Success is Sweet for OHS Graduate
Jun 10, 2016 01:49PM ● Published by Shannon Antinori
Smallcakes owner Jill Watson and brother Jordan Wackerlin, who manages the chain's Naperville location. (Photo by Shannon Antinori)
After nearly a decade working in Iraq, Jill Watson and her husband, Robert, were looking for a change of pace.
Watson, who joined the National Guard after graduating from Oswego High School in 2001, served in Iraq from 2003 to 2004. She met her husband during a nine-year stint working as a contractor in the Middle Eastern country.
“We worked overseas for so long, when we came home, we wanted to do something completely different,” said Watson.
Now, the couple owns successful Smallcakes: A Cupcakery & Creamery franchises in Naperville and Chicago, with plans to open a Plainfield location later this year.
Watson said the couple decided they would start their own business when they returned to the U.S., and began scouring the Internet looking for franchise opportunities.
That’s when they found Smallcakes, a chain founded by “Cupcake Wars” contestant Jeff Martin. The chain offers cupcakes baked fresh every morning and homemade ice cream.
“We were home on leave and we just flew to Georgia to meet with him and try the cupcakes,” she said. “We fell in love with the cupcakes as soon as we tried them.”
Watson said neither she nor her husband had any prior baking experience, but quickly learned the ropes.
“They teach you what you need to know,” she said. After learning the ins and outs of making Smallcakes’ signature flavors, the couple opened the first Illinois location in 2014 at 115 E. Ogden Ave. in Naperville.
Smallcakes has 15 signature flavors and three specialty flavors that change periodically, along with sweet treats for dogs.
“In the beginning, we were coming in at 4 in the morning, baking, cleaning and not leaving until 11 o’clock at night,” Watson said. “Being a business owner is hard, but I’ve learned a ton.”
That hard work paid off. A year ago, the Watsons were ready to expand their business, opening a second Smallcakes location in Chicago. A third location is scheduled to open in north Plainfield on Route 59 in August or September, Watson said. Both existing locations have also recently added homemade ice cream to their menus, she added.
Watson credits her success to the support of Smallcakes’ customers.
“We wouldn’t be here without our customers,” Watson said. “I think word of mouth is huge. I think we have a great location, and Naperville has definitely been really great to us.”
The business is also giving back to Naperville. Each day, any fresh-baked cupcakes that don’t sell are given to local charities and causes like the Ronald McDonald Room at Edward Hospital.
Being in the cupcake business is a nice change from the stresses of working overseas, Watson said.
“Most people who come in are in a good mood,” she said. “Our slogan is, ‘Maybe a cupcake will help.’”
Smallcakes has six employees at the Naperville location and five in Chicago.
“I think we have a great work environment and great staff,” said Watson.
Smallcakes is looking for bakers, decorators and counter staff for the soon-to-open Plainfield location, Watson said. To apply, email firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message via the Smallcakes Napeville Facebook page.