After expressing her creativity for many years through dessert making and throwing parties as an excuse to whip up themed confections, Heidi Millerick opened the only licensed, in-home bakery in Kirkland, Washington.
She quickly realized, however, that her business was lacking that unique, personal touch. Her solution? Embrace her inner geek, in all its “nerdy, awkward, dream-having glory” and bond with other like-minded business owners she met through the organization Geek Girl Brunch.
This approach turned out to be a recipe for success. With Sugar Bytes Cupcakes, Heidi capitalizes on her love for her favorite pop culture entities, like Star Wars, Marvel, D&D, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and Parks and Recreation.
One of Heidi’s favorite things is collaborating with clients, who tend to let her run wild with ideas for parties, events, and custom orders. Her creations — which include vibrantly decorated sugar cookies, elaborate cakes, and delicious cupcakes — look so good, fans who spot them at conventions and shows often wonder if they’re really edible.
Warning: This interview is going to make you hungry.
Unfortunately, if you want to taste Sugar Bytes’ scrumptious wares, you’ll just have to plan a trip to Kirkland … for now, anyway. But you can feast your eyes upon them, food porn-style, at Sugar Bytes Market and @sugarbytesmarket.
You’re the owner of Sugar Bytes Cupcakes, the only licensed in-home bakery in Kirkland, Washington. Your motto is, “When geek meets sweet, magic happens.” When and how did you first begin baking?
I’ve always been a creative person, and baking was one of the mediums with which I had the most fun. I would throw parties just to have a reason to make coordinated desserts. I wish I was kidding about that …
Tell me a little about the founding of your business. It wasn’t pop culture and fandom themed to begin with. How did it evolve to become Sugar Bytes?
When I decided I wanted to turn this passion into a business, I had a very set idea of what that would look like. From the style (retro) to the colors (turquoise and aqua), the brand was all about the idea, but I forgot to add any of the parts about me. There was nothing about my bakery’s previous brand that would let my audience know who I am, much less remember me. I realized that the key element that was missing was me, in all my nerdy, awkward, dream-having glory. And so, Sugar Bytes was born.
Why did you decide to incorporate your love of fandoms into your bakery offerings?
I’ve spent the last several years helping grow the local chapter of Geek Girl Brunch Seattle, a worldwide meetup organization that supports creating safe spaces for nerdy women and those identifying as women. In doing so, I’ve been lucky enough to build relationships with some really amazing geeky business owners, and I felt like I was missing the opportunities to work with them on professional levels as well. Deciding to rebrand was the best business decision I’ve made to date.
What’s your geek origin story? How did you discover that part of yourself?
I’m an OG Star Wars fan; I can remember going to see A New Hope during its original run. My dad took my sister and I to the Colby Theater in Everett, WA. It is an oooooold theater, like with balconies and mezzanines. It was magical and definitely where my love for Star Wars began.
Is it challenging to operate a bakery out of your home?
Definitely. Space is always an issue. People are always an issue. But the rent is cheap and the commute isn’t too bad. The State Department of Agriculture did come do an inspection and will do so annually. I have to be sure that my kitchen is kept spotless. I have a routine set up that includes set baking hours between 9 am-3 p.m. I do my best to stick to that schedule.
You create cakes, cupcakes, pies, and other baked products, but it’s your artisan sugar cookies that really captured my attention, especially some of your recent Marvel-themed designs. What goes into the process of designing these special sugar cookies?
Most of the time, my clients give me full creative control. They just want awesome cookies that taste good. On occasion, a client has a specific idea in mind or something they want me to use as inspiration. I usually start with a sketch of ideas … general cookie shapes and colors. It usually evolves from there. Most recently, I completed a custom order for a mashup May the Fourth/Cinco de Mayo/Kentucky Derby party. It was SO MUCH FUN.
Where do you find inspiration for your various designs and flavor profiles?
Pinterest is a good place to check for inspiration. I also belong to a couple of social media groups that are based on cookie interest. Lately, I’ve been vendoring at game and miniature swaps; I’ve been getting tons of inspiration from DnD and other games.
Is there a lot of trial and error and testing (and tasting!) involved in creating new recipes/designs/etc.?
YES! It’s science, y’all. Science and math. My two worst subjects in school.
True story — I had an order due for delivery earlier this month. The client wanted 15 dozen. I did the math. On a calculator. Turns out 15 x 12 does NOT equal 160. Which is the amount of cookies I delivered to her. Luckily, she was very kind about my mistake and we had a good chuckle.
What are some of the favorite designs you’ve done upon request so far?
I absolutely loved my Kentucky Derby Bantha. Also, I did the Guardians of the Galaxy, including Mantis. Groot was my favorite.
One of my favorite of your designs was a Captain Marvel comic book cover cookie. Tell me more about how you created that.
Ohhh, that’s my favorite as well. I love Captain Marvel and was hoping to have finished several comic covers before the release of the movie. I ran out of time and only managed to get that one done. But I still plan on trying the others. I just want to know if I can do it.
I noticed you have a Sansa Stark-themed cupcake. Are you Team Sansa?
I am House Stark, not necessarily Team Sansa. I have very mixed feelings about her. But I loved Cat, and Ned.
Any (non-spoiler) thoughts on Game of Thrones Season 8 so far?
I am thrilled with the remaining characters who are still among the living. How is that for non-spoiler? But I am also so scarred from caring so much in previous seasons that my heart is dead to GoT and I am resolved that they will all die in the end.
What are some of your other favorite fandoms?
Supernatural, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Marvel … My favorite book series right now is the Dorothy Must Die series by Danielle Paige.
You frequently take your baked goods to conventions and other nerdy events. What’s that experience been like? How do people tend to react to your sweet and nerdy creations?
The question I’m asked most often: Are those edible? I’ve even put a sign up on the table that says they are real and they are not bath bombs. Most of my treats are well-received. The cookies usually bring the most “oooohs” and “aaaaahs” until someone eats a cupcake.
You recently participated in a panel about the TV series Parks and Recreation at Emerald City Comic Con. How did that come about?
With Geek Girl Brunch, we’ve hosted several panels about building community and networking, both of which are very important topics. I wanted to do something light and fun but with some value, so “Life Lessons According to Parks and Rec” was born. I’m hoping to do the same panel at Geek Girl Con here in Seattle. I’m going to add some sound and video … it will be amazing.
Was that your first panel? Tell me more about how that went.
It was the first panel which I was hosting as Sugar Bytes, and while I wasn’t super nervous, I will admit to a butterfly or two. So I thought, “Hey, I’ll give away a themed cookie to everyone who shows up,” because who doesn’t like a cookie as an ice breaker, right?
So I stayed up until 3 am finishing about 50 custom cookies. I was going to place one on a chair and have them set up for when the audience arrived; however, when we rounded the corner and saw the lines of people waiting to get into the panel, I knew immediately that I didn’t have enough cookies. And also, remember how I said I wasn’t super nervous? That all changed the second I saw the lines. I was SOO scared!!!!
What upcoming fandom-themed goodies can your customers look forward to?
Lots of fun things are happening in the Sugar Bytes kitchen. June is going to be celebrating the Goonies, and July will be Harry Potter month. But my youngest daughter has been begging me to design a set of cookies inspired by The Office, so that’s probably going to make an appearance soon as well.
What are your future plans, goals, and dreams for Sugar Bytes?
I’ve got a few things in the works for Sugar Bytes. I’m working closely with Espionage Cosmetics on some magical plans and looking forward to my first summer vendoring at our local farmers market. I have a couple more cons booked for this year and am waiting to hear back on a few more. This has been quite a learning experience with vendoring at the cons, and I feel like next year, the learning curve will be a little less. And that, my friends, is progress!
Sugar Bytes does exclusively custom orders and deliveries. At this point, our readers are probably wondering if you ship orders or if they need to plan a trip to Kirkland.
Yes, unfortunately at this time, I can’t ship any of the desserts I make. As Sugar Bytes grows, that may change but for now … come visit us in Kirkland — or within 25 miles and I’ll deliver.