Kolby McNeal, founder and Chief Culinary Officer of Sweets in a Jar LLC, has launched an on-the-go homemade dessert company based in Little Rock, Arkansas. While excelling in academics as well as athletics at his beloved HBCU, the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff, Kolby has also been working hard to grow his business. This student-athlete phenom turned entrepreneur, who went to school on a full football scholarship, has quickly become known as “Cakes” because of his imaginative spins on tried and true sweets.
Baking his way to the top
In kindergarten, Kolby asked his parents for an easy bake oven and a football. Kolby loved watching Ace of Cakes, and his idols as a kid, G. Garvin, and Michael Vick. He spent his days playing football and making Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée. He attended football camps, but just as frequently, cooking camps. He was in the first class of the Clinton Foundation Culinary Camp. While in middle school, Kolby was featured on television, making his version of key lime pie, which would become the “I Got the Keys” Key Lime Pie. Always the entrepreneur, his first business was starting a sandwich-making business in middle school to get the money to buy a moped, and that entrepreneur spirit never left.
When asked about his company Sweets in a Jar, he said that he believed that his life had come full circle. He always enjoyed creating culinary experiments, but once he became a high schooler, his focus shifted to football but creating his version of classic foods never left his heart. “I recognized that football would allow me to go to school without incurring a lot of debt, and that has always been important to me. Having the good fortune to play at an HBCU was icing on the cake!” Knowing that his playing days were coming to an end, he knew that he wanted to go back to his first love, cooking, and turn that into his main passion, entrepreneurship.
Well-embraced by the HBCU community
Kolby’s first significant sale for Sweets In a Jar, LLC came after he started selling “Krim & Kreme,” his version of the red velvet cake (the name a nod to his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc., and a wink to the ladies of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc.). After that, he was off and running.
He comments, “It has indeed been incredible to see the amount of support that I have received. My fraternity brothers, my teammates, my coaches, really my whole school. I guess they don’t call us ‘The Pride’ for nothing. I particularly enjoy when older women support me that are around my grandmother’s age and tell me that I give them a run for their money.
His cakes are a perfect marriage of HBCU culture with a homemade flavor. He adds, “My college experience has been amazing. It’s nothing like having the type of support that pushes you to pursue your dreams and gives you the foundation that you need to get there. I love football. I am thankful for the opportunities that football has given me. When my coaches and teammates found out that I loved baking, they were my best customers.”
Bootstrapping a Business
Kolby is most proud of the fact that he has been able to start and grow his business with what he had. “One of the biggest reasons why people don’t start a business or believe that they can’t is because they think it takes a lot of money. I started this business with about $200.00 that I had earned while helping pressure wash apartments. I used that money to get my ingredients and my jars and sold what I made. I started with two flavors, “I Got the Keys” (Key Lime Pie) and Krim and Kreme (Red Velvet Cake). I reinvested my money back into my business every time, so my business has grown at a pace that I can handle. I do everything with strategic intentionality.”
Doing good while doing well has always been important to Kolby. When his older brother was diagnosed with epilepsy a few years back, he knew that whatever he did, he wanted to be able to give to those who are fighting epilepsy. Since his brother’s favorite snack is honeybuns, he created “Honeybun Kane” cake, with all proceeds going to help those who suffer from that disease. “When people have that first seizure, they can’t drive for a year. I hope that one day, I will be able to provide rides for everyone who needs one.
So what’s next for Sweets in a Jar? “I care about people. Everything that I do, I do it for a specific purpose. Why jars? Because glass is better for the environment. Why 4 oz? Because I want people to enjoy sweets without feeling guilty. The next thing is building my foundation for epilepsy warriors and writing a cookbook for boys who are interested in cooking and baking. I want to evolve, grow, and impact others. My sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Pearson, told me something that has never left me, and I continue to live by; “Good, better, best, never let it rest, until your good is better, and your better is best.”