In her retirement, Charlotte Touchette is finding a way to give back to the community while doing something she loves: baking.
The 71-year-old West Michigander started her business, Charlotte Touchette’s Gourmet Coffee Cakes, in December. The bakery offers cinnamon vanilla-, amaretto- and cherry cheesecake-flavored coffee cakes based on Touchette’s mother’s recipe. They are available for purchase at local stores, including Horrocks Market, Ada Fresh Market, Forest Hills Foods, Bridge Street Market and the Grand Rapids Downtown Market.
While the business is operating under cottage law, Touchette is working on getting her licensing so she can move into the Downtown Market incubator kitchen.
Touchette’s bakery is a family affair, with her husband, daughter and grandchildren helping with baking, social media marketing, sales, deliveries and making “cute” and “eye-catching” displays at stores to help move product.
“I’m having them taste the recipes all the time, but then a lot of times, they’re in the kitchen helping me create them, too, and so it’s been a big family affair,” she said. “It’s kind of cool because our tagline is ‘Spread the love.’ … We want to do just that, because when I was little and we were making them in the kitchen, my mom, that’s how she was — everything was around food, and if people came over, they were always welcomed. It didn’t matter who was coming in, and the house would always smell good. We’re trying to continue the legacy that we’ve had to make people feel welcome and make them feel loved and to know that we can ‘Spread the love’ by making a difference.”
Touchette so far is working to make that happen by donating a portion of the cake sales to Community of Hearts, a mental health advocacy and training nonprofit founded by her friend, Kent County Commissioner Monica Sparks. Her plan is to eventually help one charity every fiscal quarter, and she currently is in the process of setting up a foundation to handle the charitable side of the business.
Touchette’s passion for helping others was evident in her last job before she retired, as chapter development specialist for the Michigan-based Woman’s Life Insurance Society. She was a recruiter for the organization and drew more than 2,000 women into the fold over a 10-year period. When members of the fraternal not-for-profit join, a portion of their dues are given back into the community. Touchette said the social aspect of her job required her to be gone every night, which she doesn’t miss, but it also gave her a platform in the community and a starting place when it came time to launch her own business.
Prior to her time at Woman’s Life, she was a Mary Kay rep for many years, and before that, she owned a beauty salon. When COVID-19 hit, just after she retired from recruiting, Touchette had lots of time to think about her next move.
“I was twiddling my thumbs and thinking, ‘Now what am I going to do?’ I had always wanted to do something about the coffee cakes, because it’s a family recipe, you know, and everybody always loved them. I made them at Christmastime all the time for people, and they kept saying, ‘You need to get those in the store.’”
When Christmas rolled around again last year, Touchette got a business coach — Jennifer Kok, who founded, ran and sold Cookies by Design and Cupcakes by Design earlier in her career — and with Kok’s help and advice, she decided to give it a go. It was more successful than she could have imagined, and now just seven months later, she is excited at the possibility of moving into the incubator space.
While her coffee cakes are based on her mother’s recipe, Touchette said she gave them an extra “yummy and gooey” oomph by adding more butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts to the batter. Each cake has the same base recipe but with different fillings and different ways of rolling and forming the dough.
Recognizing the cakes can be quite rich, Touchette offers sample tastings at stores and sells them in smaller sizes for $9.99. The standard 10-by-10-inch cake sells for $19.99.
Touchette said once she gets into a commercial kitchen, she will be able to scale up and handle larger orders. She aspires to break into the corporate segment, as well as e-commerce, in addition to her brick-and-mortar sales.
“It’s just been a true blessing all the way,” Touchette said. “I’ve been dreaming about this for a long time. … This is just our beginning, and I can’t wait to see where it’s going to be a year from now.”