Baked By Melissa founder Melissa Ben-Ishay remembers walking through Chelsea a decade ago and stopping in front of an empty storefront on the corner of 23rd Street and Eighth Avenue.
“I remember so clearly thinking, ‘Holy crap, I can’t imagine having a store that you can actually walk into.’ Now we have 14,” she says by phone while pushing her sleeping 3-month old in a stroller.
You’ve probably heard the story by now: In 2008, Ben-Ishay decided to whip up teeny treats in her apartment kitchen in Murray Hill and pitch to caterers after being fired from her uninspired job as an assistant media planner.
With the help of her older brother Brian Bushell and business partners (and friends), Matt Baer, Ben Zion and Danny Omari, a debut Baked By Melissa pickup window opened at Cafe Bari in SoHo on Nov. 27 of that same year. It served eight original flavors — tie-dye, red velvet, triple chocolate fudge, peanut butter and jelly, mint chocolate cookie, chocolate peanut butter cup, cookies and cream and cookie dough.
Looking back 10 years and 300 cupcake flavors later, everything seemed to fall into place perfectly. But if you ask Ben-Ishay, 34, she’ll tell you creating her sweet empire was hardly a piece of (cup)cake.
“I worked my ass off. Early on, I felt like a fraud and it’s not that I was, but it’s just that I was making business calls from the green couch in my living room in the apartment that I had two fake walls up in, you know?” she says. “I remember crying to my brother saying who the hell do I think I am, Melissa of Baked by Melissa? He’d tell me, you are. Of course, you are. That’s why it’s so important to surround yourself with people who support you, in this case, it was my brother.”
Ben-Ishay practically lived in the kitchen for the first two years of Baked By Melissa’s existence, baking thousands of cupcakes herself while her brother, the former CEO, took care of the storefront groundwork.
“Without my co-founders and my brother and my unbelievable team of hardworking people who are a part of the company today, this never would have happened,” she says.
In her 10th year as the founder and face of her namesake company, Ben-Ishay isn’t spending as much time in the kitchen — but if she could figure out a way to be behind the counter at all 14 of her locations, she probably would.
“It’s all my passion,” she says about juggling being a mother of two, and wearing such as public relations rep, baker and marketing expert. “And, I’m still the one who creates every new flavor.”
But instead of cold-calling catering companies and delivering cupcakes in bulk via subway, Ben-Ishay now finds herself teaming up with her husband for product development.
“I cannot believe how much has changed. When I look at pictures from the very beginning it doesn’t feel like yesterday. We’ve done so much and I’ve grown so much,” she says. “It feels like the most magical 10 years, actually.”
Looking ahead, Ben-Ishay says she’s focused on expanding the brand with potential new retail locations outside of New York City, though none have been officially announced. Currently, Baked By Melissa treats can be shipped anywhere in the country and delivered locally in Manhattan by ordering online at bakedbymelissa.com.