In January of 2019, a talented Ho-Chunk Nation tribal member, Ashley Gerdes, officially opened a bakery that provides unique, custom baked goods. Her new business is named ‘The Sweetness of Life Bakery.’ She combined her baking skills with her artistic flair to become the owner and operator.
The bakery offers various cakes, cake pops, cupcakes, and cookies. Currently, the bakery is just a side business for Mrs. Gerdes and is based out of her and her husband’s home in Melrose, Wisconsin.
Ashley Gerdes credits her grandmother, Marie Lewis, as being the catalyst to get her going.
“One year for Christmas, my Gaga (grandmother) got me a class at Michael’s. They had a decorating class on how to decorate cakes, and it was a level one class,” said Gerdes. “With this class comes a kit and a book on tips and tools. I feel that taking this class gave me the confidence to know I was pretty good at doing this.”
Although Ashely Gerdes was in this class for fun, she took it seriously and returned home with new tools to try. She purchased various tips for her bags and was inspired to continue practicing at home. Some months later, she began decorating cakes professionally.
Ashley said, “I’ve worked at Festival Foods as a cake decorator. I got to learn different tricks on how these girls were doing their cakes.”
She learned how to use different airbrushing techniques and how to make a rainbow. “You literally only need two or three colors to make a rainbow with an airbrush,” Ashley explained.
She also explained how she furthered her talents, “I bake different things and watched a lot of YouTube videos of how to pipe a rose or how to do different things.”
Ashley Gerdes, daughter of Michelle Cloud, also follows what’s called a ‘cookier’ on Instagram. Gerdes explained that ‘cookiers’ provide tips and tricks on how to create different designs on cookies. Some ‘cookiers’ also provide tutorial videos.
“I feel like someone I really love on Instagram, her name is Braidi, and she lives in Nevada. She owns her own business called ‘The Frosted Cookiery.’ She was the first page that I followed on Instagram of a ‘cookier.’ She has a bunch of videos on how to do different things: how to make flowers; how to flood a cookie; how to airbrush; and (explains) all the products she uses,” said Ashley. “This girl is legit! I was getting stuff she uses and trying stuff she does. I feel like she was my cookie inspiration lady.”
Another inspiration came from Ashley’s brother, Dr. Marcus Lewis. He planted the name of Ashley’s bakery in her head. Dr. Lewis was speaking at Native American Church prayer services at the District 1 Community Center when the idea was mentioned.
“We were about to eat or something. He was talking about all this food that was out, and he starts talking about the cake that was there. He’s like, ‘we’ve always grown up with the teaching that the cake represents the sweetness of life’ and I really thought about that for a long time,” Gerdes said. “I had some different ideas of different names that I could call my bakery. I just kept coming back to ‘The Sweetness of Life’ and it kind of ties into our Ho-Chunk culture, well Native American Church.”
Ashley Gerdes discussed her idea with her husband, Kenny Gerdes, after the prayer services. She was excited to take off with the idea. Ashley located a girl on Etsy to draft and design ‘The Sweetness of Life Bakery’ logo.
Gerdes then went on to create a Facebook page for the bakery where she only invited her friends and family. At first, she just used it to show her brother or her sister a cake for their birthdays. In the beginning, the page only had 87 – 100 people. Ashley credits word of mouth for getting her products out there.
“I feel like my best product is my sugar cookie. They are so unique. I feel like they’d be a great addition to any birthday party,” said Ashley, the granddaughter of the late Walter Lewis.
Gerdes went on to explain, “My chocolate cake is the bomb dot com, and it’s actually from my husband’s family. It’s my husband’s grandmother’s recipe.”
Kenny Gerdes’ grandmother is Sandy Gerdes.
Images of Ashley’s work can be found on her website, TheSweetnessOfLifeBakery.com, and on her Facebook page with the same name. She created baked goods with various theme designs such as Harry Potter, Fortnight, Baby Shark, unicorns, Sesame Street, and mermaids. Ashley is open to creating products with any theme a customer orders and requests at least one week’s advance notice.
Customers can submit orders via her website or Facebook page. She would like customers to include their name, email address, telephone number, date of party, number of people serving, type(s) of product (cake, cupcake, cake pops, or cookies), and theme with their orders. Her cell phone number is listed on her Facebook page for those who wish to text or call her.
Mrs. Gerdes said, “I do not have help right now, it’s just me. I think that’s one thing that people really have to understand is I am only one person. Literally, I’m the baker, the decorator, and the cleanup crew.”
In addition to that, she is a mother, has a full-time job, updates her bakery’s Facebook page, manages her bakery’s website, takes her own photographs, and is her own accountant. She is working on a price list for publication.
Ashley appreciates and acknowledged that her husband helps out at home. She feels like a tornado went through her kitchen after completing an order and Kenny helps reorganize. He also offers suggestions like stenciling and airbrushing their logo on the baked goods bags because the logo stickers keep falling off.
“My ultimate dream is to own my own business and work for myself, doing what I am truly passionate about,” said Ashley, who has a Business Management Associate Degree from Western Technical College.
She credits her family and her husband for fully supporting her goals. Ashley appreciates homeownership because it provided her enough workspace to create her products.
People have the opportunity to purchase and sample her cookies. Ashley Gerdes is having a pop-up sale in the Tribal Office Building in Black River Falls on Thursday, April 18th. She will be selling Easter cookies starting at 8:00 AM in the atrium. Gerdes explained she is just trying to get her name out there, get people to try cookies, and get feedback.
“Hopefully that goes well, and I’m looking forward to that,” said Ashley.