Much like many University of Georgia students, alumna Jasmyn Reddicks changed her major three times before settling on food industry marketing and administration. But for Reddicks, this uncertainty paved the way for her to win first place in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ FABricate Entrepreneurial Initiative her senior year and launch her plant-based and vegan cupcake business VTasteCakes.
From there, she obtained their commercial license, and will be operating out of Irwin Street Community Kitchens in Atlanta by late May.
Boasting cupcakes with rich flavors such as lavender vanilla, double chocolate and lemon zest, VTasteCakes’ latest addition, Reddicks has baked her whole life and used ingredients from her grandmother’s garden when she was younger.
“With baking, it’s a way for me to express myself,” Reddicks said. “Also I think it’s great because at the end, not only do you create something beautiful but it also tastes good too.”
A lifelong passion for baking influenced the food product itself, but Reddicks said it was a combination of wanting to appeal to a larger audience and be more sustainable, which led her to make vegan and vegetable-based cupcakes.
From small school to sweet victory
Before Reddicks became one of Athens’ newest entrepreneurs, she was a student at Albany State University studying biology to become an orthodontist.
In 2015, a financial aid audit found four Albany State University employees with a history of misconduct, according to an article by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Due to both the situation and five-hour distance from home, Reddicks said her mother wanted her to transfer schools. While at first “intimidated” by UGA’s size, Reddicks applied and was accepted the spring semester of her sophomore year.
After discovering more majors, Reddicks changed her major to food science and then again to food industry marketing and administration.
Eventually, Reddicks met Narke Norton, an advisor for a student-organization geared toward minority students studying agriculture and related sciences, who inspired her to compete in FABricate. Hosted by the CAES each year, the competition is open to both undergraduate and graduate students across colleges and disciplines.
The eight-month program consisted of workshops, taste testing and nutritional label making, Reddicks said. Going up against two other teams, both with more experience, her team finished first and won $5,000, which she used to start her business.
“It was spontaneous but I’m glad I did it because it’s always been a passion,” Reddicks said. “I always wanted to open my own baking shop or something by the age of 56, but I thought I had to do it after I retired.”
While owning a business is complex and confusing, Reddicks said one of the bonuses of beginning at UGA was having many tools and resources at her disposal. The day after the competition, she went to some of the judges for advice. Some of them became her mentors, including Robert Pinckney, the director of the Entrepreneurship Program, and Amanda Stephens Newquist, the director of experiential learning for CAES.
Pinckney said he was just an observer at the competition, but saw promise in Reddicks’ business. Since then, Pinckney has given advice to Reddicks about where to find resources and helped her develop marketing ideas surrounding how to build her brand.
“She’s got a very creative mind and a really hard work ethic,” Pinckney said. “I think she’ll be super successful.”
Rashe Malcolm, owner of Rashe’s Cuisine, is another one of Reddicks’ mentors and the organizer of the soon-to-be commercial kitchen in downtown Athens, open for beginning entrepreneurs.
Out of state and out of the ordinary
Until recently, VTasteCakes held a cottage food license which allowed Reddicks to bake from home and sell her product directly to the consumer and through internet sales. Cottage food licensed business owners, however, aren’t allowed to “distribute or wholesale their product, nor can they ship cottage food products across state lines,” according to the Georgia Department of Agriculture website.
Due to these limitations, VTasteCakes can only sell product at pop-up events, such as the upcoming Food Truck Brunch Fair in late April and local markets.
Reddicks and her sister and business partner, Aneesha Reddicks, said they’ll be operating out of a commercial kitchen by the end of May so they can expand their business, with a future goal of opening their own cafe.
As both a woman and racial minority, Reddicks said people tend to look down on her and her business but instead of viewing their preconceived notions as a barrier, it gives her an “element of surprise.”
“I feel even though it is difficult a lot of times [being] underestimated, I still can use that as an advantage,” Reddicks said.
On March 28, Reddicks used this advantage compete in Collegiate Great Brands Competition, a national contest hosted at the Terry College of Business’ recently-opened Studio 225, and received $5,000 of runner-up prize money.
All in the family
Aneesha Reddicks said she came to UGA to watch her sister compete in the FABricate Initiative, and after talking with her sister to see if she was serious about starting VTasteCakes, has been highly involved ever since.
On top of working another full-time job in Atlanta at a marketing agency, Aneesha Reddicks helps her younger sister with business decisions, as well as running her social media channels and website.
VTasteCakes’ other two employees include her mother, Wendy Reddicks, who helps with both business creativity and accounting, and her grandmother, Betty Butler, who aids her in baking and ensures orders get processed correctly.
While being able to work closely with family can be seen as a blessing, running the business has shifted the dynamic between the four women and poses its own challenges.
At only 22 years old, Reddicks is the youngest but also the owner of the company, which has “flipped the hierarchy of who’s telling who what to do,” Aneesha Reddicks said.
Lines between family and work have also blurred, but separation between the two is key.
“If you get mad at a family member … [and] have an order or an event or a meeting that week or the next day, you have to say, ‘I’m going to put this aside and we’re going to talk about this,’” Aneesha Reddicks said. “So what I love the most is it has improved our communication immensely.”
Despite these slight difficulties, Reddicks credits her family for much of her success and said they are her biggest source of inspiration.
“Even though we are a small family … I feel like no matter how extraordinary my dreams were, they never told me to dream maybe a little lower or just get a full-time job,” Reddicks said. “Everybody’s really making an effort to help out … [it] has really blown me away.”