FLORENCE, S.C. — Doing good deeds has paid off for one Florence business owner.
Out of thousands of entrants in the Made For More Small Business Fund, Mark Palmer, owner of SweetLeighs Cakes in Florence, was chosen one of the top 10 businesses to receive a $10,000 grant. Palmer impressed the judges with his continuous giving efforts and donation of his handcrafted cakes to local medical staff, teachers and frontline workers in the Florence community during COVID.
He was one of the top 20 finalists. After the 20 finalists were chosen, the American public voted to determine the top 10 businesses.
The makers of Ball home-canning products launched the fund in December 2020 to find and support small businesses across the country that have gone above and beyond to help their communities during the pandemic. Small businesses that use Ball brand home-canning products were invited to share how they have gone above and beyond to support their local communities during the pandemic for a chance to win $10,000 to fuel their business.
“We are amazed by the amount of deserving and heartwarming entries we received throughout this process,” said Kris Malkoski, CEO, Food Business Unit at Newell Brands. “We want to thank all the businesses who participated — we are so inspired by all the incredible submissions that the Made For More Small Business Fund will continue next year…”
Palmer purchases Ball jars for his cake in a jar. He learned about the grant fund from his supplier and was encouraged to apply.
“I was very surprised that I was one of the top 10,” Palmer said. “I had no idea how many applied.”
After being selected for the top 20, Palmer said, he knew he would receive at least $1,000.
“For me, winning the $10,000 means I’ll be able to purchase needed equipment and possibly being able to ship my jars,” Palmer said.
The top 10 businesses will also receive public relations support, spotlights on the Ball home-canning brand’s social media channels, and opportunities to receive business mentorship from Newell senior executives.
SweetLeighs Cakes and Treats, named after the owner’s two daughters, Ashleigh and Nataleigh, specializes in cakes made-to-order and cake in jar.
Palmer’s business is based out of his home.
Palmer operates his cake business out of small kitchen he built onto his house about nine years ago that is DHEC regulated.
Palmer said COVID has changed the way people do business, He said the first week or so he had a lot of cancellations of orders, but things have started to pick back up.
He said COVID changed the way he accepted payments. He went to electronic payment and outdoor pickup.
“I was able to adapt,” he said. “People’s love of cakes did not change.”
He said people still celebrate but in a changed way.
“I have been baking since I was in middle school,” Palmer said.
He learned how to bake watching his aunt and his mother.
Palmer is originally from Clio.
Palmer said when he was in graduate school at Clemson he baked for his friends. His wife is a teacher at Royal Elementary School, and he started baking for teachers at her school and for church members. Business increased.
He said the business has grown a lot in the last year. Palmer said he mainly caters to individuals with orders for birthdays, luncheons, Sunday dinners and holidays, but can prepare cakes for larger events such as banquets, rehearsal dinners and wedding receptions. Palmer said he doesn’t do tiered wedding cakes but people have ordered his cakes for tables of sweets or cakes instead of the traditional wedding cake.
Palmer said he started with cake in a jar about 11 years ago in an attempt to do something different and portable. He said people like that they can open, close and store the cake in the jar. The cake comes in five different sizes of jars from cupcake size to pint, quart and half-gallon size.
He said with COVID people like the idea of cake in a jar as individual servings and take-home favors. He said people have ordered them for drive-through parties and as thank-you gestures.
Palmer said he is able to include messages, photos and thank-you notes on the jars.
“Last summer I donated cakes to health care workers,” he said.
People would submit the names of their group, team, department, etc. Palmer said he would draw names, pay for lunch for the department and donate cakes for them to eat.
He took cakes in Mason jars to COVID vaccination teams and other workers. He plans to do this again for the second mass dose vaccine at McLeod and MUSC Health.
He said his daughters will be getting a second shot at the Florence Center soon.
Palmer said he has probably donated about 300 cakes in jars and a few large cakes.
His mission is to create cakes that taste great from the first to the last bite.
“It started as a hobby,” Palmer said. “And it still is.”
He is a full-time architect.