“Baking came as a total surprise to me, but now it feels innate just like writing used to. And it’s my way of creating joy in peoples’ lives, which is literally the icing on the cake!”
Meet Maria Janchenko, GirlCrew Toronto
Maria started Simple Civil Sweets around 2012. From a young age, she had wanted to be a foreign correspondent TV journalist, but found herself working for the government, something she describes as the exact opposite of her life-long dream! A short contract with the provincial government in 2005 turned into a decade of communications work for a few different ministries. After suffering bouts of severe boredom and disillusionment, a friend approached her for a cake for a colleague’s retirement party; and Simple Civil Sweets was born.
From there, more and more people started coming to Maria to fulfill their unique dessert needs, and she quickly built a strong following. She had discovered a surprise outlet for her creativity and it snowballed from a hobby into a custom baking business. Maria’s clients come to her for her “uber-custom” as she puts it. “Anything from cookies decorated to look exactly like their favourite pooch, to entire dessert tables inspired by the guest of honour’s favourite favours, colours, specific likes and loves.”
While decorated cookies and cupcakes are her speciality, she’s a dab hand at dessert tables, and has recently included savoury appetisers to her repertoire.
“I just love to hear people’s ideas, turn them into beautiful and delicious creations, and especially to see their glee when they see and taste the final product! Besides, it’s so much fun to be a part of people’s happy occasions and celebrations.”
1. What is the best thing about running your own business?
Not having to compromise on creative decisions. I love working in teams, but when it comes to desserts and arranging/planning for a party, I somehow become a control freak. I guess that’s when you know you’ve found your passion!
2. What did you find most challenging about it?
The money question: coming up with a fair quote and not being afraid to charge people a fair price. Not just for the ingredients, but also for the time and effort required to do the work. I spend my nights and weekends until the wee hours of the morning to make special requests happen and I still don’t have it all figured out yet. But I am learning more and more that you can’t give it away for free no matter how much you love to do the work!
3. What is your proudest business achievement to date?
Every new job or request presents an exciting new challenge. And I am honestly the proudest and most in love with each one after I accomplish them – that’s why I love it so much I guess! When something I do turns out perfectly for the client, I’m so excited I just can’t help telling everyone about it! Hence, the birth of my facebook page, which is evolving into a baking blog. I still have a long way to go, and I have plans for some more formal baking and business training this year. But in the meantime, I am having an absolute blast creating delicious custom treats for all kinds of celebrations!
4. What would be your one tip to others who want to change career path?
Don’t be afraid. It’s a cliche to say do what you love, but it’s true. I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d ever bake. But I was open to trying it, and once I started I couldn’t stop. Don’t get stuck thinking your passion must materialize into a specific premeditated form. Be open to possibilities. Like most things in life, the most amazing blessings come from the most unusual and unexpected places. And life really is what happens to you while you’re busy planning. I’ve always been a creative person, I worked as a writer most of my life. My love of baking came as a total surprise to me, but now it feels innate, just like writing used to. And it’s my way of creating joy in peoples’ lives, which is literally the icing on the cake!
5. What would be your motto in life, and in business?
I believe in karma. What you give you get back tenfold. At the same time, you can’t let people take advantage of you otherwise you won’t be able to continue for very long. If what you do is good, there will always be customers who get it and are willing to pay what it’s worth. And there will always be people who will never pay a fair price regardless of how good your work is. Like all things in life, you need to learn to say no and associate yourself and your business with people who get it.
If you’re a GirlCrew member, and are interested in being featured in the Meet the GirlCrew segment, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! x