A Sweet Business Venture

DECEMBER 9, 2021

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals found themselves inspired to take up new hobbies and sharpen old skills. Or, as was the case with three Nightingale students, capitalize on their entrepreneurial spirit and launch their own caramel company. With some extra time on their hands in the summer of 2020 and a deep love of baking, Ella T. '22, Lila N .'22, and Lucy S. '22 created Big Dipper Caramel.

Refining their caramel recipe and looping family and friends in as taste testers was their first step. Next came building a website and establishing their marketing campaign. Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, their junior year, they quietly grew a community of customers, purposely not advertising widely at Nightingale, to see how the business could grow without a built-in base of support. They all vividly remember the first time they made an online sale to a total stranger located in Queens. That excitement inspired them to continue pushing the business forward—even though all baking was (and still is) being done out of their own kitchens. “Our family members definitely have some thoughts on when we take over the space.” Lucy said.

When it came time to apply for a summer internship before their senior year, Director of Upper School Student Life and Internship Coordinator Abby Balafas helped to connect them with the Harlem Baking Company. Owned and operated by Nightingale parent Charles Devigne P’26, the Harlem Baking Company is known for crafting delicious single-serving desserts sealed inside reusable mason jars—tiramisu, molten chocolate cake, and strawberry cheesecake are just a sampling of their many flavors.

When Ella, Lila, and Lucy first applied, they were excited for the opportunity to see how a brick and mortar bakery in New York City is run and show off their social media skills through the bakery’s Instagram account. Little did they know that Charles was looking to refine his own salted caramel cheesecake recipe, and soon an official collaboration was born. This winter brought the arrival of the Pumpkin Cake with Sea Salt Caramel, created entirely by Big Dipper Caramel, baked in the signature Harlem Baking Company single-serve jars. This seasonal cake was just for November, but there’s talk of a caramel carrot cake collaboration in the future.

Giving back to the community was also important to Ella, Lila, and Lucy, and they are proud to donate 25% of all sales to the Gotham Food Pantry. Located in New York City, the Gotham Food Pantry “is committed to establishing Food Justice through the five boroughs through a hyper-local, sustainable approach that empowers historically underserved communities.”

Thinking back on what they’ve learned over the course of the last year and a half, Lucy shared that they’ve all found their own strengths within the business, which has helped a lot with time management. “Ella is definitely the head baker, Lila has been managing the website, and I’ve been designing the logo and packaging. We all found our lanes instead of all us trying to do everything all the time.”

“I’ve learned so much about the business side of things,” Lila said. “Managing the money, posting on social media...it’s a lot harder than I expected, but it’s been such a valuable experience.”

In many respects, this is a classic “pandemic silver lining” story. Without the forced indoor time to experiment with caramel recipes, who knows if Big Dipper Caramel would have ever come to be. Ella reflected, “When we first started out, I don’t think we could have ever imagined what this would turn into…working with Harlem Baking Company or sharing our story on the Pix11 news. We thought it would be just a fun little pandemic project and now we have our own business!”