Entrepreneurship isn’t a linear path. There are ups, there are downs, and there is always something new to discover. Our partner program Catapult Greater Pittsburgh knows that better than most, which is why they are working to support minority entrepreneurs at every stage of their journey.
One of those entrepreneurs is Terina J. Hicks, founder and chief baker officer of CobblerWorld, a bake shop specializing in nostalgic desserts and treats. After nine successful years in business, Hicks joined the latest Catapult Culinary cohort to discover what else she could learn to grow her business and to take advantage of Catapult’s new commercial kitchen space which is proving to be a game-changer for cohort members.
We spoke with Hicks to hear her inspiring story. Learn how she went from a layoff to a motivated business owner intent on making her cobblers and baked goods a household name in Pittsburgh and beyond.
To start, can you give us an introduction to your business and what you do?
My name is Terina J. Hicks, and I am the owner and chief baker officer of CobblerWorld. We are a bake shop that focuses on nostalgic confections as well as our own unique confections that we make in-house. We’ve been in business for nine years now and have a retail location in downtown Pittsburgh.
What made you want to do this?
I got laid off in 2014, and thought, “You know what? This is an opportunity for me to actually go forth and do what I love.” I knew from a young age that I would have my own business. I just didn’t know what it would be. I’ve been baking since I was 14. I learned from my mom who would make these amazing peach cobblers every single holiday, and sometimes just because. I said, “I have to learn how to make these,” not knowing that decades later it would turn into a business.
Initially, I thought about what was going to set me apart from others that have been doing this for decades, and I realized that nobody was making cobblers. Then, I started doing more research and realized that no one was making the old-fashioned sweets that I grew up enjoying. Those nostalgic confections like key lime pie, coconut cream pie, banana bread, pineapple zucchini bread, bread pudding, etc. I was like, “That’s it. That’s my niche.” I’m 57, so I’ve been baking for a long time. Once the layoff hit, I was done. My goal was not to work for anyone else. No one would be able to put a glass ceiling over my head.
How did you get started?
I did a lot of research on my own, and I knew I had to get my ServSafe to work in a commercial kitchen. So, I got all my documentation together, set up my LLC, and got my insurance. Then, I started doing some testing with customers. I did a test market up in the East Hills at Giant Eagle. That Giant Eagle used to be privately owned in 2014, and the owner would allow entrepreneurs to use the entranceway to sell their wares. I reached out to the owner, and she said, “Well, people have been here selling baked goods, cheesecakes and things, and they didn’t do too well, but I’ll let you do it.” I got there at nine o’clock in the morning, and by noon all of my products were sold out—that was the very first store I got my product in. They sold my cobblers, cheesecakes, pound cakes, and mini Bundt cakes.
After that, I started doing farmers’ markets. The first year I was at around six markets. I just ran myself ragged but doing farmers’ markets is a great way to get your company out there. After the farmers’ markets, I was able to get into a few SHOP’n SAVEs. I was in there for a few years, but because it was only me and it got to be overwhelming, I pulled back. Next year, I’ll be going back because I was able to build a team. Currently, CobblerWorld products are sold in Giant Eagle, in three Market District stores, and in some cafes and restaurants. We’re also in partnership with Action Housing, Pittsburgh Regional Transit, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Levy Restaurants, and Millie’s Ice Cream.
Wow—you’ve had a lot of success! Why did you decide then that you wanted to get involved with the Catapult Culinary program?
I take advantage of everything, because I always tell people, “You don’t know everything, and you can always learn something else.” Partnerships are great because they expand your network, and Tammy Thompson [executive director of Catapult Greater Pittsburgh] is a genius. I love her—she’s just brilliant. Tammy, having the relationships and network she does, gave us the opportunity through Catapult Culinary to have a steady commercial kitchen. Having access to this commercial kitchen 24/7 is just top-notch, because getting access to one is hard, and before, I was just bouncing all over the place.
Why is it so challenging to find a commercial kitchen?
There aren’t a lot here in Pittsburgh, and the ones that are here are so expensive and not conducive for an entrepreneur just starting out. I’m actually seeking funding to buy my own building, a bakery that closed two years ago. I’ve hit many roadblocks in this area, and it’s been difficult, but I’m not a quitter.
What parts of the Catapult Culinary program besides the kitchen have you found most valuable?
The networking mainly, because I met other people in the food industry that I didn’t even know existed. From Deez Catering to Café NikkiP to PGH Dumplingz—just creating these partnerships and having the ability to network with other organizations that Catapult is connected with is amazing. The added exposure that Catapult brings about for us is an added bonus as well.
What keeps you going as an entrepreneur?
For one, I’m stubborn. My dad always told me, “You have that sticktuitiveness. Regardless of what roadblocks you are faced with, you find a way to navigate through them.” Secondly, most importantly, I want to show my sons that regardless of how old you are, you can still dream. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that just because you have some wisdom — I don’t want to say old (laughs) — that you can’t do something. I want them to see that I continue to aspire and strive against all odds.
I’m going on 58, and I want to leave a legacy. There’s a little Black girl or little Black boy that’s watching me saying, “Well, if she can do it, I can do it too.”
I look at others who had humble beginnings like myself, like Otis Spunkmeyer who used to sell his cookies out of the trunk of his car, and now it’s an international company. He’s created generational wealth for those to come along. I want to encourage others. Regardless of the trials you’re faced with, if something is your passion, if it’s truly your heart’s desire, you’re not going to let anyone or anything tell you no.
Are you tired of baking yet?
This is my passion. Before I turned it into a business, I was making cobblers and just giving them away. My husband was like, “you better start charging for these” (laughs). I still love it. I’m always looking to create new things, and that continues to set CobblerWorld apart. For example, yesterday I made gingersnap and snickerdoodle cookies. I had just a little bit of dough left for each one. So, I rolled the snickerdoodle cookie dough out, and it had a little hole in the center of it, so I put the gingersnap in there. Oh my God. That was a good cookie! I later discovered that they are called gingerdoodles!
What’s next for CobblerWorld?
I don’t know how far off it is, but I’ve been talking with some grocery stores out of state. I’m already local and regional, but I’m looking to go national. Once I really build up the national brand, my next goal is to go international. I’ve always dreamed big.