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Grinnell alumni say “Oh Sugar Sugar, come taste sweet success”

Sweet success is no stranger to Aja Saunders ’10 and Kai Hill ’09, the owners of Oh Sugar Sugar, a new cupcake business in downtown Grinnell. Since last May, they have been selling cupcakes at the farmers market and to Saint’s Rest Coffeehouse. Because of a combination of incredible demand and what Saunders termed “obscene luck,” however, they have recently expanded to a commercial kitchen and are hosting a grand opening this Saturday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The two Grinnell alumni started the business out of unemployment and pure boredom. “What I remember is Kai telling me ‘I don’t want to become a housewife. We need to start this,”’ said Saunders.Oh Sugar Sugar has been officially licensed since October when its owners—after a summer spent in a cramped kitchen baking several dozen cupcakes a week to fill individual orders and meet the farmer’s market demand—decided it was time to move to a bigger space.

“We kind of got pushed into opening a commercial kitchen,” Saunders said.

Fortunately for them, the baker who had once worked for Saint’s Rest retired, creating a void Saunders and Hill were eager to fill.

“We’re kind of a bridge between college people and the community, and everyone seemed really excited about it, so excited that it was hard not to be excited too,” Saunders said.

In addition to selling a variety of cupcakes—the most popular of which are the red velvet and the lemon meringue—Oh Sugar Sugar makes cookies, scones, and muffins and caters to a myriad of dietary needs.

“Our main goal is that even though something may be for a special diet, we hope that the quality of it is just as good as anything else that you would get from us,” Saunders said, enumerating several vegan, low-sugar and gluten-free offerings.

While the exact prices are still being determined, the cupcakes, sold by the dozen, usually cost between $15-$25. Oh Sugar Sugar’s goods can also be purchased individually at Saint’s Rest for around $3.

Opening a cupcake store was never part of the plan for either of the owners. After graduation, Hill got married and decided to stay in Grinnell. “But the economy was pretty crappy,” she explained. “I was unemployed for an entire year.” Hill described how during the day, her husband would go to work and she would stay at home with her cat and take care of the house. “I felt myself becoming someone I didn’t want to be.”

She then approached Saunders, who explained to Hill how she had always wanted to sell cupcakes at the farmers market and the business was born.
Both entrepreneurs lead busy lives, quite different than what they had imagined post-graduation. After finishing her fourth semester at Grinnell as a sociology major, Saunders decided to take a semester off and is currently a cook at Lonnski’s Deli. Hill, an anthropology major, graduated two years ago.

“Now I’m working at Brownells, which is a gun accessory store in Montezuma,” she said, laughing.

Of the two, Saunders, who has been baking since her early high school years, is officially the baker. “I make the recipes,” she said, describing how she combines elements from various recipes to make unique treats for Oh Sugar Sugar.

While Saunders is primarily concerned with the taste of the products, Hill focuses her energies on their visual appeal.

“It has to have that special touch, especially when you’re doing cupcakes,” Hill said. “They have to be adorable.”

This Saturday, Saunders and Hill will be hosting a grand opening at Studio Z, a yoga studio next to Saint’s Rest. “There will be tons of free samples and some flavors that we’ve never had available before,” Kai said. “The goal is just to get the word out and show people what we can do.”

Though staying optimistic with two jobs and a less-than-optimal economy has been challenging at times, the two are not lacking in positivity. Between the deliciously redolent smells of baking, the process of de-stressing, and the knowledge that people genuinely enjoy their products, for Hill and Saunders, running Oh Sugar Sugar certainly has it’s sweet side.

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  • C

    Cora JacobsMar 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    Great job! Ebb mom. Someday i would like to taste your CPs

  • A

    Aunt CeleinFeb 16, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Good job lady’s Peace and Blessings to ypu both…..