June 2021

How J’s Sweet Treats navigated 2020 as a Black-owned business

Courtesy of Columbus Business First
By Hayleigh Colombo
June 8, 2021

For Juana Williams, it hasn’t been easy being a Black business owner who opened her first brick-and-mortar location during the pandemic.

Williams had balanced her full-time job as an AT&T executive with her side hustle, J’s Sweet Treats, for years before taking the plunge and opening the first physical location of the bakery in March 2020.

Little did she know that just as she opened J’s Sweet Treats’ on Parsons Avenue in downtown Columbus, the world was about to be hit with a life-altering pandemic, and a summer of protests against racism and inequality would follow.

“Its had its pluses and minuses,” Williams said. “A lot of people did reach out. A lot of people wanted to support Black-owned businesses. So that was an area for us where we didn’t have to go out and market. It was coming to us.”

But, Williams said, “the flip side is you have a whole demographic that believes that there is not much injustice happening and Black businesses have the same opportunities as other races.”

“You get some backlash from some people,” Williams said.

Through the last year, having the support of other Black- and women-owned businesses has been critical in her journey as an entrepreneur, she said.

“We definitely support each other,” said Williams. “We get together, we brainstorm. We check on each other. I find that in our community, we are bonding and becoming stronger and we just need to build upon that.”

J’s Sweet Treats was also selected by the Columbus Urban League and Columbus Chamber of Commerce as part of a new program designed to boost minority-owned businesses with membership and networking opportunities.

“The partnership has been a plus for us,” Williams said. “We’re networking with people we wouldn’t have (previously) had the opportunity to be in the room with. We are certainly excited about the potential there.”

Those connections helped Williams get through a roller coaster of a year.

“Everything was fantastic, and then everything got shut down,” she said of the bakery’s earliest days.

The bakery, which had previously relied on her custom-order cake business, had to find a way to pivot with large events, including weddings, canceled.

“We tried to do pick-me-up baskets, we started shipping a lot of cookies and brownies, and things that were easy to ship,” Williams said. “We had some really great months and some months where I was second-guessing my entire life.”

She said her customers were loyal, ordering custom cakes throughout the pandemic even for small gatherings.

“People were looking for a sense of normalcy,” Williams said. She said people were likely thinking, “I can’t go to Legoland with my daughter, but if I get her a three-tier princess cake, she’ll be just as happy.”

“We found ourselves doing multi-tiered cakes for 10 people,” she said.

Williams hopes now for a brighter future for her business. J’s Sweet Treats will soon open a second location at Polaris Fashion Place, which will allow her to tap into a larger audience of customers in Columbus’ suburbs. She is also excited about business picking up at the Parsons Avenue location.

“Our walk-in traffic has certainly increased as people are starting to get out, especially on the warmer days,” Williams said. “The weddings are starting to take place now, even though they’re smaller. We definitely see an uptick.”

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