LAKELAND — In just five years, Chequita Blake has gone from selling her cupcakes on a makeshift table to her own storefront at Lakeland Square Mall.
Blake, 43, started handing out samples of her “fresh and fluffy” cupcakes at her son’s Little League baseball games. She said the looks on people’s faces told her she had a quality product, which would eventually become her business: Blue Velvet Cupcakes. She also sold cupcakes to her family and friends.
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In 2016, Blake walked the entirety of Lakeland Square Mall, praying for her next step. The following year, she started selling her cupcakes at a table in the mall before being promoted to a booth outside Dillard’s in late 2018. After her lease with the kiosk ended, she left, intending to secure a larger space where she could cook on-site.
Shortly before the pandemic hit in 2020, mall management contacted Blake, informing her that a space had become available and it was hers if she wanted it. Blake jumped at the chance and started cooking and selling in a space near Burlington Coat Factory in June 2020.
“I came to Lakeland Square Mall, I had a table, I got a booth, and everyone [has] hooked up ever since,” Blake said.
Blake was raised by her grandmother in Winter Haven, who taught her to cook and bake. Blake got attached to cupcakes because her grandmother, Dorian Cuyler, made “the fluffiest chocolate cake ever.” Today, Blake’s favorite cupcake flavor from the variety she offers — including Red Velvet, Strawberry, Oreo, and Reese’s Peanut Butter — is her Chocolate Cupcake with Chocolate Frosting.
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Blake landed a job at Publix shortly after high school, where she worked for 18 years before retiring in 2012. She started in the deli before going to the bakery where she learned new skills, especially in management.
“I was already there, established, because a lot of people know me from Publix,” Blake said. “So when people have the product, they’re like, ‘Oh, she worked at Publix. Oh, I know his stuff well. I mean, which was a good thing because Publix taught me a lot about the context of the business from sales, from operations, I learned a lot. Baking skills were my grandmother.
While working at Publix, Blake was a single mother. Now his children have all moved away and Blake can focus solely on his business.
“He’s my only baby,” Blake said. “All the others are gone.”
Today, Blake has five employees. But the secret ingredients she uses to make her cupcakes are known only to her.
And she intends to push this recipe far.
“I’ve had clients who have come here and cried because they saw where I was to have me [this]”, Blake said. “That’s what I want to show people, like they can do whatever they want.
“One-Stop Shop”: plans for the future
In addition to her cupcakes, Blake sells cakes, cookies, red velvet and strawberry cheesecakes, and banana pudding cups. She also plans to bring back some previous favorites.
“We’re going to bring back our popcorn, so it’s like different desserts that you can probably get for your birthdays and parties and events like that,” Blake said. “I’m definitely working on being that one-stop-shop.”
When Blake first opened her store in the mall, most stores around her were still closed due to COVID-19.
“It was slow. But I kept the faith. And I thought to myself, once they saw what I had to offer and they tasted it, then I knew God was going to bring more people,” Blake said. “I didn’t know the trails and tribulations of it or what it would cost me. But I had my faith, so I wasn’t worried about it.”
Blake said business started picking up over the holidays.
“Business is good,” Blake said. “I mean, it could be – it can always get better.”
Blake said his business is still growing. And she has a big vision for what that growth could look like.
First, Blake wants to open another location in the area inside his own building. She is actively looking for a space now, but she also intends to keep the place at Lakeland Square Mall.
In addition to selling her baked goods, Blake hopes to open community classes for children at baking schools. She also wants to teach future entrepreneurs the lessons she learned running her own business. One day she wants to be in stores with products coming from her own warehouse and assembly line.
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Once firmly established in Polk County, Blake plans to open a boutique in Miami and Atlanta, where she already has a clientele. Blake said she started selling in Miami after forming a relationship with Miami-Dade County rapper Trina — Katrina Taylor — whom Blake met when Trina hosted an event in the area.
Blake said she travels to Miami about five times a month to deliver cupcakes to customers.
“Worth it,” Blake said. “Because I have another vision.”
Blake said that as a black business owner, people encouraged her to put up a sign in her store that proclaims Blue Velvet as black-owned. But she doesn’t want to do that, she said, because she “belongs to everyone.”
“I want every nationality to understand that I have a great product that everyone loves,” Blake said. “I am who I am and I run it. But it’s not like I have to say that or make a statement with it.”
Blake said she was constantly questioned by people who approached her business and did not believe she owned it. She takes questions about her business direction and her recipes as a compliment: people are curious because she’s doing something good.
“I’m questioned more than ever about being in this place and being who I am,” Blake said. “But I think because it’s a great product, everyone [is] to try to understand [it] outside.”
Blake said she pours love into every cupcake she bakes, which has led her clientele to a kind of community that rallies around her. She has clients who follow her from the beginning.
She would like to see this community continue through her three children.
“If I die tomorrow, will Blue Velvet die with me, or can you all continue the generation, the wealth that I will create for you and your children?” Blake said she asked her children. “They say they’ve got it all figured out, so. We’ll see one day.”
But Blake would never want to see his children forced to work in the family business. She wants them to take over if it’s a passion for them.
“But if it doesn’t, then it might die with me,” Blake said with a laugh. “Don’t ruin my name.”
Maya Lora can be contacted with advice or questions at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @mayaklora.