SU student turns apartment into bake shop

SU student turns apartment into bake shop

Zoë Selesi operates her cake business "Lunch Box Cakes by Zo" from home.
Published: October 29, 2021
Lunch Box Cakes by Zo founder, Zoë Selesi
Lunch Box Cakes by Zo owner, SU senior, Zoë Selesi

The last time I got groceries, I think I ordered 14 bags of powdered sugar. 

I started cooking seriously when I was thirteen and I learned a lot from my mom because she is a chef, and she owned a Nigerian restaurant when I was younger. I never baked though, no one in my family really did, and if I did bake something for myself it wasn’t actually good. 

I had my business idea for “Lunch Box Cakes by Zo” before I even knew how to properly bake a cake. I always thought it would be cool to have my own little business on campus, and I actually have friends who sell their own sweet treats, so I knew there was a market for it. This past summer, sometime in June, I thought to myself, okay, how can I actually do this?

I was initially inspired by these cute cakes that went viral on TikTok during the pandemic, called lunch box cakes. I make different sizes, but the original lunch box cake is only four inches, about the size of my hand. It’s basically a mini cake that you can finish by yourself, and take on the go. I’ve incorporated that idea into my packaging and now I always include little, mini forks for each customer. 

Not only did TikTok teach me what a lunch box cake is, but it also taught me how to make one. There is so much knowledge online, all it takes is one video, or talking to one person. I started by doing my research: how do other people do this? Do they make their own cake batter? Do they use a mix? I didn’t even know how to make frosting. Now, I make it homemade in five different flavors: vanilla, chocolate, cookies and cream, marshmallow vanilla, and strawberries and cream. I also learned how to make a cake soak, which intensifies the flavors of my cakes and makes them taste even better. 

Vanilla cake
Zoë Selesi makes her baked goods from scratch—everything from the batter to the icing is homemade in her college apartment.

I have an older brother, and when he tells me something is good, I know it’s actually good. That’s when I knew I wanted to do this for sure. Now, I take 10 cake pre-orders per week and have customers pick them up on the weekends. For the most part, my first customers were just my friends, but for the past few weeks, I’ve had so many different people reach out to me. Even parents of students and Syracuse alumni have asked me to make special deliveries. 

I absolutely love giving gifts to people. I go all out, it’s just something I always do. When I make cakes for customers and they love them and send me messages about them, it really warms my heart. At the end of the day, I’m just doing this for fun, I’m not really doing this for the business aspect or because I want to go into the baking industry after this. Even if I just get two orders, or even just one, I’m still really happy making other people happy. 

With that being said, it’s still a lot of work in terms of the labor and the time that goes into making orders. Each individual cake takes at least an hour and a half to make, so when I do the quick math, I’m spending about 12 hours on cakes per week. This is just my side hustle, I’m also the digital director of Renegade magazine on campus, a part of Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity, I’m the president of the mentorship program in Newhouse, and I work two main desk jobs on campus. Some days I cannot wait to bake when I get home, and other times I’m like oh my gosh I do not want to do this. Ultimately though, I really do enjoy baking, even if it’s a lot of work. 

Strawberries and cream cake
Strawberries and cream is a classic "Lunch Box Cakes by Zo" flavor.

At the bare minimum, I’m literally just making cakes, but it really feels like I’m accomplishing something because I’m making them myself. Through “Lunch Box Cakes by Zo,” I’ve noticed that I always have a willingness to learn. If I don’t think I qualify for something, I’m going to learn the skills I need if I want to do that thing. So, I learned how to bake!