Genelle Drayton left a 10-year career in sports marketing and entertainment to take the entrepreneurial leap into the culinary industry—a sector where many people of color, particularly women, are underrepresented and underestimated. Drayton’s desire for something more paid off. Not only has Sweet Dames Artisan Confections landed in Bloomingdale’s stores, her mouthwatering gourmet macaroons were voted one of the Top Five Desserts in NYC PopMarkets by MetroNYC. Now she’s also sharing her knowledge and talent to help other “foodpreneurs” by participating in events like the SheChef panel series focused on “The Art of Hustle: Branding, Marketing & Launching Your Product.”
“While I learned a lot within the organization there was no opportunity for growth, said Drayton. I was stagnant. I knew that there was more and I was willing to create a life for myself doing something that I loved, so it was time to go. One day while I was still employed and sitting at my desk, I decided I was going to bake for the holidays and gave away baked goods as gifts. People loved the products and began to place orders with me. Six months later, I took the risk and left corporate America to establish Sweet Dames Artisan Confections.”
Here’s the backstory on how she learned more about the food industry and landed in Bloomingdales, a New York-based high-end department store.
When you made the decision to take a leap of faith, what are the first three things you did to learn about the industry and perfect your craft?
Research, education, and networking. I sought the knowledge of professionals within the industry. I’ve worked with Chef Julian Plyter, who taught me all the necessary steps to establish a legal baking business in New York City, and was his intern. I learned the science of baking and various baking techniques at the Institute of Culinary Education. I’m still perfecting, still learning and discovering ways to improve my business every day.
Why did you choose gourmet Coconut Macaroons and CocoMallow sandwiches as your niche?
Initially, when I started my business I was all over the place, custom designed cakes, wedding cakes, custom cookies, you name it I baked it. That, of course, gets old very quickly. My coconut macaroons were always a part of my offerings, but I noticed clients were ordering them as gifts for the holiday season. They appreciated the uniqueness of the product, flavors, and packaging. My event planning experience and relationships in that space definitely helped me. We now offer custom packaging due to an increase in the corporate space.
The idea of the CocoMallow Sandwiches came to me at home, I love the idea of taking something old, traditional, and making it new again with Caribbean flavors and unique pairings. People get really excited about them.
Did you test the market before delving into your business full time? If so, how?
Yes. Pop-up markets were definitely my testing ground. It’s a great way to get your name and product out there, and see how customers respond, what works, what doesn’t.
How did you land an opportunity to sell your macaroons at Bloomingdales?
Thank God for relationships, I’ve learned over the years the importance of maintaining them. I know someone that works for them, she started her career a few years ago and was promoted to food buyer. She was aware of my brand, loved the product, and invited me in to pitch the company.
What would you say were the top two deciding factors for Bloomingdale’s buyers to accept your product into stores? How did you prove that there was a demand for your product?
The presentation is everything and that’s what definitely drew them in, but they really appreciated the uniqueness of the product and the packaging, I even converted some folks to coconut lovers. The real test was the trunk shows. I sold the product in their 59th street location and did very well, they were very impressed with my numbers. I’ve since sold at both SoHo and 59th Street Bloomingdale locations and will increase over the next few months.