For two local women, COVID led to a sweet career

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

Lara Adekoya and Shica Little were both thriving in their respective careers before COVID-19 picked up Los Angeles turned it upside down and included them among the thousands of unemployed Angelenos.

Little, who has a doctorate in educational leadership with a focus on higher education, worked in the education field. Adekoya was one of the highest performing employees at Nordstrom’s in The Grove.

In spring 2020, both women, who don’t know each other, found themselves without a job.

Undaunted by the circumstances, and with lots of time on their hands,

Adekoya, 27, and Little both opted to make lemonade out of lemons and turn their love for baking into a sweet, new career.

After months of looking for jobs online, plus applying for dental school and not getting in, Adekoya said she closed her computer and began to bake and post the results on Instagram “just for fun.”

She then started delivering baked goods to her friends for free.

“It was a way to spread comfort and love during the pandemic,” she said.

When one of Adekoya’s former Nordstrom clients tasted her chocolate chip cookies, she told her they were so good, more people needed to know about them.

When Adekoya realized people were willing to pay her, she officially opened Fleurs et Sel, named after her two favorite things: flowers and salt.

Through social media and word of mouth, the popularity of her baked goods wrapped in “small batches” skyrocketed. Utilizing various pop-ups, Adekoya, who was recently featured on “Good Morning America,” would sell out every time. She has had pop-ups in Culver City and even held one at The Grove.

“It was a three-day pop-up and we sold out each day,” said Adekoya, who conducts pop-ups twice a month. “They partnered with me. They usually partner with the big boys, but they took a chance on me and it paid off. It’s important to partner with someone who shares the core value of the business. It’s about cookies, compassion and community.”

Adekoya, who credits the support of her partner and family for her success, said she has always loved to cook and bake.

“My mom, the best mom ever, had four kids and she was always cooking and baking,” she said. “It’s from her I learned to bake. You can lift someone up through food. I can nurture you through food.”

Using her own recipes that she “made up,” Adekoya started her menu with sea salt chocolate chip cookies, which is reportedly a favorite of celebrities like Lena Waithe, Issa Rae, Jennifer Love Hewitt and country singer Mickey Guyton, as well as studios including A24 and Netflix.

“One flavor led to another and then another,” Adekoya said.

The cookies come in flavors like vanilla bean sugar, caramelized butter pecan, peanut butter yum, cinnamon snickerdoodle, funfetti birthday cake, the signature sea salt chocolate chip and the bae bar, a fudge brownie and Oreo with a chocolate chip crust.

Adekoya has always loved all things French. At 15, she went to live in France as an exchange student. She wanted to “experience a new culture on my own.” She brought her love of the French culture back to Los Angeles, and it has served her well.

Fleur et Sel cookies sell for $3.50 each. A half a dozen sells for $18 and a dozen cookies are $36.

At this point, Adekoya has no plans to return to retail.

“I think this is it,” she said. “I’m enjoying this every step of the way. It’s beautiful how things have played out. I feel as though I am living my truth and that’s all I ever wanted to do. I’m doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing.”

Ironically, Adekoya started receiving emails from the companies she applied to more than a year ago.

“The emails start out by saying, ‘Sorry, but at this time, they are no longer looking to fill that position.’”

Online pre-orders are accepted at fleursetsel.com for pickup; limited items are available for walk-up purchase.

Like Adekoya, Shica Little has always enjoyed baking and would often make desserts for friends and family.

After several conversations with her husband, Michael, about “needing to get respect and have a real building or store,” Little, who has always wanted to pursue her dream of baking, opened Dr. Shica’s Bakery at Westfield Culver City. The orders have been coming in nonstop.

She opened Dr. Shica’s Bakery on May 15 after previously selling her gourmet Southern-style desserts at pop-up shops at a soul food restaurant on Melrose and at the Glendale Mall. She knew she had something, because each time she did a pop-up, she would sell out.

“The people who came to the pop-ups followed us to Culver City,” said Little, a mother of two and grandmother of two. “Customers drive from Long Beach and Glendale.”

When a couple of Hollywood producers touted her baked goods and repeatedly bought her “Almost Famous Brownies” and red velvet cake, Little, originally from South Carolina, was affectionately dubbed Southern Sweet Maker to the Stars.

“The producers kept telling other people and I eventually started catering for VIPs and celebrities in Los Angeles like Jessica Simpson,” Little said. “The word spread. We got great reactions and it just snowballed. The ‘Almost Famous Brownies’ put us on the map.”

Little’s cookies and gourmet dessert boxes reportedly ended up in the top three on Oprah’s Favorite Things out of 15,000 entries.

The baked goods her customers can’t get enough of are her mother’s recipes, which have been in the family for years.

Little, who had her own Easy-Bake oven growing up, started baking at the age of 12 when she would visit her grandmother, who allowed her to experiment.

“I would make donuts out of biscuits,” Little said. “I would fry them and then dip them in powdered sugar.”

Her techniques are a bit more sophisticated now.

“I love being creative,” she said. “I think that’s the teacher’s side of me. I won’t go back to teaching in the classroom. I love being an entrepreneur. Baking is an expression. Having something people love makes me feel good as a person. When I’m baking, I have a clear mindset.”

Little’s baking now includes vegan sweets.

“I converted the recipes after doing research and a lot of trial and error,” she said.

Little, who has been featured on ABC7 Eyewitness News and KTLA5 “LA’s Very Own,” said “a lot of things I made, I had never made before. I’ve never made it, but I know I can. Now I have vegan cookies and cakes. They taste similar to regular cakes.”

Her menu includes her signature cookies — Sprinkle Delight, Hot Chocolate, Gigi’s Chocolate Chip, Vegan Chocolate Chunk and Lemon Drop — as well as Debra’s Red Velvet Cake, Almost Famous Brownies, cinnamon rolls and a full line of vegan desserts.

Her cookies are $3, brownies and cupcakes are $3.25. A whole cake is $60 as is a 6-inch mini-cake.

The fact that she decided to switch reels in the middle of a pandemic didn’t faze Little.

“I wasn’t nervous,” she said. “I think the pandemic was the perfect opportunity because people wanted comfort food. They wanted something to smile about.”

 “I’m proud of her,” said Michael, Liltle husband. “She’s a go-getter. I can’t put it into words. She’s always had the ambition to do the best she could do.”

Asked if she’s as good a cook as she is a baker, Little replied, “I can’t cook to save my life.”

For more information, visit Drshicasbakery.com.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.

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