It’s 9 p.m. on a Monday night and Ashley Arnold is in organized chaos mode.
She has two freezers worth of her locally-famous Whoopie pies chilling. Her convection oven is filled with cookies and brownies that will be sold the next day at the Bixby Park farmer’s market and the tables in her dining room are filled with trays and plastic wrappers and stickers to put on her treats.
Arnold is the owner of Ladie Kakes, a one-person, pop-up business that works the local markets four days a week, does catering on the weekends, and trade shows and special events like the Taste of Downtown. She just happens to be the 2018 winner of the Downtown Long Beach Alliance’s Entrepreneur Education Series & Small Business Grant.
The DLBA has announced the third year of that program, presented in partnership with the Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at California State University, Long Beach, with grants for small businesses funded by Farmers & Merchants Bank.
More than two decades ago in her mother’s West Covina kitchen, Arnold’s baking career had an inauspicious start because she mixed up the teaspoon and tablespoon measurement of baking soda and baking powder. But now — and in spite of the pandemic — her popular treats keep her up baking almost every night until midnight.
“The entrepreneur program gave me a lot of inside information as to starting up and running a business; information that personally I wasn’t aware of,” she said. “And now, going forward as a grant winner, they always keep checking on me and seeing if I’m okay. It’s been a pleasant experience.”
Arnold is known for her Whoopie pies — marshmallow buttercream sandwiched between two cookie cakes. It won the Taste of Downtown best sweet and most creative category twice. Whether she is at the farmer’s market at Spring Street and Clark Avenue or Bixby Park or Marine Stadium, those are the treats that usually go first.
“It’s a more sophisticated Creamsicle, but in cake form,” she said.
This year’s program — which will be conducted using Zoom — begins April 10 and is open to entrepreneurs and small business owners who would like to have a downtown location. To be eligible for grant funding, participants must complete 10 modules over the first five weeks of the course. It is in the sixth week where participants have to make their pitches to compete for the money. F&M Bank is committing $20,000 to fund grants for up to seven program participants.
“Honestly, I needed to build my networking circle,” said Arnold, who holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and ethnic studies from Cal State Fullerton. “After the first week, I thought this might be beneficial. I never pitched before and had never presented my baby, if you will, at that scale. It scared the life out of me, but what’s the worst that could happen?”
Arnold told the judges her story — that she wanted a larger presence in Long Beach — and told them her goal.
“Crazy, I know, but they loved my product and were impressed with my presentation,” she said about the “Shark Tank”-like presentation. “And I said to myself, ‘Oh wait, they really like me.’”
To learn more about the program, or to apply, go to Gazettes.com/go/entrepreneur.