Five Questions With Entrepreneur And Sugar Hi Founder Hillary Assael
Five Questions with Hillary Assael, Founder of Sugar Hi
By Chloe Cornell
In celebration of Thanksgiving and the tradition of indulging in great food and desserts, we spoke with Hillary Assael (pictured left with her twin sister Elissa Weinhoff), Founder of Sugar Hi – the absurdly popular dessert destination in Armonk, New York which will soon be available to fans everywhere through their upcoming ecommerce site. You can view Hillary’s creative and stunning desserts on their Instagram @sugarhiarmonk, or even better, brave the crowds and visit the store at 380 Main Street in Armonk, NY as her creations taste even better than they look!
Chloe: You are an amazing artist in the medium of desserts….How did you learn how to bake and decorate cakes and desserts?
Hillary: Thank you! I am completely self taught. When I started about 17 years ago, I was buying these fabulous cakes for my kids, but thought…hmmmm….I can do this myself. I am creative and somewhat artistic, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch. Also, pretty naïve. If you’ve ever seen the show “Nailed IT”, you understand a lot of people think it looks easy. IT’S NOT! It takes years of hard work and experience to be able to make some of the cakes I make. Baking is a bit more of a science. But…once you understand the basic principles you can start tweaking recipes and creating your own. I also sometimes assume this is an easy thing to do, but then I think back to the HUNDREDS of failed recipes over the years, and the countless hours spent in the kitchen perfecting them. I love the expression that goes something like this, “I find the harder I work, the more luck I have”. The point is…there are no shortcuts in life…you have to put your time in!
Chloe: Who inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from?
Hillary: There are certain cake designers that inspire me… I look at their work and see perfection, for example Ron Ben Israel. I get inspiration for my designs from everything.Other cake artists, art, pop culture, music, etc.
I am also inspired by other women who have started successful businesses and hearing their stories. I love to listen to podcasts and interviews they do (kind of like this one). I often find similarities in their stories, and find aspects about their personalities and work ethic that remind me of my own.
Chloe: Your business is a family affair…what has been your experience working with your sisters and daughters? What does it tell you about the power of women?
Hillary: I find women can do anything! A gang of girls can be the smartest, toughest, most powerful force in the world. Women are intuitive, compassionate, and smart. Working with my sister has been really fun and challenging at the same time, We each have our strong traits and often compliment one another. ON the flip side, especially being twins, we easily slip into the roles we’ve played our whole lives, which can be challenging when working together. I have always had the stronger personality, and I do not shy away from confrontation. I am way more of a feminist than she is. When I catch even a hint of not being treated the way a man would be in business, I really dig in. For example, when a man calls me honey, I try to understand that it might be generational for him, but find it totally unacceptable and condescending. I will correct him, and expect it will never happen again. My sister is an EMT and is so badass, but is happier to slip into a more “conventional” female role, and does not get offended. When my daughters work in the store, I try to tell them it is important to be friendly and customer oriented, but to always be treated as an equal to any man. Women are really having a “moment” with the #metoo movement, etc. Our time is here, and it is important for all women in business to demand equal rights. IT is very empowering for me, as a mother to two daughters, to show (not just tell) them how powerful a woman can be!
Chloe: You just hit your one year anniversary…What are you goals for the coming year? What have been your obstacles or unexpected surprises?
Hillary: We are launching ecommerce in the next month, which will be really exciting and a whole new challenge. That has been in the works for a few months now. We are also learning our business and figuring out scalability so we can open other locations. Probably the biggest obstacle in business is finding the right people to work for you. When you build a great team, everything runs smoother and work is a satisfying place to be. But in the process of finding that team, you can run into some real characters along the way.
Chloe: What advice would you give to girls who want to pursue a career in the food industry or want to be entrepreneurs? What skills do you think are essential?
Hillary: While I do think girls can be anything they want to be…I do think its really important to understand who you are. If you love baking, or cooking that’s great, but this business requires a lot of hours and often weekends. That is not for everyone to stand on your feet for 12 hour days and sometimes 6-7 days a week. And I promise you….in the beginning, in order to pay your dues, and get the experience required to become REALLY GOOD at what you do…you will have to work those hours!
Being an entrepreneur in many ways is personality. If you are the type of person that is risk averse, you might be very uncomfortable being an entrepreneur. There is risk involved with opening your own business. Will people respond positively and buy your goods, can we pay rent, will I be able to make money? Having an amazing work ethic and a tough constitution are key ingredients (lol…see what I did there), and maybe a dash of luck!