Angela Ellis started Sugar Rush Bakery to help formerly incarcerated women get the fresh start unavailable to them because of stigma, lack of opportunity, and other structural issues. Ellis saw in her previous work with the Oklahoma state government that state industries lacked a strong workforce. At the same time, says Ellis, “Oklahoma is the number one state for incarceration of women, and the majority of them have kids.” In 2015, Ellis started a business that would help these women get back on their feet, restore their relationships with their children and contribute to the Oklahoma economy.
Sugar Rush started as a bakery and quickly expanded into catering. Now, Ellis has begun construction on a brick-and-mortar restaurant, Sugar Rush Bakeshop and Eatery. She sees the restaurant as an opportunity to employee full-time servers, hostesses, baristas, line cooks and managers.
Ellis has also formed a nonprofit, Life’s Food, which trains former convicts in job skills, finance, parenting, nutrition and more. She says, “This program is open to men and women and we are feeding our staff with those graduates and feeding other companies with those graduates.”
Ellis measures her success in the number of jobs created and her impact on Oklahoma families and the Oklahoma economy. “Today, almost three years into business, we are building our first retail store front, injecting $300,000 into the economic development of Tulsa County, providing seven full-time quality-wage jobs [and] six part-time jobs,” says Ellis.
In addition to expanding from a bakery to catering company to a restaurant and opening a nonprofit, Ellis is in the process of opening a hydroponic greenhouse, which will grow fresh fruits and vegetables to be served at the Sugar Rush restaurant.
She says the additional businesses she is developing “will result in another $500,000 in economic development with five more full-time, quality-wage jobs, and four part-time positions.”
Ellis works with SCORE mentor Ron Roller, meeting with him at least once a week. Working with Roller, as well as attending SCORE workshops, has helped Ellis develop her business model and better understand taxes and financing. She says, “I learned very quickly the $5,000 I thought needed to launch was more accurately $18,000, which SCORE was integral in helping achieve through the introduction and connection to the Tulsa Economic Development Corporation.”
Ellis advises others thinking of starting a small business, “You can wait and think and plan and process and analyze . . . It’s never going to be exactly what you think it’s going to be. The most courageous thing you can do is just take that step forward.”