All day long, throughout third grade, Gabrielle Williams counted the minutes until she could go home. Inside the swivel kitchen cupboard was her escape from the snide remarks of her classmates: cake flour, confectioner’s sugar and chocolate.
The little girl created sumptuous frostings with names like Guava Lava and baked dozens — no, hundreds — of cupcakes, brownies and cakes, selling them at first to her mother’s friends, then to local schools and eventually to anyone who has heard about her business through word of mouth.
Along the way, Gabrielle, now 12, connected with two other young, female African American entrepreneurs: jewelry maker Gabrielle Jordan, who also started her business at age 9, and fellow baker Breana “Bree” Britt, who was 16 when she opened a storefront bakeshop.
Gabrielle startled Prince George’s County economic development officials when she showed up at a local church for a business seminar earlier this year, business card in tow, the only child in a room full of dozens of adults.
She so impressed them that they are planning a “KidPreneur Day” on Aug. 3, where other precocious county residents like Gabrielle can learn the tricks of their trade.
“I want to expand my business and know whether I should go out and buy a store or stick to my homemade kitchen creations,” Gabrielle said the other day while working on a batch of red-velvet cupcakes. “I know this is what I want to do as a grown-up.”
Gabrielle’s mother, Vernice Williams, retired from the Navy in 2013 and moved with her daughter from Quantico, Va., to the Prince George’s town of Accokeek. Gabrielle switched from a private Christian school to the local public school. The bullying started almost immediately.
At lunch, Gabrielle would close her eyes, clasp her hands and begin to say grace, just as she’d done at her old school. Condescending classmates inquired about her ritual and blurted, “Uh, we don’t do that here,” Gabrielle recalled.
Her love of pink clothes also made her a target, as did her braces, and her quiet, unassuming manner.
“They said I was different,” Gabrielle recalled, turning her gaze down to her hands. “They called me names, picked at my clothes, talked about me, and it really lowered my self-esteem.”
She distracted herself with frequent sojourns to visit her godmother, Shirah Simmons, whose hobby was baking homemade treats.
The sessions sowed the seeds of a passion that would propel Gabrielle, a self-described sweet tooth, out of loneliness and into the role of businesswoman.
It started with frosting.
Gabrielle wanted to bake from scratch, like Simmons. Her mother wasn’t convinced that this new hobby would last any longer than the cheerleading classes Gabrielle quit after three practices or the tennis lessons she had abandoned. Homemade frosting was the compromise.
“I told her if she could come up with three flavors on her own, we’d take the next step,” Williams said. “And I didn’t want her making a mess in my kitchen.”
When she tasted her daughter’s first creation, a chocolate-espresso frosting, Williams — who doesn’t even like sweets — knew it was something special. Soon, Gabrielle was allowed to make the cupcakes from scratch as well as frosting, and Simmons took over as official taste-tester. She said the most memorable of Gabrielle’s specialities was the red-velvet cupcake with cream-cheese frosting.
“If you opened it, you’d see the rich color, you could feel the softness in your hand. And when you bit into it, you got cream cheese all over your face,” Simmons said. “It was just the right amount of sweetness in the icing. The consistency was spot on.”
Then came the German chocolate cake and the espresso-bean brownie bites and the secret ingredients Gabrielle scribbled inside the black and white composition book where she keeps all the recipes she devises.
She began selling cupcakes, brownies and cakes, baking for private parties and church friends of her mother and godparents — and passing out her business card at every function.
Suddenly, the taunts at school didn’t matter so much. In fifth grade, Gabrielle presented her treats and described her business to her classmates for a school project. She realized, she said, that she had developed something unusual that she could be proud of: “There aren’t many kids who do what I do.”
At some point, during a local leadership event, Gabrielle met Gabrielle Jordan, whose Jewelz of Jordan business has attracted nationwide attention, a book deal and television appearances. She also connected with Bree Britt, who owned a storefront bakery not far from Gabrielle’s home in Accokeek. Some days, Gabrielle spent hours at Bree’s Sweet Treats, learning from the girl who was six years her senior.
She has made friends at school and enjoys having them over to taste her new creations.
A new website is in the works that will include the name of her business, Glorious Pastries by Gabrielle, and she is trying to build her social-media presence. This summer, she passed up a trip to Orlando theme parks to take pastry classes at the College of Southern Maryland, experimenting with fondant and other techniques.
“I look at Gabby, and I see it’s never too early,” said Jim Coleman, president of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp. “She’s way ahead, and we can help her business mature. I want to make this lady a multimillionaire in 10 years.”
Gabrielle helped co-chair the planning committee for the development corporation’s August event, where facilitators will train kids on how to write business plans, find financing and network. Jordan, the young jewelry maker, will also speak.
In the meantime, Gabrielle keeps baking.
The other day, as she was describing her business, she interrupted herself to instruct her mother, who was preparing red-velvet cupcake batter to help get an order ready.
Pour the flour slowly into the mixer, Gabrielle said, noting that there is a strict rhythm and sequence to adding ingredients. When batter splattered, Gabrielle paused again to wipe the excess from the baking sheet before it went into the oven.
“We go through a lot of paper towels,” her mother said, chuckling.
The adults who love Gabrielle often remind her that a mistake is not the end of the world — in the kitchen, or anywhere else.
“You’re a kid. You’re still learning,” Simmons told her goddaughter once. “Sometimes, you get bad batches.”