Come Find Out Why Paradise is Just a Cupcake Away! Meet Jillycakes Owner, Jillian Hopke
Q: Is it safe to say it all started when you were a young girl baking in the kitchen with your Mother and Grandmother? Tell us about some of those elaborate cakes you baked?
JH: Oh yes! Our house always threw the parties around major events, Birthdays, Halloween, Christmas, etc. If there was such a thing as a “Pinterest Mom” back in 1985 my mom pioneered that lifestyle. Whatever we (my brother and I) were into she would turn into a showpiece cake. She made everything; Muppets, California Raisins, She-Ra, My Little Ponies, Bunny Peeps (it was a big phase of mine). For my brother she would make all kinds of aeronautical cakes, she even made him a full space shuttle complete with donut wheels! Sadly, photo documentation wasn’t what it is now so most of these live on in memory, but we did just find a box of old pics a couple weeks ago that had a little Hot Tub cake she made for my dad. I put that one on Instagram.
Q: You graduated from college with degrees in both dance and marketing … where did you think your career would take you after graduation?
JH: Honestly, I don’t think at that point in life I had much of a plan career wise. Like most college students I took classes about what interested me and what I had a passion for. I’ve always had a creative crafty gene in me, Roger Williams University was a big architecture school and I think I spent as many hours on my own work as I did helping build tiny models for my friends who were struggling to apply their computer skills into a physical reality. When I graduated in 2002 there really was an oversaturation of “marketing” professionals and I had a few varied jobs that were mostly glorified door to door sales. My one dream from when I was a child was to be a dancer for Disney and so I thought why not, and I auditioned and moved to Florida with my best friend three weeks later. I always think its interesting that the degree everyone thought would be the “throw away” is the one I used first.
Q: What was your first job? And how did it shape or impact you?
JH: My first job was as a Ski Instructor at Sunday River Resort in Maine. My parents built a house up there when I was three and I grew up commuting from Mass to Maine every weekend. I began teaching children ages 3-12 and I think that it taught me two things. One, that I really enjoy sharing my knowledge with others and two that I always hope to be as fearless in life as the average five- year-old on a pair of skis for the first time.
Q: Tell us about some of your popular cupcakes your customers come back for? Which is your favorite?
JH: You know, flavor popularity is a funny thing. You can present people with creative and inspired and they will generally fall back on the six “comfort” flavors every time. Our most popular is Strawberry Cheesecake, is it the most exciting? Not by a mile BUT its accessible while not being totally plain so its always favored, same with Oreo. I think my favorite of our “popular” flavors would be churro. It’s a consistent favorite and also a little unusual since its fried, and I have never heard of anyone other than us frying cupcakes!
Q: Do you see the business expanding in the future?
JH: While I do see the business expanding from a footprint and offerings standpoint, I don’t think we would ever have a second location. I would never want to step back and move to an admin style position. While I do have employees help with cupcakes and some small projects, I still decorate every single cake 100% myself. I don’t think I would ever want to take the “Jilly” out of the cakes. We are however moving to a larger facility in just a couple weeks and we will be located in the Icon 360 building at the base of the Orlando Eye. Winter park has been a great home for the business for five years but ultimately it hasn’t offered us the one thing we want most, a teaching space. With our new location we will have access to a conference and meeting space that we can use to host parties and cake/cupcake classes which I’m really excited about.
Q: Tell us about Cupcake Wars Season 6.
JH: One word: Seafood
Once we found out we had been cast we kept thinking like what’s the worst thing people have been given as a secret ingredient and what could they possibly give us. I’m not even a seafood eater so for me that was the worst thing, how do you make cake with something you don’t know how to cook and don’t know how it should taste! I think up until that point in the show we got the official most difficult list of choices. Since then there was an edible insect episode so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.
Q: What's the greatest fear you've had to overcome to get where you are today?
JH: Honestly, personal failure. Letting someone down in life is my greatest struggle especially when that person is yourself. I had to learn a long time ago not to read online reviews too deeply because for me I take them all personally. If someone gets a wrong shade of blue and they are upset about it there’s no time machine to go back and fix it. And for every legitimate issue some may have there are 20-30 trolls who just like to say things on the internet to stir up trouble. If I listened to those people, I would probably be hanging out in my closet crying for the next six months. You have to learn how to “filter the failure”, find out what is an honest piece of criticism that you can learn from and what was someone having a bad day and looking for an outlet. I always try to keep those little critiques in mind to continue to improve my future and the future of the business.
Q: What’s one lesson you’ve learned in your career that you can share with our audience?
JH: The best lesson you can ever learn is to be prompt. I was once told by a customer that I answer emails before she sends them. While that’s a little bit of a stretch I try to always reply within 3 hours of me first seeing the message. So often when we have received really big corporate orders I’ve asked, hey how did you hear about us or what made you choose us for this project and 9 times out of 10 the answer is that I was the first person to answer them back. Prompt and polite customer service will win you a lot more goodwill than whatever talent you may possess.
Q: Which woman inspires you and why?
JH: I’m of course inspired by so many women. I’ve had the honor to work with many high-profile business women in my life. From celebrity chef Emily Ellyn to Ashley Eckstein, founder of Her Universe, and Victoria Alonso, Executive Producer for Marvel Films, my mom, my grandmother (we call her Bam) and so many other women who have shaped the world around me and inspired me to be the person I am today. If I had to pinpoint one individual in particular though it would have to be my college advisor, Kathy Micken. I went through any extremely rough time academically right at the close of my freshman year. My grades were so bad that I was close to not getting enough credits to keep my scholarships and would be unable to continue my degrees. I remember vividly when she took me into her office that spring to talk about my situation. She was so honest but also so caring with me. She told me “this isn’t ho you are” and I’ve never heard more truth than that statement. Although she hadn’t even known me for a year and she had probably a hundred students in a similar scenario she said to me that she knew I could be better, that I WAS better and that she was going to do whatever it took to help me turn things around. I’m happy to say that I knew she was proud of me then and I hope she knows what an impact she had on who I am now and how I approach every day and every project with a “I can do this” mentality. I actually do keep up with her on Facebook at bit from time to time so she is still proud, even when I do silly things like dying my hair every color of the rainbow (currently blue). That moment in her office in 1999 feels like another lifetime ago but I’m so thankful that she helped me to express who I truly am and enabled me the tools to unlock my own potential.
Q: What are some of the challenges you feel women face today?
JH: I actually feel fortunate to be in a woman dominated industry. I know it can be a struggle for many women to be taken seriously in business and as entrepreneurs but thankfully the world of cakes is pretty empowering for women. I think I’ve struggled more with what I look like vs what people think business owners should look like. So often people come into the shop and say hi is the manager or owner here? I’m like “Hi, that’s me, I’m the Jilly”, I guess I look too young to own a business or that blue hair and Avengers tees isn’t standard look for an entrepreneur? Hopefully I’m changing those stereotypes one unicorn hairdo at a time.
Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
JH: Listen to your heart but stick to your gut. If something seems too good to be true it likely is and on the flip side, you need to recognize when life is pointing you in a certain direction and not fight that. ALWAYS be true to who you are, you are your brand and you should never sacrifice your own integrity for someone else’s gain.
Five Things About Jillian Hopke
1. If you could talk to one famous person past or present, who would it be and why?
If I could talk to anyone, I think I would choose David Bowie. He was such a complex artist, performer, creator, all rolled into one. I would of course want to talk about one of my favorite movies growing up, The Labyrinth, his work with Jim Henson and how he was able to continuously reinvent his personal image over the years while keeping the essence of who he was constant. He offered the world of the creative arts so much through the course of his life and career. I’m sad that I never got to meet him.
2. What’s the best advice anyone’s given you?
My dad has always lived by the following mantra: Get Psyched, Stay with It, do whatever it takes. Meaning you need to be passionate about whatever you are doing from the get-go and when it gets tough you need to stay the course and always deliver on your promises.
3. Is there something else you would like to accomplish?
I would love to travel more; I hope to someday make it to every continent!
4. What app can’t you live without?
Pokémon Go, and Instagram for posting cake pics and looking at delicious international snacks.
5. What’s your favorite movie?
The Avengers 2012, I mean I love ALL Marvel films but that one is perfect to me.