Icing on the (cup)cake: COVID relief fund helps Milford baker's dream come true

From left; Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz chats with business owner Adrianna Robles and Women's Business Development Council President and CEO Fran Pastore at Robles' Good Morning Cupcake on Melba Street in Miford, Conn. on Thursday, February 4, 2021. Robles received a business grant as part of the group's Equity Match Grant program.

From left; Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz chats with business owner Adrianna Robles and Women's Business Development Council President and CEO Fran Pastore at Robles' Good Morning Cupcake on Melba Street in Miford, Conn. on Thursday, February 4, 2021. Robles received a business grant as part of the group's Equity Match Grant program.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — Adrianna Robles’s dream was nearly over just weeks before it came true.

Having signed the lease on her Milford cupcake shop, Good Morning Cupcake, on March 1, she was planning her May grand opening when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and the state went into lockdown.

“But you know, once you sign that lease, that means you have to keep signing those monthly checks,” she said. “I had spent all the money to open out of my bank account, and then the state locked down before I could open, and I was like, ‘oh, boy, now what.’”

Robles, 29, a part-time teacher at the Shelton-based Lincoln Tech culinary institute, is a graduate of the Johnson and Wales baking and pastry arts program. Her business is one of the first recipients of the state’s newly launched Equity Match Grant Program.

Administered through the Women’s Business Development Council, the program is a COVID-19 relief program designed to get cash into the hands of women entrepreneurs, according to Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who was among a handful of state and city officials to visit the Melba Street storefront Thursday morning to promote the grant program.

A white chocolate raspberry mini cupcake at Good Morning Cupcake on Melba Street in Miford, Conn. on Thursday, February 4, 2021.

A white chocolate raspberry mini cupcake at Good Morning Cupcake on Melba Street in Miford, Conn. on Thursday, February 4, 2021.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

“We have seen since the start of the pandemic that women-owned businesses have been disproportionately affected,” Bysiewicz said. Businesses owned by women tend to be retail, hospitality or food service oriented, and all of those businesses have struggled to cope with the pandemic.

“But we found out through the (Small Business Administration) that 80 percent of the COVID-relief capital went to male-owned businesses, and 75 percent of the recipients were white,” she said. “So, we said, ‘Wait a minute.’”

Bysiewicz and WBDC President and CEO Fran Pastore developed the grant program as a way to get money into the hands of women business owners without putting them deeper into a financial hole, Bysiewicz said.

“People don’t want loans and more debt,” she said.

Pastore said the program uses private funds donated by banks and individuals and matched one to one by the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

Waterbury-based Webster Bank kicked in the first $100,000 and others have followed, she said.

“No amount is too small,” Bysiewicz said. “We’ve received $5,000 up to $100,000, and every amount in between.”

Business owner Adrianna Robles at Robles' Good Morning Cupcake on Melba Street in Miford, Conn. on Thursday, February 4, 2021. Robles received a business grant as part of the Women's Business Development Council's Equity Match Grant program.

Business owner Adrianna Robles at Robles' Good Morning Cupcake on Melba Street in Miford, Conn. on Thursday, February 4, 2021. Robles received a business grant as part of the Women's Business Development Council's Equity Match Grant program.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

The funds, just over $1 million so far, are then made available in increments up to $10,000 for women-owned businesses, especially startups. In addition to cupcakes, the grants have been used to help a Portland-based company increase production of reusable silicon face masks and to buy a high-speed convection oven for a Stamford mobile coffee bar.

There is one catch, though, Pastore said.

“The client has to put skin in the game,” she said. “They have to put in 25 percent of the amount they get.”

Robles, who received $6,500 from the program, said she had used her grant to install a larger refrigerator and freezer, and to buy 8-quart mixers to replace the 5-quart models more suited to a home baker that she had been using.

While she started small, a guest appearance on the Food Network meant that her mini-cupcakes and cookies were already in demand before her shop opened.

“If you’re going to make cupcakes, you need a place to store them, and I had already outgrown my old refrigerator,” she said.

The increased storage space was required because the pandemic had shifted her business focus. When she was planning Good Morning Cupcake, she had assumed the bulk of her income would come from catering parties and weddings, exactly the kind of events that stopped happening because of the virus.

“We’re all hoping that in the near future, we can get back to doing the fun things,” she said.

Robles said she was already planning for that time. Next month, she will begin hosting pastry-decorating classes in the kitchen area of the 700-square foot space that she shares with a take out pasta micro-business.

And as people get back to hosting parties and other functions that typically involve cupcakes, Robles said the state’s investment in her business was already paying dividends in the form of opportunity and experience for another generation.

Robles has been running her shop — which is open three days a week — with the help of a single student intern. Next month, she plans to add a second intern, she said.

“Especially during COVID, it’s been hard for students to get out there and get experience,” she said. “But I know what these kids are capable of, and it’s a good way for me to give back.”

deng@trumbulltimes.com