Jan. 18, 2014 was a day in the midst of one of the harshest winters Central Indiana had ever seen. It was also the day Nicole Stropes and her boyfriend Jacob Enk opened the bakery, Cocoa’s Cakery, in Trafalgar, to a crowd of family, friends and new customers.
After spending months renovating the former carry-out pizza business, the doors finally opened at 6 a.m. to a throng of waiting patrons. Doughnuts, pies, bread pudding and much more lined the shelves in the glass showcase. All of that baking and time of preparation had finally come to an end. Their new business was officially opened.
Stropes and Enk have been together for more than four years. Trafalgar seemed the likely place to open a bakery that would allow Stropes to use her degree as a pastry arts specialist while still being close to where both she and Enk grew up. After much searching, they found the perfect place, located on State Road 135 near the heart of Trafalgar.
“We looked all around, but we really wanted to stay here,” Stropes said.
Stropes and Enk had much to do to convert the old time pizza house to a place one would want to work and sell baked goods, Enk said. The back of the store property was dirty and required a great deal of cleaning. The configuration of the building had to be changed to make it suitable for the bakery. Painting had to be done. Equipment had to be purchased for the mixing, baking and frying of doughnuts which would fill their counter space.
Whimsical signage had to be made with the store’s logo. It would take months.
The task was daunting, but Strobes, 24, and Enk, 23, had the support of their family and friends and were willing to tackle the long hours it would take to get a business off of the ground. In the beginning, during those long winter months, both had incredibly long hours in the bakery, arriving about 2 a.m. to begin the day’s baking and to be ready for early morning customers who would arrive at 6. They would wrap things up at 6 p.m. and head home only to crash in bed for a very short rest. Eventually, they would shorten their hours of operation, closing at noon on most days.
It was through 4-H that Stropes first became interested in decorating cakes. For 10 years, she would enter cakes in the fair contests and work to improve her skills. After graduating from high school, Stropes knew she wanted to continue in the field and entered the Chef’s Academy on East Washington Street in Indianapolis. The program lasted two years and ended for Stropes when she had earned her degree in pastry arts. For a short time, she worked in other bake shops until she decided to set out on her own and start her own line of baked goodies.
Looking for the right blend of recipes to meet her customers’ needs has always been important. Both Stropes and Enk utilize old time recipes that date back to Eswell’s Bakery that was once located in Martinsville. Enk’s extended family ran that operation until it closed many years ago. The recipes, however, stayed in the family and are now used in Cocoa’s Cakery.
With the many diets and special needs consumers face, Stropes offers pies and cakes made with Splenda, rather than natural sugar. She also bakes breads that are multigrain for those looking for a more healthy choice.
At only 24, Stropes has learned a lot about starting a business and has advice for anyone going into a venture similar to theirs.
“It costs a lot more than you think it is going to be,” she said. “Be prepared for unexpected expenses, but don’t be afraid to try.”
For now, Stropes and Enk are happy with their bakery in the midst of Trafalgar and their Friday trips to the Bean Blossom Farmer’s Market. In the meantime, they will continue to look for recipes and ideas that will keep their customers coming in. And perhaps hope for a more gentle winter than this past winter proved to be.
Carol Edwards is retired after a 30-year career teaching elementary school students at at Greenwood schools. Send column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.