Jason Mercado Turned His Life Around Through Baking and Has Made it His Mission to Help Others Do The Same
Jason Mercado, CEO of Sweet Mission, acquired his impeccable baking skills from his grandmother and by studying Food Network shows. He has now perfected several original recipes. Jason’s love for baking is matched only by his love for helping others which is how Sweet Mission came to be. Sweet Mission’s long term goal is to train and employ individuals from vulnerable backgrounds including the homeless to deliver superb products while offering hope and a foundation to those in need of a second chance. Jason’s motto is “Everyone deserves a second chance.” His own second chance came in the form of a scholarship through Entrepreneur Works, which allowed him to participate in their 11-week business startup course. His goal is to pass along that knowledge and encourage the people he plans to employ to take steps in creating businesses of their own. He wants to inspire with his story, empower by giving back and let others know they should follow their dreams and not give up when the going gets tough.
Tell us about spending time with your grandmother and learning baking skills from her.
During the holidays, my grandma would make pies and some cakes. I would help out and just watch what she put in the bowl. That was my favorite part. Most of the desserts she made without any measuring cups or spoons. She just did it by memory.
What is it about baking that enticed you to make it your career?
I found it to be therapeutic. It’s really relaxing, and you can be creative as well.
How have you used the Food Network as a cooking resource?
Usually, when I’m watching the Food Network or any food shows, I take a lot of mental notes. Then I try to repeat what I learned on my own.
You’ve had some challenges in your life, drug use, jail time and homelessness. How did you overcome all these hardships to arrive at a positive and maybe even lifesaving outlet—baking?
I just decided I no longer wanted to be caught up in drugs and alcohol and that I needed to make a change in my life for the better.
What kinds of assistance and resources have been available to you on your entrepreneurial journey?
I’ve had quite a few different resources made available to me, most of them learning resources. When I first started, Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries helped coach me through entrepreneurship and even gave me some seed money to get started as well. And then there was the Friends Center which is where I did my baking when I was in Philadelphia. They helped me get started.
What role did Entrepreneur Works have in helping you start your business?
Entrepreneur Works played the biggest role in helping me get started because they gave me all the tools that I needed. I was even able to get a scholarship for their classes.
Did you have any cooking or business mentors along the way?
Two of the most prominent mentors I had when I first started and I still have them today are Lauretta Pierce of Covenant Cookies and Wally Amos known to most people as Famous Amos — now he goes by Cookie Kahuna.
Was moving to California to set up your cookie business Sweet Mission a good choice?
Moving to California was a great choice. I didn’t know anybody in California when I moved here. I knew nothing about California, but I had the feeling that California would be the place my business would take off.
Tell us about your first big cookie order.
My first big cookie order was for an Oscars post-party that was for 1,500 cookies. It felt good to get that order. It was awesome.
When did you first feel like you “made it” and have obtained your business goals?
Well, to be honest, I’m still working on my business goals, but when I won the 2015 American Small Business Championship sponsored by SCORE and Sam’s Club, that was a real sense of accomplishment.
As a for-purpose cookie company, what does that entail?
It’s giving people that come from a vulnerable background a second chance at life — to bring them on board and just help them to find themselves again. It’s a chance to rediscover life and see what it is that they can do as an entrepreneur or as a chance to learn more about entrepreneurship.
How have you directly helped others through Sweet Mission?
We’ve been able to sponsor families during the holidays, specifically Christmas. With a dedicated planning committee of over one hundred volunteers and donations from Savers “Give to Get” program, United Across Borders Foundation, Official No One Left Behind, Stranger Prints and several other local restaurants and small businesses, we host two dinners a year for those who are in need of a hot meal at Thanksgiving and Easter.
Tell us about being given a second chance in your life and how you strive to help others get a second chance in their lives.
Because someone took the time out to help me and look beyond my past, that’s the same thing Sweet Mission is about. I want to give people a second chance at life and help them not to look at their past when looking at their future and seeing what it is they want to do.
What makes a good cookie?
Describe the smell of your favorite cookie that you make.
The Hawaiian Cooler Cookie that’s lemon, coconut, white chocolate and macadamia nuts all melting in your mouth at one time.
What’s the process behind creating an original cookie recipe?
Your flavor profile. Meaning, what do you want your cookie to taste like? Then you need to decide what style of cookie you want to create. Do you want to go drop cookie, do you want to do a sugar cookie, or do you want to do a cookie bar? Then you have to pick the fat for your cookie. Are there any substitutes you want to make? Then you get it together and boom you’ve got your cookie.
What other types of sweets and food do you enjoy making?
I like to make cheesecakes and brownies. I love to make any type of food.
How did you find out about the Live&Thrive CA entrepreneur pitch contest, and what will you do with your winnings?
I found out about Live&Thrive CA’s pitch contest on Facebook. My winnings will be used to relaunch Sweet Mission, to get some inventory and pay for some kitchen time.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not baking?
When I’m not baking, I enjoy cooking, meeting new people and just hanging out.
Anything else you’d like to share about your journey?
It’s been an exciting and interesting journey. I know that the best is yet to come and that’s why I never give up. If you are a budding entrepreneur, don’t give up no matter what.
Sweet Mission Cranberry Apple Almond Cookie
1 box of Pillsbury Sugar Free Classic Premium Yellow Cake Mix
1/2 cup of unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup of canola oil
1/2 cup of dried cranberries
1/2 cup of dried sliced almonds or walnuts
1/2 cup instant apple oatmeal
1/2 cup of white chocolate chips(optional, if you want to treat yourself)
Preheat the oven to 325⁰F.
Mix ingredients together in a bowl.
Scoop cookies onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Place cookies in a preheated oven for 9 to 11 minutes. Turn the cookie sheet at 4 minutes and continue baking.
Once cookies have baked, remove them from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes.
Transfer cookies to a wire baking rack.