When Danielle Bradfield won $5,000 at January’s 5×5 Night, a business competition from Start Garden and the Muskegon Innovation Hub, she expected to use the money to bring her gourmet cotton candy company, Hey Sugar, to an expanded whirlwind of events this summer.
Then the coronavirus came.
“Covid happened, and all of a sudden we didn’t have any events for all of 2020,” Bradfield said.
So, Bradfield, a Muskegon native who lives in the city with her husband, John Bradfield, and their five children, pivoted. Instead of preparing to bring her mobile cotton candy carts to a deluge of festivals and weddings, she rented the storefront previously occupied by The Only Cannoli at 1925 Lakeshore Dr. in Muskegon’s Lakeside neighborhood. Over the past couple of months, a contractor, Ryan Cadle, has completely renovated the space, adding subway tiled walls and splashes of bright color throughout the shop that’s nestled in the heart of Lakeside, just across from Muskegon Lake and the Lakeside Express Ferry.
And, now, Hey Sugar is ready for its debut: the shop will celebrate its opening this Friday, June 19 from 11am to 6pm. At the opening, customers will be able to check out the flavors that Hey Sugar has sold at events like the Muskegon Farmers Market’s food truck rallies and pop-ups at Pine Street Mercantile and The Coffee Factory—piña colada, crème brûlée, tropical punch, raspberry jam, champagne bubbles, blueberry mojito, sea salt caramel, confetti cake, tangerine cream, and root beer float.
“We’re really excited,” said Bradfield, who runs Hey Sugar with her husband. “We’ve definitely strived to be a really happy, modern space.”
In addition to selling cotton candy at the new shop, Bradfield will use the Lakeside space as a commercial kitchen to prepare for the variety of events she’ll continue to cater once large gatherings get rolling again. In other words: for those of you who got used to seeing Bradfield and her sweet concoctions around Muskegon, you’ll still see her in that capacity. As for the shop itself, customers can expect to be greeted by a “cotton candy wall”—a sea of packaged cotton candy—and freshly spun cotton candy, all of which Bradfield noted is made entirely from organic sugar and has no artificial flavors or colors. Too, Hey Sugar will offer “curated party supplies.”
“I fell in love with the celebration aspect of cotton candy,” Bradfield said, explaining why she wants to offer the party goods.
“We’re starting something called ‘party in a box,’” the owner continued. “If people tell us their party theme, we’ll curate a party box with cotton candy, confetti, plates, napkins, etc. It will be really fun.”
It’s that sentiment—one centered around celebration and connecting with people—that reverberates throughout the story of Bradfield’s business. Launched in 2018, Hey Sugar is the brainchild of Bradfield, who left her job at the Muskegon Rescue Mission about a decade ago to raise her five children. A couple years ago, she and her husband were planning to move to a different house in Muskegon and Bradfield wanted to add some income to her family. An entrepreneur who has started a series of businesses throughout the years, she knew she wanted to have something of her own—she just wasn’t sure what.
“One day, I was in the school pickup line in 2018, and I was browsing through Instagram and saw a super cute cotton candy cart and thought it was the cutest thing in the world,” Bradfield said. “I read they use organic cane sugar and thought that was really neat. I tried to find some cotton candy using organic sugar, but I couldn’t find it anywhere.”
After striking out trying to find the cotton candy, she thought: why not start something like that in Muskegon? She was working with a business coach to craft her business plan when brought her cotton candy to a family friend’s 90th birthday party—and it was a hit, with people asking if she would consider selling her cotton candy as stocking stuffers.
So, on Dec. 7, 2018—National Cotton Candy Day—Bradfield made an announcement on Facebook.
“I said, ‘We’re trying out this natural cotton candy business, and would anyone want to try any for a stocking stuffer?’” Bradfield said. “People shared it and shared it. We ended up getting 400 orders. The orders just kept coming in.”
After that, the business continued to expand, with Bradfield signing up “for every event or farmers market.” She too was asked to bring her cotton candy to a growing number of weddings, birthday parties, business anniversaries, and more.
“We worked like crazy in 2019 to get our name out there,” she said.
It wasn’t the easiest year, running a business from her home with five children, but, Bradfield emphasized, it was worth it—especially now, with a growing business and the brick-and-mortar opening. It’s a moment that, just five years ago, the owner would not have predicted. At that time, she and her family were living in Buffalo, New York for her husband’s job, and they were planning to return to Muskegon.
“When we were in Buffalo, we were right downtown, and everything was really building up, so, to be honest, I was a little devastated to move because there was so much happening there,” Bradfield said.
But, once she returned to her hometown, Bradfield said she was thrilled to see Muskegon’s own expanding commercial landscape.
“There’s so much happening in Muskegon, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it,” she said. “I can’t believe how welcoming it’s been to be a small business owner here. Other shop owners have been nothing but kind and helpful. I’m really excited to be a part of the revitalization of Muskegon.”
Finally, Bradfield said, “people are seeing Muskegon for what it is and what it has to offer.”
“That’s really exciting,” she continued. “More people than ever are becoming involved in the revitalization.”