Small Business Profile: Candice Hunsinger, Owner of Cacao Sweets & Treats and Blacksmith & Co - Grayslake


Hi Candice! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m Candice! Obsessive ingredient checker (no seriously, I don’t buy anything until I read every last line), crazy tall cake creator, bakery owner, professional eye roller, wife of the sweetest husband (we’ve been best friends since 8th grade!), most-of-the-time OCD kitchen organizer, lover of flowers, maxi dress hoarder, homebody, and crafter of snarky emails.

What lead you to begin Cacao Sweets & Treats?
Necessity and a knack for baking. My soon-to-be husband and I both lost our jobs in the same week a few months before our wedding. So I slapped together some cheap cards and busted open the cabinets to see what I could whip up for a local craft fair that was in 2 days. We needed to pay the electric bill and this is what I knew how to do. Now I couldn't imagine anything else!

How do you develop your flavors and creations?
They all come to my in my dreams. Seriously! Ingredients themselves are super inspiring to me. None of my flavors are overpowering to the other or itself. It's all about balance. When you use the best ingredients, you don't need to over it up with anything else!

You are opening Blacksmith & Co soon! Could you tell us more about this venture?
Well, we don't have any retail in our little downtown. I have a love for quality, simple goods throughout my life and home. So I hope I can bring a piece of that to my hometown! Blacksmith will be in the same building as Cacao, just behind it. The building was built in 1890 and served as a blacksmith, so we thought it perfectly all encompassing of what we stand for in our businesses. Quality>Quantity and support local!

How do you source the items and brands that you have in the store? Do you look for certain designs, sustainably made products, etc?
There's a lot of insta stalking and general happening upon things and people. I am mostly looking for meaningful, impactful, practical items. Everything must be classic and timeless. Pieces you will have forever and pass down to the next generation.

Do you have a team? What steps did you take to build it?
I currently have a team of 9 (almost 10!) between Cacao and Blacksmith. I'm the worst at hiring when I need the help and wait too long that I'm desperate. I'm a little bit of a control freak. But it's also really important to me that we find the perfect people who fully get our brands. I don't just fill shoes. Every hire is important as each one of my team members is a reflection of me and our businesses. I don't think companies take that seriously enough. And when someone isn't representing you properly, you need to handle that immediately. It only takes one bad experience! I'm currently on the hunt for more bakers, so anyone out there who loves to cook amazing food, I need to meet you!

How do you connect with your customers and community?
I'm a full time baker first and foremost. Then I get to run my business. A lot of people don't realize that as small businesses who create a product, we get tied up in the details all day long. It's hard to run out and chat for a few minutes when you are in the midst of something. But my goal is to be at the counter for the first customer who walks in to say hello, and I am always keeping an eye on our regulars so I can come out and acknowledge that I appreciate their support of us! When not in the kitchen, I'm sitting out front of my computer handling emails and paperwork and sourcing so that everyone realizes I am accessible. It seems simple, but my presence is there. And we love hosting community events in our space - that's the point, right?!

Why do you think it’s important to shop small and support local makers?
It's not just supporting local makers. It's supporting real people that you live with in your neighborhood. We fully invest our entire lives (and money!) into creating a destination in our community. By creating a REAL customer service experience, remembering your names, remembering your likes and dislikes, where you went on vacation last, what your kids are up to... We build real connections with you because you are the reason we are here. We take care of you and you take care of us. It's real people living real lives.

What is your favorite thing about your workspace?
Wow, I have never even thought about that before! The easiest answer would be the kitchen because that is my safe place. But the truth is really the bakery case. It's where all of the hard work is put on display. Where we get to showcase the best of what we do. AND... the bakery case was left behind in the now Blacksmith unit when we purchased the building. It's an antique and the one piece I hadn't yet purchased for our future bakery (I had been buying equipment and fixtures for well over 3 years with my future bakery space in mind!). It was meant to be!

What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
Simply put - a strong desire for quality food. The suburbs, especially by us, are known for big box everything. But I demand better than that. We deserve better so someone has to do it! I'm known for my "rants" on social media because I'm never shy about sharing my opinion. Some take it as controversial, but isn't talking about reality important? Isn't calling out the bad things and praising the good what we should all feel empowered enough to talk about? Our "farmers market" has well over 70 vendors and has someone selling bed sheets and clothing and funnel cakes, and other nonsense. That's not a farmer's market - that's a festival or flea market. Which is fine, but let's not mis-brand that. I have an annual rant pointing out the flaws in that and some locals hate me for it. They all love the idea of the market, but when you take a closer look, it's not really what they say it is. I want a real market that features local, small time farmers and vendors. Same goes for small food business - why start a small business if you aren't going to go all of the way and make everything from scratch? If you aren't, you're just a knock off and that's sad.

What are some of the setbacks or challenges you faced when starting your businesses?
Time and money! It's always time and money. I have been in a major restructuring of my time and staff lately. Finding the right people who can take work off of my plate. People that have a gift for the things I don't! It's hard to find, but I've been lucky to have some really great people on my team. People who push me to the next level. I'm at a place where I am ready to be a little less hand's on (but not fully, because I'm too OCD for that), so that I can focus on some other projects and making the business run more smoothly "on it's own". I'm not a micro-manager - it's important to me to have assertive people around me who "get it". And I think that's key in small business. You need people around you that you can rely on so you can focus on the nitty gritty.

At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Honesty. There is nothing I can't stand more than a fake accolade. Maybe it's my to-the-point Greekness, but I firmly believe that friends and family are here to keep you in check. To keep you true to yourself. Sometimes it stings, but I would rather get frustrated over the truth for a minute, than someone letting me get a false big head. It's easy to get caught up in your own world (by the way, I totally am), so you have to surround yourself with honest, REAL people!

What creative women do you find inspiring?
Oddly enough, very few food personalities. I'm really inspired by nature, so floral designers and painters. Movement and an organic look are what fuel my vision for food. I tell my bakers to think about what they want something to look like before they begin a recipe. It helps guide you in each step of the process.

What tools or resources have been most helpful for you in creating your business?
Listening to your clients and your staff. I'm a very realistic person, so hearing things for what they are, not just face value is key in your future growth. Whether they like it or not, I am constantly asking everyone's opinion of everything we do. Customers and my team! You need to know what the perspective of those walking in your door is so you know how to move forward. Sometimes you put something out there that isn't working and it can be really frustrating. There's nothing wrong with starting that conversation and asking.

What are some of your favorite places in Grayslake and the surrounding area?
We spend a few hours at Independence Grove Dog Park every other Sunday or so with our dog, Cash. They have a little lake and it's heavily wooded - so pretty! Otherwise, I am a total homebody. Our house turned 100 this year and we have a ton of projects that we are planning for restoring some of the rooms. I have a love of old buildings!

Photos provided by Candice Hunsinger

Photos provided by Candice Hunsinger

Find Candice at:
Cacao Sweets & Treats Website/Instagram
Blacksmith & Co Website/Instagram