Chris Paseka ’04: Cakes, Candy, and Cupcakes Sweeten His Life
By Barbara E. Stoll ’93, MA ‘94
It was a warm September day in 2010 when Chris Paseka ’04 had a life-changing moment. Idly walking through downtown Red Bank with his future husband and business partner, Jesse Bello, both daydreaming of one day leaving their corporate jobs to start a small business together, they came upon a storefront for rent that drew them in.
“After joking for years about opening a small shop, we were consciously looking for a downtown area where people could walk in,” Paseka says. “We looked in Hoboken, we looked in Montclair, we looked in Ridgewood and Westfield. We just didn’t get the right feel. We actually walked into this building in Red Bank and didn’t say a word to each other. We literally walked in the door and just knew this was the right place for us.”
Within a week, each had resigned from their jobs, but had to decide what kind of business to open. Paseka, who has a degree in communication from William Paterson, had always thought about opening an old-fashioned candy store, while Bello had some professional experience with custom cakes. They combined these interests with a hot trend —cupcakes—and opened Sugarush, their bakery on East Front Street in Red Bank, on December 26, 2010 during a snowstorm that blew in and left 33 inches of snow on their doorstep.
Dismayed, they carried on. “We cleared our storefront, and opened our doors,” Paseka remembers. “And the community supported us by buying cupcakes.” Today, Sugarush, which features the only cupcake bar in the state, has garnered accolades for its products and was named best cupcakes and best bakery in New Jersey by New Jersey Monthly magazine. The store also has been featured on several national television networks.They recently competed on the Food Network Show Rewrapped, with Paseka emerging as the victor.
Gratified by the ongoing support offered by the community, Sugarush donates a portion of the proceeds from sales of their signature Sugarush cupcake to select non-profits and good causes in town.
“It’s important to me to give back to the town,” Paseka says. “I was brought up to help my neighbor. I would never feel right making money and not giving back to organizations that help people in need. There are so many important organizations, school fundraisers, charities, etc. out there that are doing good for people, or helping the community. From food banks to arts programs, to helping create awareness for cures/prevention, every little bit helps. I guess, in some way, I feel guilty that I cannot put the time I would like to into these same causes. Running a business seven days a week keeps us from doing that, so I hope what little we do makes a difference.”