Food truck entrepreneur thrives with help from ECDI

This has been a banner year for Carla Saunders, owner of Columbus, Ohio’s only gourmet cupcake truck. She worked at her mother’s brick-and-mortar bakery in her hometown of Grove City for many years, creating famous delicacies such as carrot cake cupcakes and red velvet cupcakes.

3 Babes and a Baker definitely had the potential to expand beyond the bakery’s four walls, but it was a challenge for Saunders to determine the best way to strike out on her own. As her mother had been involved with farmers’ markets for many years, she was familiar with the Economic and Development Institute and encouraged Carla to learn more about small business development there.

At ECDI, she discussed her options for entrepreneurship with a business developer.

“I discussed strategies for growth that’s where the idea for the truck came in,” says Saunders. A mobile food truck allowed for low overhead, more flexibility, and the capability to go to the customer.

“It’s a win-win when you go to the customer,” she explains.

After closing a loan with ECDI, Saunders was able to purchase her truck and supplies and create the city’s first ever cupcake truck. Last year found her parked downtown during the day, often selling out of popular flavors like sweet potato and banana split by early afternoon. Using Twitter to connect to customers, Saunders quickly amassed a following and began serving parties, weddings, and catering events. Her business has grown such that she is able to only do events and catering with her truck now.

Of ECDI’s training, Saunders says, “It was good to be surrounded by others with the entrepreneurial spirit,”  adding that the participants would often stay after class to talk shop about business development.

“It was great to find a company that really wanted to work with me,” she says.

The future of 3 Babes and a Baker cupcake truck is sweet, with plans to purchase a second truck, sell others’ goods as well as expanding her own menu. This summer, she was featured on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars.

Through ECDI’s programs, Saunders was able to be a formidable force in growing Columbus’s mobile food scene. Since 2004, ECDI has made more than $9 million in loans to about 550 small businesses, creating or retaining about 1,650 jobs. Every business and job created or retained equates to an increase in state and local tax dollars.

In addition, ECDI has brought millions of federal dollars into the local economy, and has helped keep those dollars circulating locally through small business capitalization.

In the past, ECDI has been able to finance businesses like 3 Babes and a Baker primarily through federal, state, and local programs. As the demand for our small business financing products skyrocketed, we knew it was time to create a new source for loan funds by launching the Invest Local Ohio campaign.

Every dollar committed by individual investors to the Invest Local Ohio program will be loaned to a local small business and leveraged with at least two more dollars from other ECDI loan funds and guarantees a minimum two percent return. Investors have the opportunity to lift up hardworking entrepreneurs like Carla Saunders, whose success bolsters the local economy, creates jobs and taxpayers, and translates to more Ohioans participating in the economic mainstream.

To learn more about 3 Babes and a Baker, visit

If you could invest in fuller lives for Central Ohioans looking to capitalize their dream, would you? For more information on becoming an investor in the Invest Local Ohio campaign, contact ECDI President Steve Fireman at 614-732-0577 or [email protected].