After returning home from school on a Friday afternoon, Laura Ruesch, executive assistant in the Deans’ Office, unpacks her bags, changes into comfortable attire and gets right to frosting custom cakes, decorating cake pops or piping French macarons.
Ruesch runs a baking business, Sweets by Laura, from her home kitchen. Ruesch manages all aspects of the business herself, including taking orders, baking treats and making deliveries. Customers order baked goods through Ruesch’s Facebook page, by text or by email. Once customers pay through Venmo, they can either pick up their orders on Ruesch’s porch or have them delivered to their homes.
“I’ve probably been baking since I was little,” said Ruesch in a video conference. “[My family] had a tiny kitchen, and my mom would just put my brother and I on the counter and have us bake. Baking was definitely just [an activity] I would do for fun. After going to culinary school, … a hobby turned into a little career on the side.”
While attending Western Illinois University, Ruesch did not know what she wanted to pursue in the future, she said. Returning home after spending one year in college, Ruesch worked for the Northbrook Fire Department and Sur La Table before going to culinary school. From 2011 to 2014, Ruesch attended Harper College as a part-time student, earning a Bread and Pastry Arts Certificate.
Ruesch was prompted to begin selling her baked goods in 2014 when a friend who had asked her to bake cakes and cupcakes for birthdays suggested she begin a business.
Recently, due to the pandemic, Ruesch has been wearing gloves and a disposable mask while baking and cleans the countertops three different ways before and after making treats.
Working with gloves and a mask is difficult because the gloves do not always fit right, and the mask blocks her vision when it slides up her face, Ruesch said.
“Your hands are your best tools, and it’s weird wearing gloves on your hands when you bake,” said Ruesch. “[And because] I wash things more than usual, my poor hands are raw.”
Ruesch is typically busy around Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day, working as many as 30 hours for large orders and two to six hours for smaller orders.
Mary Kosirog, instructional supervisor for the Career and Technical Education Department, said in a video conference that she annually purchases Valentine’s Day cookies from Ruesch for the teachers in her department and cookies for the preschool students’ graduation party.
Supporting small businesses can encourage students taking Career and Technical Education classes to start their own businesses in the future, Kosirog said.
Ruesch’s business also caters to individual dietary restrictions and preferences by offering gluten-free, nut-free and vegan baked goods.
Sue Donaubauer, executive assistant to the assistant principal of Student Services, purchased a gluten-free pecan pie from Ruesch for Thanksgiving in 2020.
Donaubauer said in a phone interview that it is difficult to find treats that are both gluten-free and delicious, but Ruesch continues to provide many delectable gluten-free options.
“[Ruesch’s treats are] personalized to your needs, whether they be gluten-free or dairy-free, and to the kind of product that you want,” Donaubauer said.
Ruesch bakes and decorates treats according to customers’ preferences while also attempting popular recipes.
According to Ruesch, watching trending baking videos on TikTok inspired her to create, perfect and sell her own hot chocolate bombs. It took approximately three tries to perfect the hot chocolate bombs because they broke and spilled hot chocolate powder when not sealed properly.
Mastering new confections takes time because Ruesch makes them from scratch, but she tries her best to make them perfect, she said. When she posts photos of confections that do not turn out as expected on Facebook, compliments motivate her to continue trying.
“If I fail, yeah, you get down on yourself, but I definitely try again and just try to experiment and do different things until I get [the recipe] right,” Ruesch said.