Cake N Wings: Best friends’ recipe for recession-era success

They were both let go from their employers. But instead of struggling to find other jobs, the duo decided to revisit their high school roots...

Shari Griffith and Katrina Kelly met over 10 years ago and are best friends.

At 25-years-old, they walked the path that many students typically follow after graduating from high school: they went to college, earned bachelors’ degrees, and obtained jobs in corporate America.

But in 2008 during the height of the recession, their lives took a different twist. They were both let go from their employers. But instead of struggling to find other jobs, the duo decided to revisit their high school roots in March 2009 and create their own catering business —- Cake N Wings.

“It was always something that we wanted to do on a larger scale some point in time,” said Griffith. “We just didn’t think it would happen this early.”

Griffith and Kelly’s business is a unique combination of bite-sized, square cakes, called “tots,” and chicken wings. It had its birth in 2001 when the two were seniors at Frederick Douglass Academy. Kelly proposed the idea that they enter a business competition through The National Foundation of Teaching Entrepreneurship.

“It just started with the fact that I make wings,” said Griffith, “and she [Kelly] makes really good cake. ”

Kelly shook her head, still baffled that her friend had even considered the idea.

“I didn’t think she was going to take me seriously,” she said.

“But I did,” said Griffith. “And so we just decided to put the two together and make Cake N Wings!”

As simple as their idea seemed to be, Cake N Wings won the competition and Griffith and Kelly received $200 in seed money to start up their business, which continued throughout their last year at the school.

Shari and Katrina Highschool1.jpg

But as the two friends started college in the fall of 2002, they put Cake N Wings on hold.

Griffith studied business at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. and Kelly, theater arts at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y. They both graduated in 2006 and like other new graduates, secured paying jobs. However, they soon learned that earning a regular paycheck was not necessarily the key to their happiness.

“I realized that I didn’t want to work for anybody,” said Griffith while Kelly nodded in agreement. “I wanted to work for myself and I wanted to work with my best friend and be happy.”

Little did the two of them know that they would soon get their wish.

Kelly lost her job in July 2008 and almost 4 months later, Griffith lost hers. These long time friends then took their misfortune, turned it into an opportunity and brought their inactive business back to life.

Griffith and Kelly sought help from the place that initially brought them together—-their high school. Their principal, Dr. Gregory Hodge, has known them for 13 years and was one of their biggest supporters. He gave the women their first catering job, which turned out to be a surprise birthday party for an investment counselor, Robert Schwartz.

“I struck up a conversation with them at the party and I was very impressed,” said Schwartz, who is now retired. He said the event was such a success that he decided to provide the start-up money for Cake N Wings.

And with the money Griffith and Kelly received for their company, they began advertising Cake N Wings throughout Harlem by word of mouth and giving their business cards out in the neighborhood. This is how they met Michael Rosen, a local hip-hop artist promoter.

Rosen, a repeat customer, said he loves fact that Griffith and Katrina are informal but still professional.

“We’re not looking for people who walk around in tuxedos,” he said. “Shari and Katrina have it!”

Shanequa Roberts, who graduated from Frederick Douglass Academy in 2003, is also a regular.

“It’s definitely something that I can’t go out and buy,” said Roberts, referring to Kelly’s light, fluffy and buttery tasting cake tots. The chicken wings, which she also enjoys, come in a variety of flavors including taco, mahogany and teriyaki, and are made from scratch using spices and ingredients only known to Griffith.

“It’s something you always remember and wish you could buy at the corner store,” she said.

Griffith and Kelly are steadily seeking out new potential investors and have no doubt that one day they will own a Cake N Wings store.

“Me and Shari are just your regular girls from around the way,” said Kelly. “We’re not all stiff and, like, uniformed and if we have a job, we come there as ourselves. That’s what makes us stand out.”

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