LaShunda Allen decorates a wedding cake at Ooo La La Creative Cakes, which recently moved from her home to a space in downtown Laconia. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LaShunda Allen developed a love for cooking at a young age. But before she could open Ooo La La Creative Cakes, downtown’s newest business, she had to navigate a landscape of challenges.
Ooo La La occupies the space at the corner of Canal and Beacon Street East, which most city dwellers will remember as the home of Awakenings Café. This summer will be spent focusing on her wedding cake clients, and she plans to add cupcakes for retail sales this fall and, later, gourmet pies. She also plans to host cake-decorating parties, for both children and adults.
“This is 17 years in the making,” Allen said while preparing to decorate a wedding cake in her shop, which opened at 62 Canal St. on July 15. “It has been an amazing journey. It’s finally here, I feel very blessed.”
Allen was born in Phoenix, Arizona, where her mother, Sharon, owned and operated a cafe.
“She didn’t teach me how to bake, but she definitely taught me how to cook,” said Allen. Sharon also gave her daughter two other gifts, which would each pay dividends in the decades to come. Allen said her mother was “a godly woman” who passed on her faith to her daughter. She also saw her mother meet, and overcome, challenges that life dealt her.
Sharon was struck with a rare illness while she was a college student. By the time doctors had cured the disease, it had taken all of the sight from one eye and nearly all the vision from the other, leaving her legally blind. Sharon, who raised LaShunda by herself, left college so that she could open the restaurant to support her family. And, though she was blind, Allen said was able to prepare fried chicken and “the best peach cobbler.” Her business was successful enough that she could provide jobs to family members who fell on hard times.
“Whatever she had, she used it. And she did it very well,” said Allen. Sharon even juggled single motherhood and her business to go back to school and finished her degree. But, then, when Allen was 10, her mother died.
Many in her family didn’t give Allen a chance, considering her circumstances. But, her aunt Fay, who had been Sharon’s closest sister, did, and she took her in. Fay supported and encouraged Allen, including when she indicated an interest in culinary arts. By 14, Allen had begun to fall in love with baking, and by the end of high school, she had earned a scholarship to the prestigious culinary school at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island.
After earning her degree, Allen spent three months working with bakers in Milan, Italy, where she learned to be a perfectionist. She started her professional career with a baking company in the Seacoast region of New Hampshire, and then got the job as the head baker for Hart’s Turkey Farm. At Hart’s she began to develop a name for herself, and found that more and more wedding cake customers were being referred her way.
“I started to think to myself, I could make a business at this,” said Allen. So, she quit her day job to go into business for herself – right at what turned out to be the depth of the recession. Allen, a single mother by this time, wasn’t able to make ends meet, and ended up requiring state assistance, an experience that she said was both humbling and “awesome,” thanks to the education and training the state provided in addition to financial assistance.
“When I was looking for a job in that program, I started my business.” Ooo La La began out of Allen’s home in 2010. She also found a couple of other part-time jobs, including as an instructor for Lakes Region Community College. Within a year, her business had started to gain traction, and Allen found herself juggling two jobs, her home business, and being a mom to her young son.
“It was a lot, but it was truly a blessing to finally be living my dream.” She dropped one of her jobs to keep up with the growing demand, but decided to keep teaching, something she enjoys doing.
Her business has grown because of two things, she said. The first is her willingness to personalize cakes to match her clients’ desires. The second is her cakes themselves – she utilizes a blend of European baking techniques that result in a cake that is moist and springy, and icing that is decadent yet light.
As Allen reflects on the journey that finally led to her opening the doors of her own cake shop, she gives credit to the support of her aunt Fay, her faith in God, and the tenacity that she learned from watching her mother.
“She was very strong and definitely made her own way,” Allen said of her mother. “She made her mark on me, a very strong mark.”
LaShunda Allen, owner of Ooo La La Creative Cakes, plans to offer cupcakes for retail sale out of her new storefront in downtown Laconia, where she will also make cakes for special orders. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)
- Written by Adam Drapcho
- Category: Lake Style
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