LAKELAND — In just five years, Chequita Blake has gone from selling her cupcakes from a makeshift table to having her own storefront at Lakeland Square Mall.
Blake, 43, started giving out samples of her “fresh, moist” cupcakes at her son’s Little League baseball games. She said the look on people’s faces told her that she had a quality product, which would eventually become her business: Blue Velvet Cupcakes. She had also been selling cupcakes to family and friends.
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In 2016, Blake walked the entirety of Lakeland Square Mall, praying over her next step. The following year, she started selling her cupcakes at a table in the mall before getting promoted to a kiosk in front of Dillard’s in late 2018. After her lease with the kiosk ended, she left, with plans of securing a larger space where she could bake on site.
Shortly before the pandemic hit in 2020, mall management reached out to Blake, informing her that a space had become available and it was hers if she wanted it. Blake jumped on the opportunity and started baking and selling out of a space near Burlington Coat Factory in June 2020.
“I came to Lakeland Square Mall, had a table, got a kiosk, and everybody [has] been hooked ever since,” Blake said.
Blake was raised by her grandmother in Winter Haven, who taught her to bake and cook. Blake became attached to cupcakes because her grandmother, Dorian Cuyler, made “the moistest chocolate cake ever.” Today, Blake’s favorite cupcake flavor of the variety she offers — including red velvet, strawberry, oreo and Reese’s peanut butter – is her chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting.
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Blake landed a job at Publix shortly after high school, where she worked for 18 years before retiring in 2012. She started in the deli before going to the bakery where she picked up new skills, including management.
“I was already here, established, because a lot of people know me from Publix,” Blake said. “So when people have the product, they’re like, ‘Oh, she worked at Publix. Oh, I know her stuff good.’ I mean, which was a great thing because Publix taught me a lot of the background of the business from the sales, the operation, I learned a lot of that. Baking skills was my grandmother.”
While she worked at Publix, Blake was a single mom. Now, her children are all moved out, and Blake can focus solely on her business.
“This is my only baby,” Blake said. “Everybody else is gone.”
Today, Blake has five employees. But the secret ingredients she uses to produce her cupcakes remain known only to her.
And she has plans to take that recipe far.
“I’ve had customers that come here and cry because they see where I was to me having [this],” Blake said. “That’s what I want to show people, like they could do anything they put their heart’s desire to.”
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On top of her cupcakes, Blake sells cakes, cookies, red velvet and strawberry cheesecakes and banana pudding cups. She also plans to bring back some previous favorites.
“We’re going to bring back our popcorn, so it’s like different desserts that you probably can get for your birthdays, parties and events like that,” Blake said. “Definitely working on being that one stop shop.”
When Blake first opened her store inside the mall, most of the shops around her were still closed because of COVID-19.
“It was slow. But I kept my faith. And I figured, like, once they see what I had to offer and then actually taste, then I knew that God was going to bring more people,” Blake said. “I didn’t know the trails and tribulations of it or what it would cost me. But I had my faith, so I wasn’t worried about it.”
Blake said business started picking up around the holidays.
“Business is good,” Blake said. “I mean, it could be — it can always get better.”
Blake said her business is still growing. And she has a grand vision for what that growth could look like.
First, Blake wants to open another location in the area inside of her own building. She’s actively looking for space now, but she intends to keep the spot in Lakeland Square Mall, too.
On top of selling her baked goods, Blake hopes to open up community classes for kids in baking schools. She also wants to teach future entrepreneurs the lessons she’s learned running her own business. One day, she wants to be in stores with products coming out of her own warehouse and assembly line.
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Once she’s well-established in Polk County, Blake has her eyes set on opening up shop in Miami and Atlanta, where she already has a customer base. Blake said she started selling in Miami after building a relationship with Miami-Dade County rapper Trina — Katrina Taylor — who Blake met when Trina did an event in the area.
Blake said she drives to Miami about five times a month to deliver cupcakes to customers.
“It’s worth it,” Blake said. “Because I see another vision.”
Blake said that as a Black business owner, she’s had people encourage her to put up a sign in her store that proclaims Blue Velvet as Black-owned. But she doesn’t want to do that, she said, because she’s “everybody-owned.”
“I want every nationality to understand that I have a great product that everybody loves,” Blake said. “I am who I am and I’m running it. But it ain’t like I have to put it out there or make a statement with that.”
Blake said she is constantly questioned by people who approach her business and don’t believe she’s the owner. She takes the peppering of questions about her business leadership and recipes as a compliment: people are curious because she’s doing something right.
“I get questioned more than ever being in this spot and being who I am,” Blake said. “But I believe because it is a great product, so everybody [is] trying to figure [it] out.”
Blake said she pours love into every cupcake she makes, which has driven her customer base into a sort of community that rallies around her. She has customers that have been with her since the beginning.
She’d like to see that community continue through her three children.
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“If I die tomorrow, will Blue Velvet die with me or would y’all be able to carry on the generation, the wealth that I’m going to create for you guys and your children?” Blake said she asked her kids. “They say they got it down pat, so. We shall see one day.”
But Blake would never want to see her kids forced into the family business. She wants them to take it over if it’s a passion for them.
“But if it’s not, then it could die with me,” Blake said with a laugh. “Don’t mess up my name.”
Maya Lora can be reached with tips or questions at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @mayaklora.