After a childhood hobby turned into a side gig, then into a full-fledged business, a Baltimore baker found support through the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore’s BOOST program.
Music teacher Sumayyah Bilal began baking at a young age. But in 2020, when Bilal wasn’t able to share her love for music with her students in person due to COVID-19, and amid overwhelming social and racial unrest, the educator turned to focus more on baking.
That year, she left her teaching position and turned her mild obsession with cheesecake into her full-time business, Codetta Bake Shop.
Within a short period of time, the shop gained a following of regular customers who encouraged Bilal to apply for the Downtown Partnership’s BOOST program, which was created to support Black-owned businesses in Downtown Baltimore.
Bilal joined an informational webinar but decided Codetta Bake Shop wasn’t in the right position to move forward with the program at that time.
Samuel Storey, the Downtown Partnership’s economic development director, noticed Bilal attended the webinar but did not submit an application. He informed her of a deadline extension and encouraged her to apply, which put her in a place where she was more confident about her business.
“Sam was really hands-on and helpful in terms of pointing us to the right places, helping us with our business plan, referring us to the small business development seminar and other resources that helped us get our application in…. And we won,” Bilal said. “They had over 30 applicants and we were one of the five selected. We were just blown away.”
Bilal said the program gave her access to coaching and networking opportunities to help grow her business.
“The program was a huge learning experience,” she said. “We had coaches come in and work on different aspects of business ownership. And it was great to do that with coaches, but also within the small cohort of businesses that were very different from ours and were in different stages.”
In addition to the grant money, the program provided resources like an accountant, a team of lawyers, brokers, marketing help, and an architect to help plan a proposed location.
“They really set us up for success,” Bilal said.
Codetta Bake Shop now operates out of Light Street Presbyterian Church in Federal Hill, where they sell homemade cheesecakes, cakes, cupcakes, and ice cream Friday through Sunday.
Codetta is the only BOOST recipient that has not acquired their own brick and mortar location. “But that is not a shortcoming of the program,” Bilal said.
Bilal sees a bright future for Codetta, “an iconic destination” that offers nationwide shipping, full service all-day brunch and more wholesaling options.
The shop is “also not just a premium bakery but a community hub,” Bilal said. It features cultural programming such as art installations, baking workshops for kids, panel discussions, and pop-ups for other businesses.
Storey said the Downtown Partnership plans to open applications for the second BOOST cohort before the end of the year.
Bilal encourages Black business owners who are interested in applying for the BOOST program to seize the opportunity.
“Go for it and don’t shy away from it just because you have no experience,” she said. “I had no experience, and look at where I am. If we didn’t have the connections from the BOOST program and the Downtown Partnership, it would’ve been a lot more difficult for us to keep going.”