Local college student thrives as small business owner

Nicole Vargas, 19, is a sophomore biology major at Miami Dade College. She is also the owner of what was meant to be a side hustle but is now a thriving small business earning as much as $500 per week created during a very challenging year. 

Vargas started SweetsbyNikki, which has almost 3000 followers on Instagram, in Miami Lakes during May of 2020, but she had been baking long before that. 

For years, Vargas prepared sweets for her friends and family. Simple recipes for brownies, cookies, and cake pops then turned into a profession. What started as a last-minute birthday gift turned into a home-based business. 

The pandemic didn’t have a negative effect. Vargas scheduled curbside pickup as the main delivery service. She followed safety precautions to protect herself and her customers. 

“I had to be extra careful at that time because there were no vaccines, there was no anything, and you know [COVID-19] was at its highest peak,” said Vargas. “So it was stressful.” 

She wasn’t alone, in the midst of a global pandemic Yelp reported that nearly half a million businesses had opened (487, 577 total) from March 11, 2020, through March 1, 2021. Thousands of those involved baking, as people had more time at home.

“It was just supposed to be a super-side hustle,” said Vargas. “At first, it was mainly just friends and family supporting it, but I’m super lucky and blessed to see it expand so quickly.” 

She began taking orders by direct message on her Instagram, @SweetsbyNikki.  

Vargas began by making cake pops or chocolate-covered strawberries. She offered custom-made breakable chocolate hearts for $48 each. As clients fell in love with her work, the power of social media helped SweetsbyNikki gain a following.

Soon, Vargas became both a full-time student and a full-time baker. Accepting over 50 orders for holidays such as Mother’s Day and Valentine’s day, she managed to take six online classes at a time as a biology major. She hopes to attend med school in the near future.

Vargas’ largest order to date was for a wedding of over 100 guests. It included 50 dessert cups with a variety of flavors, including nutella strawberries and tres leches. SweetsbyNikki also provided the two-tier wedding cake.  

The client, Zoe Lampru, 27,  requested a cake for her simple, outside civil wedding this past September. 

“It was beautiful, and it tasted absolutely amazing,” said Lampru. “I can’t believe she’s in college. She is so talented,” she added. 

Wedding cake and dessert cups arrangement. (Yansall Rasquides / SFMN)

Vargas noticed the increase in demand for the sweets a few months after launching the Instagram account. Her messages were filled with custom orders and happy customers tagging her in photos.

Letter-shaped cakes are one of the most popular requested items. Prices range from $80 to $85. And orders can be customized.

“K” and “H” shaped vanilla cake with strawberries, chocolate, and a gold butterfly. (Photo provided by Nicole Vargas)

As a baker, Vargas has had some setbacks, especially when starting. Certain orders didn’t go as planned.

“I had a two-tier cake for the first time, and when I went to stack it, it was demolished. It was 11 p.m.,” said Vargas. “I had to start all over again and wake up at 6 a.m. the next day to finish it in time.” 

Her parents own a cigar shop. Her mother, Yadina has supported her daughter by first contributing her kitchen and then building a small kitchen in the garage. 

“I am more than happy to lend a helping hand when her orders become monumental,” she said. “All around, I’m very supportive of her endeavors and want to always be there with any support she will ever need.”

Vargas noticed that being self-employed came with a lot of responsibilities, especially when managing her student schedule. She also acknowledged its perks.

“If I’ve had a stressful week, I can take a day off because I deserve it,” said Vargas. “Nobody can tell me I have to work a certain day. I think that’s also a great part about it. I’ve never needed to get another job because this is my job and I love it.” 

Yansall Rasquides is a junior majoring in journalism. Her Venezuelan background inspires her to write and report while giving a platform for people to speak their truths.

Victor is a student at Florida International University majoring in journalism. He's main interests include writing stories about sports and films.