Starting in 2014, Michele Pothen (’18) and her sister Meril created a sweet entrepreneurial venture: Sweet Cardamom! The dessert company features hand-crafted designs on their signature sugar cookies. The girls have dealt with both successes like completing a 400 cookie count order and challenges such as prioritizing school and work over baking. In this interview, Michele discusses more about her family business from the meaning behind its name to what’s it like working with her sister!
Tell me about Sweet Cardamom.
Sweet Cardamom is a desserts company run by my sister, Meril, and me. It grew out of my sister’s love for baking and my constant need to be involved in whatever she was doing, as most little sisters are. My sister and I have always baked together; whether it was for a church bake sale, school project, or family event — baking was the go-to. Around Christmas in 2014, my sister decided that we should bake cookies for our neighbors, friends, and family. After she researched designs, recipes, and techniques, she taught me how to do them and our first holiday inspired cookie was born. Eventually, enough people told her to stop giving the cookies away and to start selling them. Now, we’ve expanded to include cupcakes, macarons, and, of course, cookies. Orders have been coming in more fluidity purely through word of mouth and social media. We’ve had the pleasure of completing cookie orders for weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, and all sorts of holidays.
How did you come up with the name?
Thinking of the name was difficult, to say the least. We brainstormed for days trying to come up with the perfect way to capture our aesthetic in a short catchy phrase. Personally, I was pretty set on “The Sleepy Baker,” because my sister and I typically start baking around 12am and would go until 3am-4am. Unfortunately, we soon realized that the name was taken. Meril actually came up with the name when talking to her best friend on the phone. Our signature cookie is an orange cardamom vanilla cookie, so with that in mind, they began thinking of adjectives using those key words. Sweet Cardamom came about because my sister saw it as a reference to the song “Sweet Caroline,” but no one gets it and neither of us have a special connection to the song. Despite that, we thought the name was cute, so it stuck!
What is the dynamic of working in a business with your sister?
The great thing about working with a sibling is there is brutal honesty that a lot of partners don’t share. I’m not scared to tell her I don’t like a design, and she’s not scared to yell at me for ruining a cookie or not meeting a deadline. However, baking together means we get to spend more time with each other just hanging out as we decorate cookies. Considering my sister is the expert in the field, decorating always has to start with her teaching me first and then working on the order together. While most older sisters teach their younger sisters how to use makeup and do their hair, mine shows me how to perfectly pipe royal icing onto cookies.
What challenges have you both faced in growing Sweet Cardamom? How have you overcome them?
An major challenge my sister faces is fulfilling orders while I’m away at school. Last year, I went to Rutgers University, which was only 40 minutes away from home. Because of that, I could easily go back and help my sister with large orders. Once, we were filling a 400 cookie order for a nursing conference, and my sister made me come home and we baked and hand-decorated each cookie for two days straight. Without me, she’s had to adjust her time management and resources. She’s also tried enlisting the help of her friends and my parents. Time management becomes more of an issue since this project is a side business for us. I go to school, and my sister works full time. Due to this, we have trouble having the supply to meet the demand. Another challenge is prioritizing certain aspects of the cookie over others. For example, we’ve mastered the ability to ship our cookies across the country. However, to ensure stability our cookies need to be denser to hold up against the travel. Furthermore, in large quantities, food coloring tastes terrible and some of the designs our clients request involve high doses of the coloring. We pride ourselves on our cookies not only being pretty, but tasty as well. Most customers say they don’t even notice any distaste, but my sister and I are always concerned that our goods meet our standards.
Check out Sweet Cardamom’s Facebook Page for more information!