Dessert companies get a chance to bloom at the Philadelphia Flower Show
They already share kitchen space in West Philadelphia, so why shouldn’t three dessert makers share tent space among the vendors at the Philadelphia Flower Show?
There, between the guy selling Air Chairs and the woman selling vegetable peelers, is Booth P320, where the sign says, “Blooming Desserts.”
Flour meets flowers.
Blooming Desserts is a partnership — arranged by the Enterprise Center’s Dorrance H. Hamilton Center for Culinary Enterprises — among Jillian Blacken of Jillian Bakes (vegan brownies), Marian Dossou of KakeMi Cakes (a mix that yields a microwave cake in 90 seconds), and Nina Bryan of Sweet Nina’s (banana pudding). The Enterprise Center, at 46th and Market Streets, offers kitchens and guidance to about 100 food companies, mainly businesses owned by women and people of color. The center arranged the booth with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to give the entrepreneurs exposure.
“It’s amazing to have an audience like the Flower Show,” said Blacken, a financial professional. Like Dossou, a math teacher, the dessert world for her is a sideline, a passion project. Banana pudding is a full-time business for Bryan, who got serious as she retired from a career as a corporate trainer.
Jillian Blacken, 38, set out into corporate finance after her 2005 graduation from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, but in 2012 began taking classes at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York.
“I wanted to make something everyone can enjoy,” Blacken said. At the time, she kept a vegan diet but struggled to find an acceptable brownie.
She kept at it, finally coming up with a recipe that yielded a tasty, moist brownie with a buttery richness, without butter or eggs.
By 2016, Blacken decided to turn pro with Jillian Bakes, buying time at the Enterprise Center — which she credits for helping to incubate her business, which she operates with her mother, Carol.
“I would say that 2020 was kind of a test: ‘Can you keep moving forward?’” Blacken said.
Although business did slow during the pandemic, it’s picking back up, she said. Her goal is simple: “I want to be able to have as many people as possible enjoy them.”
The brownies (chocolate and chocolate peanut butter, with more flavors on the way) are sold at Local 44′s bottle shop in West Philadelphia, Linda’s Vegetarian Village in Germantown, Drexel University’s Northside Dining Terrace, occasional pop-ups, and online.
Marian Dossou concedes with a laugh that the 2015 cake-in-a-mug fad put her into the food business.
“I have a passion for baking,” said Dossou, 34, a native of West Philadelphia with a bachelor’s degree in business from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania. She teaches math for Teach, a tutoring company.
“I love to decorate,” she said, “For a while, I was in business with a friend. She was baking and I was decorating cakes, and that was great. I just wanted a cake for myself, but I didn’t want to go through the work of baking. So one day, I tried one of those mug cakes. I was so disappointed with the outcome, I said, ‘I can do this better.’ I started becoming a mad scientist in the kitchen and came up with a 90-second cake. It has everything you need to make your own personal little cake.” Unbox, mix in water, and a minute and a half later, you have a vanilla confetti cake or a chocolate cake. (The packaging says each serves two, but …)
“When I first started it, my friends were like, ‘Keep your day job.’ And I was like, ‘No. I’m going to do this. I’m going to get better.’”
The 90 Second Cakes are sold at Pennsylvania General Store, Drexel University’s Northside Dining Terrace, and online.
Nina Bryan, 66, traces her passion for cooking back to her parents’ restaurant in Albany, Ga. “Even as a child, my sister and I would bake cookies and we would sell them, long before Famous Amos and Mrs. Fields and all those guys,” she said as her husband, Glenn, an executive with the University of Pennsylvania, delivered supplies to the booth last week.
She parlayed an education degree from Penn into a long career as a corporate trainer for Colonial Penn Insurance who also did catering years ago. Friends admired her banana pudding — that Southern custard of fresh bananas, whipped cream, and vanilla wafers — which caught the eye of Jeff Brown, who with his family owns ShopRite supermarkets in the Philadelphia area. In 2017, “he put it out there,” she said.
Through her husband, she found out about the Enterprise Center, where she makes the pudding.
Sweet Nina’s has popped up at Citizens Bank Park and now has a day stall at Reading Terminal Market, where Bryan regularly sells out her 10 flavors, including strawberry and vanilla chocolate swirl. Reading Terminal, she said, has been her favorite venue. “We have so many people saying, ‘I don’t know anything about banana pudding, until now.’”
An arrangement with the Ronald McDonald House and Whole Foods Markets is next, followed by — she hopes — a permanent stand at Reading Terminal. For now, Sweet Nina’s is also sold at the University of Pennsylvania’s Houston Hall and 1920 Commons Retail, Drexel University’s Northside Dining Terrace, and Dilworth Park Café at Philadelphia City Hall.