For most twenty-somethings, exam results, work or relationships might be the main things on their mind. For Sarah Silverman it was the art of the bake.
After a discouraging start at college studying fashion, she decided to drop out and enrol in culinary school, as well as working in four different bakeries in New York.
Having gathered experience in what worked (and what didn’t), she and her mum set up their first business together in 2016: Cupcake Market.
“I was on a mission to make the perfect cupcake”, she says.
But two weeks ahead of the launch, she created three different sugar cookies on a whim. Each one was shaped and iced to look like Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in the run-up to the presidential elections.
They flew out the door – selling out on the opening day.
And although Ms Silverman’s Swiss meringue buttercream-topped cupcakes proved popular too, there were challenges.
“It was a mess, we had no idea what we were doing… we were just faking it until we were making it,” she says.
Ms Silverman says she really struggled with the people-management side of the business, being a “people pleaser” and giving staff, who she considered friends, directions.
And starting out in business with her mum meant there were some difficult moments: “She would sometimes treat me like a baby – I’ll always be her baby.
“I’m sure the customers might have seen a couple of loving fights… although of course nobody will have my back like she will,” she adds.
Crunch time came as customers streaming through the bakery and antique shop-combo would constantly ask for more “face cookies”.
“I was going through some big changes personally and I felt Cupcake Market represented younger Sarah in her early 20s… I just turned 26 and I felt like I needed a change and that’s what the customers wanted too.”
Under her direction in 2019, the company underwent a total rebrand and took on its current form: Funny Face Bakery.
Her mum also took a step back from the day-to-day operations.
“It was the first real time I grew up,” she says, adding that creating a host of new products and overhauling the website gave her a “huge rush of adrenaline”.
To keep up with the expanding business, Ms Silverman took on two new business partners and set up a team of “cookie artists”, mostly graduates from nearby art schools who hand paint each biscuit.
Some of the long-running favourites at Funny Face Bakery include celebrity-inspired cookies, such as social media megastar Kim Kardashian or rapper Drake.
Harry Styles, Beyoncé and Britney Spears have also had the cookie treatment, while shoppers can order custom portraits. Prices range from $8.50 (£6.18) to $35 for a custom bake featuring two people.
Ms Silverman says she feels she finally understands the target audience who want something shareable that raises a smile.
Jeetendra Sachdev, celebrity branding expert and author of The Kim Kardashian Principle, says the company is set apart by its sense of humour.
“As the world is getting increasingly serious about food, Funny Face Bakery tells us all to lighten up.”
During lockdown, sales of cookies depicting memes or objects such as cocktails, handbags and even hand sanitiser all picked up.
“We’ve never seen a food brand embrace the world of social media and memes in such a manner before… It’s a fantastic way for a brand to keep inserting itself into the cultural conversation and to stay relevant,” Mr Sehdev adds.
The power of social
Social media also provided a key turning point for the bakery after its rebrand.
Having sent a box of face cookies to Kim Kardashian and “momager” Kris Jenner, the images were shared worldwide to their combined following of more than 300 million on Instagram in late 2019.
“It really put us on the map, everyone suddenly knew about our face cookies… Every minute there was a new email, a new custom order,” Ms Silverman says.
Since then the business has also worked on bespoke orders for big brands including Forever 21, Olay and Juicy Couture.
And although the pandemic forced Ms Silverman to close her former brick-and-mortar shop, she said in a recent press release that it forced her to “take a creative step back on her business approach”.
As lockdown restrictions eased, Funny Face Bakery opened a new, bigger, storefront on Manhattan. Of course, it features a floor-length mirror which encourages customers to snap selfies and share them online.
She believes the decision to take a risk and reorient the business has paid off.
“It’s not easy… but the people that have been with me since the start of Funny Face definitely feel like a family.”
While she would recommend that other entrepreneurs follow suit and make big changes when their gut tells them to, she adds: “I’d say start small, don’t go big… I got a store and it worked out, but I think it’s great to start out small and build from there.”