Editor’s Note – This is the second in our “SoBo Made” series about local products and the people who make them on the South Baltimore peninsula. Our part of the city has long been a manufacturing and production hub. Although much of that work vanished years ago, that creative and industrious spirit endures here in firms large and small. (This story was originally published in our first newspaper edition on March 12, 2021.)
It all started when Sumayyah (Mya) Bilal offered Chris Burgess a piece of her eggnog cheesecake. “I gave some to Chris the year we met,” Mya recalls. “He said, ‘This is amazing! We need to sell it, and I’m going to help you.’”
Just a few short years later, Mya and Chris are co-owners of Codetta Bake Shop, a bakery that produces a growing list of desserts from a shared commercial kitchen on E. Fort Avenue. And business is booming for the start-up, which has quickly expanded citywide and even regionally from its fan base in the peninsula’s Riverside neighborhood.
One year ago, Codetta’s was producing a dozen or so cheesecakes a month, selling mainly to the partners’ friends and family. Now they are also producing whole buttercream cakes, cupcakes, lemon squares, brownies, Tres Leches cakes, and ice cream. They are now averaging over 75 orders a week. “We even had customers coming down from Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving,” Mya says.
The list of offerings is still growing. During a visit to their kitchen in late February, they were working on a new product – banana pudding – added in response to customers’ suggestions. That flexibility and willingness to experiment appear to be a key ingredient in the young company’s growth.
But it all started with cheesecake: Mya’s passion. “Cheesecake has been my favorite dessert since I was a kid. I’ve been making them and tinkering with the recipe for years. For all our family celebrations, I bring dessert.”
Chris’ passions are business and entrepreneurship. A long-time resident of the Riverside neighborhood – he attended Thomas Johnson Elementary Middle School – Chris holds down the business/marketing side of the operation while Mya is the kitchen creative.
Codetta Bake Shop started in the spring of 2018 on a very small scale in the very small kitchen of Mya’s studio apartment in Bolton Hill. Both partners held down full-time jobs – Mya teaching band at a Howard County middle school, Chris working for the federal government – while baking cheesecakes for family and friends in their spare time.
“We continued this as a side hustle for a few years until early 2020,” Chris recalled via email. “We moved the bakery to my rowhouse under a cottage license. Soon after the lockdown in the spring, we decided to start making cupcakes. We began selling three ‘experimental’ cupcake flavors a week, available for pick-up and delivery anywhere in the city. Each subsequent week, through persistent social media marketing, an incredible amount of word-of-mouth, and many hours of really hard work, the business exploded.”
Codetta Bake Shop’s social media following on Facebook and Instagram has grown from 300 a year ago to 5,000 in February, says Mya.
As orders grew to about 50 a week, Mya left her teaching job and became the first full-time Codetta employee. In November 2020 the partners took another big leap by moving their baking operation into the Mindgrub commercial kitchen at 554 E. Fort Ave, space that they share with a caterer.
Yet another growth spurt took the partners by surprise soon after the move. While the business had been built on cakes ordered in advance and cupcake deliveries, the new customers had something else in mind.
“Soon after we got a Google business listing, I was getting calls every day, people asking ‘Hey, can I pick up a whole cake? Can I get some cupcakes right now?’ I’d have to tell them you know that’s not how we work. We need a two-week lead time,” Mya remembers.
But Mya and Chris made a quick pivot to meet the new demand and Codetta’s “Dessert On Demand” program was born in January. “We said, let’s try it out and see what happens if we make a bunch of stuff and make it available for pickup. And now we can’t stop. We’ve sold out these items every week,” says Mya.
The rapid growth has been a welcome challenge for the partners. “It’s kind of mind-boggling for us,” says Mya. “It’s been crazy these last few months. But it’s such a blessing to be in this position, especially during this time that has been so difficult for restaurants and small business owners in general.”
Mya and Chris have now brought on a part-time employee to tackle the flood of orders. Their staff also includes family members who work in the kitchen and make deliveries. Chris now works with a wholesaler to supply them with regular deliveries of eggs, milk, cream cheese, and butter.
There’s something happening most every day in the kitchen, Mya says.
And the growth continues. In mid-February, Codetta announced their first wholesale customer. They are now making weekly deliveries of their Tres Leches cake slices to Cocina Luchadoras, a Mexican restaurant in Fells Point (253 S. Broadway St).
What’s next for Codetta Bake Shop? For the near term it sounds like the focus will be a lot more hard work to meet current demand for their goodies. Further down the road, Mya envisions a brick-and-mortar shop somewhere in Baltimore.
“We’d love to open up our own space that would be a hub for the community, a place where people can hang out. We’d serve brunch on the weekend. I love making brunch. And I make a killer Quiche Lorraine, if I do say so myself.”
No matter what the future holds for Codetta Bake Shop, Mya is enjoying the intangible rewards that cooking brings.
“I really use the business as a way to connect with people. The reason I love baking is I love the feeling of someone enjoying something I’ve cooked with love. That’s one of the quickest and strongest ways to foster a connection with someone.”
Codetta operates two ordering websites, one for custom advance orders (two-week minimum) and one for Dessert On Demand in-stock items (same-day orders). Dessert On Demand is available Thursday-Sunday only. Pre-orders can be picked up between 2-5pm at the window on Jackson St. (the building with the “Mindpub” sign); deliveries are made between 5:30-8:30pm. – Peninsula Post staff