Meet Summer Kortkamp, owner of Toasted Sugar Bakery, located in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Illinois. A trained chef, she launched her bakery as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic dried up her catering gigs and events, she turned to sourdough baking. Get to know Summer and how she’s grown her business over the past year.
What did you do before starting Toasted Sugar?
“I’ve been a private chef for a number of years. I worked for families full time, one particular family for several years in Oregon before I moved to Chicago. I worked for two different families, as a full-time private chef, working at their residences for about 12 or 13 hours per day.”
“I went to culinary school right out of high school, and quickly determined that I didn’t want to work in a restaurant. Because I knew I didn’t want to work in a restaurant, I decided that I was going to do something in the corporate world. I got my undergrad in business and my MBA in marketing and did the corporate thing because it was safe. I didn’t have a passion for it, and it never felt fulfilling for me.”
“One day, I got fed up with it — probably in 2015 or 2016. It wasn’t what motivated me to wake up every day, so I decided to become a private chef. My friend encouraged me to get back into food, so I found a job with a family and worked with them for a couple of years.”
In 2018, she decided to step away from her private chef role and decided to start her own catering and cooking business.
What is your business' origin story?
Summer launched Toasted Sugar as a result of the pandemic. “I’ve always had an interest in baking. Some chefs just like cooking, and some bakers don’t like cooking, but I'm passionate about both,” she said. “When the pandemic started, I was in a predicament because I didn’t have weddings, I didn’t have graduations, I didn’t have any events. It started as me baking sourdough bread to give away. I just felt like with the pandemic, I just wanted to give. It kept my hands busy. I just started to give away food to anyone who would take it.”
“One day, I was talking with one of my clients and she told me that I should focus on my baking. It had never crossed my mind because I had been so consumed with my private chef business. Another client gave me the idea to do farmers’ markets.”
How would you describe your products in one sentence?
“All of my products are made with supporting the community in mind, using the very best, freshest, local ingredients to set my products apart.”
“I like to take a lot of childhood favorites and classic favorites and mix up the ingredients to give them more dimension and complexity,” Summer said.
“In everything I make, I use locally-milled whole grain or ancient grain flours. I get most of my flour from Janie’s Mill in Illinois, which is about an hour away from me. I use some from Anson Mills and Farm & Sparrow as well,” Summer said. “I love using specialty flours, which add a great flavor. I really specialize in sourdough — sourdough croissants, English muffins, bagels, cookies, brownies.”
What's your favorite way to enjoy your products?
“Honestly, I really like to see other people enjoying them,” Summer said.
“I really love to share my passion for what I do. When people taste the baked goods with the speciality flours, their minds are blown,” she said. “Most bakers use plain white flours, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but ancient grains and heirloom grains can add another layer of flavor. Not only are you supporting local farms and farmers when you use local grains, you’re supporting your community.”
“It’s super important to me to have a sustainable grain economy and to try to use local ingredients. I use local eggs, butter, things like that. My favorite way to enjoy them is to watch other people enjoy treats that are truly local.”
Who is another cottage baker that you follow and support, and why?
“My friend Nicole, @nmuvu on Instagram, is the one that taught me sourdough baking. She’s my mentor. She really inspired me,” Summer said.
“She mills her own grains and is really passionate about using local freshly milled flour or milling the flour herself. I didn’t know how valuable that was until I tasted the difference. She introduced me to this whole world of amazing grains and sourdough baking. We’ve done popups and cooked and baked together many times. We’re constantly building off of each other’s ideas.”
What's the best thing about this job?
Summer’s favorite part of running Toasted Sugar is meeting people and just making people happy.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard customers say ‘oh my gosh, this reminds me of my childhood, something my grandmother made.’ I really love engaging with people, hearing their stories, and playing a part in making them happy. I love hearing people’s stories about how something I made for them made them feel special or made their event special,” Summer said.
What advice would you share with a food entrepreneur who's just getting started?
“Do your research on the legality, the back end of stuff, first.”
While many home-based bakers are excited to launch their home food businesses, Summer encourages them to slow down before getting too far into the business.
“With food, you need to make sure things are buttoned up. You’ve got your licenses, your certifications, your food safety. Get the business back end stuff taken care of first and everything will fall into place. Set yourself up for success by getting that tedious stuff that most people don’t want to do first,” Summer said.
“Get your business insurance. Research what you need in your county or state. Get your tax profile set up. It’s all about manifesting and being positive, and looking forward — after you do this, then your business is real. It’s tangible. Cottage bakers sell themselves short because they just sell stuff from their kitchen. This makes you a real, viable business that can take you somewhere and reach a lot of people.”
“You have to have the courage to take the leap of faith and believe in yourself. It's the hardest part for anyone starting a new business,” Summer said. “If you really believe in yourself and lead with your heart and are passionate about it, everything will fall into place.”