Meet Christina Marquez, the baker behind Twisted Sifter’s Baked Goods in Antioch, Illinois. A baker for more than a decade, her cottage business grew in a big way when she started selling hot cocoa bombs to her customers. Today, she bakes cakes and cookies for special events, birthdays, weddings, and any occasion.
Tell us about yourself. What did you do before starting your business?
In 2020, I started making hot cocoa bombs. Someone asked me if I’d seen them on TikTok, so I looked them up and started making them around Halloween as something fun for the kids, since we didn’t go trick or treating because of the pandemic. It exploded!”
“Somebody posted that I was making them in some moms group on Facebook and, from there, I was literally busy from the end of October to December. I had to cut it off mid-December because I was having surgery — on December 17 I had an order for 500 cocoa bombs that was picked up, and the next day I had surgery. My husband lost one of his jobs and the hot cocoa bombs saved us — they helped us continue to go on.”
“I’ve got an oven, I’ve got a mixer, there’s no event too small. I’ve found my calling. I love what I do, I might be tired sometimes, and some weekends I have more orders than I know what to do with, but I love it. I feel very blessed every time somebody goes into a local moms group and mentions my business, it’s so special. It’s heartwarming.”
“I’m just trying to make people happy one cake at a time,” Christina said. “As moms there’s so much pressure on us to make every holiday Hallmark-perfect and Pinterest-perfect, and I get to help people celebrate and make their holidays perfect.”“My husband is a chef and I’m a baker, so no one ever leaves one of our parties hungry. Every year, we do this big birthday bash for the girls, and we usually invite over 100 people. We were so bummed in 2020 because of Covid, but they wanted a princess party and we wanted to try to make something special happen for them. So we had a drive-by party. I made goodie bags and my husband made a taco drive-thru with tacos, beans, rice, lime, cilantro, onions… people would stop and pick up tacos, and drop off presents. It was incredible. And we got to make their days special. I love being able to do that for everyone with sweets.”
What is the Twisted Sifter's Baked Goods origin story?
“I really started baking in 2010 or 2011 because my son was wanting to go to Washington DC,” Christina said. “Back in my day, we did fundraising for trips, but the school didn’t offer that. So I started selling pumpkin bread to pay for it — I don’t even remember how many loaves I sold. That was my first experience with selling anything I made to other people.”
“Then I made my son an Angry Birds cake for his birthday and people went crazy for it,” Christina said.
People started sending her photos of the cakes they wanted for their events, and her business grew from there.
“We adopted our two twin girls, and for their birthday every year, we do a huge party,” Christinsa said. “When they were born, they were called the ‘twincesses.’ Then their personalities started coming out and we started to call them the ‘twisted sisters.’ That became the rebranded name of my bakery, except with a baking twist.”
How would you describe your products in one sentence?
“I make everything with love.”
“I will make it for you the way I’d want it made,” Christina added.
“People have asked me ‘why don’t you get a virtual assistant to help you?’ But I can’t turn any of it over because I need to talk to the customer and understand their vision and what they’re expecting. I’ve had people tell me that I literally took what they had in their head and put it into a cake. That means everything to me — I can’t downsize the personal side of it. The heart of my business is personal.”
What's your favorite way to enjoy your products?
“My favorite thing that I make is chocolate cake with pink swiss meringue buttercream frosting. It tastes better when the frosting is pink, don’t ask me why,” Christina said.
“A nice slice of that is perfect. I’m kind of old fashioned — I like made-from-scratch, simple things.
Who is another food entrepreneur that you follow and support, and why?
“A lot of bakers have the idea that we’re all competitors and we can’t talk to each other. I don’t feel that way at all,” Christina said.
“There are two local girls here who I really like. One is Yara from Cake-a-licious. She ordered a cake from me years ago, and I found out that she started baking, too. We pick each other’s brains sometimes. If we have supplies we don’t use, we share them. It’s nice to have someone you can collaborate with. I’ve passed people on to her if I don’t have time, I don’t consider her competition, we’re coworkers. There are plenty of customers for all of us! No reason for cattiness! If someone is better at something for me, like I’m not a big fondant person, I pass them along to a better person”
“My other favorite local baker is Abby from Abbsolutely Delish. She talked me into getting an Eddie printer. It’s been a learning curve! She told me if I wanted to come over and play with her Eddie, she would help me and show her the basics. She’s another one who is close enough that we could share the same customers, but it’s a great relationship.”
What's the best thing about this job?
“People have trusted me with so many of their special events. I’ve made people’s wedding cakes, then their baby shower cake, then their baby’s first birthday cake. That means the world for me.”
“I want to help people celebrate their special moments, the little moments and the big ones,” Christina said.
What advice would you share with food entrepreneurs who are just getting started?
“People trust cottage bakers a lot more than they used to,” Christina said. “I’ve even thought about opening my own storefront, but this works for me. Now that my girls are in school, I have all day to work. This gives me more flexibility than any job.”
“If you’re looking for a flexible job and you love baking, there’s nothing better than this.”
“I previously worked in the restaurant industry and in healthcare, and I still fill in at the restaurant on occasion, but what this gives me is nice. I’ve been able to be home with the girls. Before they were born, I left my hospital job, and I made my first wedding cake two months after they were born.”