choose the ones that are more meaningful to my customers, most important to me, or profitable for my business. For example, this past year, I didn’t do Thanksgiving and enjoyed all that holiday time with family. My dad passed away four years ago on that day, so it’s a tough time of year for me — being present with loved ones was priceless. No matter your business, I’ve also found that taking a little break from time to time will keep you from burning out and can be the best motivator to falling in love with your business all over again.
What do you hope your children learn from seeing you run your own business? Hard work pays off—you might not see it immediately, and the payout might be different than what you expect, but it never hurts to work hard. I talk to the kids about this and try to tie it into their homework. In the long run, working hard at what you do helps you create a life you’re happy with and enjoy.
Please share something that most people would be surprised to know about you. This is a big one—I don’t like cake! Given my choice of desserts to eat, I never choose cake. Of course, I make them and will taste them from time to time, but it’s just not my thing. If you asked me to choose a dessert, it would be cookies or an ice cream cake.
Please share a story related to your business that’s stuck with you. I did a Mommy & Me Cake class, and a woman that was there told me that I made her Sweet 16 Party birthday cake and desserts years ago, and now she brought her little sister to this cake decorating class, and she also ended up ordering a cake for her baby son’s first birthday. It filled me with so much joy.
What are some of your favorite NJ businesses? Shore Cake Supply, in Ocean, has been a favorite of mine for some time now. Originally, I’d head down there and shop at the store, and the owner and I got to know each other. I took classes with her, and she eventually pushed me to teach. I also love HLS Juice Bar & Grill, which has fantastic customer service and the best smoothies, shakes, and food. Their catering is also excellent and my go-to place for PTA events.
Please share some places in NJ that you and your family enjoy. Liberty Science Center is one of our family favorites because there’s something for everyone. My daughter asks a million questions and learns so much, and because they have a lot of sensory things, it’s great for my son, too. We also love the Jersey Shore. My in-laws live in Barnegat, so we spend some time there, but we also like to head to the beach, boardwalk, and amusement park in Point Pleasant.
What’s your best piece of advice for a mompreneur just starting? Don’t be too hard on yourself when you make mistakes—that’s how you learn and improve. And don’t get frustrated if you don’t see immediate results; keep believing in yourself and pushing forward.
For more information on Nicole Josey and Leilo’s Sweet Shop, see their website, Facebook, and Instagram pages.