After being stuck at home due to COVID-19, many entrepreneurs took the opportunity to start or grow their home-based food ventures, providing local residents with alternatives to crowded shopping centers and restaurants.
From authentic Bengali sweets to decadent fondant cakes, there is likely a hidden gem to cater to every niche of food. What makes these small businesses so special is that they do not rely on traditional marketing like flyers or social media advertisements. The tight-knit familial nature of Sammamish has allowed them to rely on word-of-mouth advertising and personal references to reach new customers. Many of these underground businesses utilize platforms like Facebook, Instagram, personal emails, and phone numbers to take orders from customers.
Aparna Chandel, 46, who has been selling cakes from her home for two years, is one of the many business owners who have done well during the pandemic. Chandel creates intricate edible artwork with her fondant cakes.
“During COVID times, families could not do much for celebrations, they were counting the most on custom cakes…[This] helped my growth,” Chandel said.
For Chandel, creating cakes during the pandemic has served as a “creative release” and has “given [her] peace” amidst the chaos of the last year.
She said the close relationships she has built with her clients, 85% of whom are reoccurring customers, allows her to have creative and artistic freedom when making cakes. She has begun to experiment with flavors and décor, offering a plethora of Indian-inspired flavors and designs that, for many of her customers, provide a taste of home.
Cakes have proven popular, and Megha Sood, 17, has also gotten in on the action. A rising senior at Tesla STEM High School, she began to sell her famed cheesecakes in February 2020. When she first started, she would leisurely bake them and bring them to events or make them for her friends’ birthdays. Through the grapevine, a mutual friend and cheesecake lover heard about her rich and creamy cheesecakes and offered to pay Sood to have one made for her 40th birthday. That was the first of many cakes Sood has sold since.
Sood comes from a family that prides itself on culinary expertise. She remembers “playing on the floor of the kitchen with pots and pans,” and was in the kitchen before she knew how to walk.
She said the extra time and flexibility brought on by the pandemic and online school gave her the freedom to start a business. She attributes her clientele to word-of-mouth advertising and her “parents who love to brag about [her] food.”
“Indians treat each other like family, we all have a bond. They want to promote me and my success as much as possible,” Sood said. “They refer me to people who they have an immediate trust with, so then new clients automatically trust me.”
In addition to her cheesecakes, Sood also offers cooking classes for elementary and middle-school-aged kids, where she demonstrates culinary basics and teaches fun recipes.
Several other home food businesses that the Sammamish Independent contacted did not wish to be interviewed, citing the lack of work licensing or the inability to serve any more customers. For now, many of these Sammamish gems will remain underground, and only accessible if someone in-the-know makes a referral.
Megha Sood is currently taking cheesecake orders through her website or via email at email@example.com.