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Kathy Hotaling

For owner of Kathy’s Cakes & The Big Dipper in Fulton, ‘secret’ to success is hard work and best quality product and service

By Steve Yablonski

Q: Can you tell us a little about your background?

A: I have always loved to bake for family and friends. I was a stay-at-home mom and would bake for some close friends. I grew up with my grandmother baking; most of my recipes came from my family. Plus, I do have recipes that customers have brought me; they want me to make their items. 

Q: How did it all begin?

A: One of the friends who encouraged me to start a business was Joe Fiumara, who at the time [2008] was the director of the Fulton Community Development Agency. He mentioned several times that he could provide assistance and grants to help new businesses and I should consider baking for the community. Eventually, when my youngest child started school full-time, I decided it was time to get back in the work field. And, what better way than to work for myself?

Q: Did you work prior to this?

A: Prior to starting my business, I was a stay-at-home mom. I had worked as a secretary at Safety Kleen [hazardous material cleanup], assistant manager for Modern Woman [clothing store], typist at Deluxe Check Printers [data entry] and a secretary in an accounting office.

Q: You started at a different location?

A: Originally located on Oneida Street, it was a bakery/ice cream/catering establishment known as Kathy’s Cakes & The Big Dipper. Now I’m on Route 3.

Q: What do you offer?

A: I provide special occasion cakes, wedding cakes, homemade pastries, homemade gelato, hard ice cream and soft ice cream.

Q: Why did you move?

A: Over the years of having my business at 129 Cayuga St., I realized it was important to relocate to have more parking available for my customers and more space to expand my business. I looked at a few different locations. Then, The Big Dipper was for sale. After much consideration, I decided that ice cream goes very well with baked goods and would make a perfect location to relocate. I moved here in January 2020.

I acquired the property in May of 2019; ran both locations for the first season. In that October, we closed the Route 3 site for renovations, renovating a storage room into a kitchen and we moved in the following January.

Q: Who helped you start your business?

A: In the beginning, I began the process by speaking with others and researching the best strategies of how to start a business. I met with [the late business adviser] Larry Perras at the Small Business Development Center in Oswego. With his guidance and Joe Fiumara’s persistence, I completed all necessary tasks and completed the micro-enterprise program to qualify for assistance with a grant and a loan. I also got help from Kevin LaMontagne from the County of Oswego IDA and John Halleron, senior business adviser at the Small Business Development Center in Oswego. I have relied on their expertise a few times over the years. I’ve been very fortunate to have their help over the years. I actually just talked with Kevin about possibly getting funding to do more renovations.

Q: Were you nervous?

A: Yes, it was a very scary time. I had fears and doubts that I wouldn’t be successful. I was determined to provide the best quality baked goods and the best customer service to the Fulton community. I knew I needed to hire experienced employees that could support all aspects of the bakery. Even though I could bake, I was not the best at the decorating cakes. Therefore, I was able to hire an experienced decorator and a baker to help in the kitchen. I am a firm believer that it takes teamwork to complete the job. I invested a substantial financial amount and dedicated a larger amount of my heart and soul into the business.

Q: Were there any challenges?

A: Having never owned a business, I experienced many difficulties. This includes financial, staffing, product development and consistency. It is important to remember the saying, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’ As a new business owner, I had to expect the unexpected and had many learning experiences.

Q: How are you doing now?

A: We’ve done thousands of cakes. I’d say special cakes, occasion cakes, birthday cakes, those are the most popular. I do do quite a few weddings as well; they’re seasonal, more in the summer than winter. To start, my gross revenue was approximately $110,000. Now, the gross revenue is $250,000-plus. Currently, I have two full-time and 12 part-time employees. I offer many different services, including special occasion cakes, wedding cakes, catering for small events or work functions, homemade pastries, homemade gelato, hard ice cream and soft serve ice cream. Some of the best sellers are the homemade half moon cookies and Blue Goo flavor burst soft-serve ice cream.

Q: What do you like about your job?

A: I enjoy doing “basic” kinds of cakes, but I’ve created several special design cakes such as a Baby Yoda, a suitcase with a box of candy on top, a bunch of doughnuts and many others. We pretty much do anything. We make cake for a hundred people, or a few hundred.

Q: Have customers had trouble finding you?

A: We still have people that go downtown and are like, ‘where are you?’ But for the most part, a lot of people followed us here. It’s a lot better location, more parking and better visibility from the road. It is definitely busier and it’s definitely improved the bakery side, we’ve gotten a lot more orders. My customer base is pretty much all of Oswego County. We also get some orders from Syracuse as well as local people who have moved away but still order from us.

Q: So, you’re pretty well-known?

A: It took a while to get well-known, about five or six years. We went to dinner in a place in Syracuse and someone came up and said, ‘hey, I know you! You did my graduation cake.’ That’s when I realized people were recognizing what I was doing!

Q: What is your business philosophy?

A: It is to work hard and provide the best quality service and product possible for customers.

Q: Did the pandemic hurt your business?

A: The pandemic has negatively affected most everyone. Personally, we have all had loss. Thankfully, my business was able to remain open when many other businesses were closed. We were overjoyed to be able to provide a little bit of escape for customers during a very stressful time. That’s the best part of my job; the joy and happiness that I can help bring to customers’ special occasions.