In 2020 sisters Rhonda Saltzman and Mercedes Brooks turned their lockdown restlessness into a blossoming business with their online store, Second Daughter Baking Co.
After years of experience in restaurants, bakeries and the hospitality industry, Culinary Institute of America graduate Saltzman had an excellent résumé. But at the beginning of the pandemic she lost her job and found herself spending her days at home with her sister and mother.
“We need[ed] to do something with our time,” Saltzman says. “I was going crazy just being home and not doing anything. So, it was like, ‘Well, why don’t we get serious about this?’ ”
With Saltzman’s experience and Brooks’ knowledge of hospitality and accounting—along with a generous amount of quarantine boredom—the sisters created their company.
“They’re delivering something that is just so needed during this time.”
— Heather Holiday, Customer
The name, Brooks explains, was originally inspired by their eldest sister.
“We kind of played around with our names for a little bit, and we didn’t want to do something that was just Instagram-y,” Brooks says. “We thought, ‘How can we incorporate our [sisterhood]?’ ”
In the end, Saltzman, the second-born, came up with the name Second Daughter.
“No one was really on board [with the name]. They couldn’t see the vision, but I was like, ‘No, this is great,’ ” Saltzman says. “It sounds unique enough where people will ask what’s the story behind [it]. Also, it’s kind of straight to the point.”
After launching from home on November 1, Second Daughter Baking Co. now has over 2,500 followers on Instagram and has amassed a loyal following of customers as well. When they started off, Saltzman and Brooks sold their products on Etsy, but they have since transitioned to selling exclusively on their own website.
Ling Phan, the founder and owner of Picnic Palette Co., a luxury picnic and event consulting company, says she first ordered from Second Daughter in December for a friend’s party.
“I saw this event as an opportunity to not only support them but to taste their amazing cake,” Phan says. “For cakes, I always recommend our clients [use] other small local businesses, and obviously Second Daughter Baking Co. is one of them.”
Phan ordered a drag-and-winter-wonderland-themed rainbow cake, and Second Daughter quickly delivered a six-inch, three-layer funfetti vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream, strawberry jam and intricate sugar accents such as macaroons and snowflakes.
“They created this beautiful, colorful ombré rainbow cake,” Phan says. “It was so good.”
While detail, customer service and branding are important, Saltzman and Brooks are also dedicated to keeping their ingredients planet-friendly.
For example, Saltzman says, they use only cage-free, organic brown eggs for their products.
“We aren’t working with any local farmers, but that’s something that we want to do,” Saltzman adds, noting they also aim to use more organic ingredients as they grow.
After working out of their home, Saltzman and Brooks quickly realized they needed a larger space for their business. Hoping to support other local bakeries, restaurants and catering companies, the sisters decided to search for a space they could sublet and utilize.
“We called a lot of people, [and] got a lot of no’s,” Saltzman laughs.
But they finally found their new baking home.
In 2014, Scout, a design and development firm that concentrates on renovating unused spaces, proposed to take over the Bok Vocational High School building on South 9th Street. Scout created affordable workspaces for small businesses, and now hosts 150 companies within the 340,000-square-foot building. Second Daughter is now one of them.
“When we talked to Hannah Baker over at Bok, they were really willing and very helpful to get us started and set up in there,” Saltzman says.
While they currently bake out of Bok, the sisters hope to one day get a storefront of their own.
“I’m the only baker at the moment, and Mercedes is learning how to bake, so we’re very small,” Saltzman says. “But we’re hoping to do more. We’re working towards that.”
Second Daughter uses Instagram as their main source of customer communication.
“There was a point where we didn’t have any orders, and it’s a very humbling experience to go from not having any orders and just being there, just waiting patiently for them, and then they just start coming in and coming in and people really want to support us,” Saltzman says.
Customer Heather Holiday, who first picked up a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie from Saltzman and Brooks in November, spotted a gold-leafed Second Daughter creation on Instagram and was quick to order her own.
“I met them in a parking lot in Center City where they were handing beautifully wrapped pies from the trunk of their car,” Holiday says. “It’s the full package, like really good down-to-earth, kind people and then this amazing product.”
Saltzman and Brooks say every day varies for them, based on the orders.
“Right now, we are operating on a pre-order basis, so if one day we might have six cakes to frost and pick-up, either later that day or early the next morning, then that’s what we’ll be working on,” Saltzman says.
Even when the sisters have had to take time off for themselves, due to a family tragedy, the support from customers never wavered.
“The amount of people that reached out, offering condolences or offering to bring our family stuff, it felt very good,” Saltzman says. “It felt like a community that was very strong and people who wanted to be there.”
Cristina, a creator behind @phillyisforfoodies on Instagram, has been a loyal supporter of Second Daughter since she bought two pies from them in November.
“It was honestly some of the best pie I’ve ever had—if not the best pie I’ve had,” says Cristina, who then ordered a bundt cake for her Christmas Day brunch. “Anyone that now asks me for a pie recommendation, we’ll definitely send them to Second Daughter Baking Co.”
Beyond their standard menu, which includes their fudge brownies and Strawberry Superpower cake, Saltzman and Brooks are now collaborating with another small business, Mithras Candle. Along with Second Daughter creations, customers can purchase local hand-dipped beeswax candles to finish off their party festivities.
“If you’re gonna get a cake, you’re gonna need candles,” Saltzman laughs. “You’re supporting two small businesses at once, and it’s a really good product.”
Saltzman and Brooks look forward to growing in the future, and their customers share the same sentiment.
“They’re delivering something that is just so needed during this time … It’s joy in a box that you can share,” Holiday says. “Or not share.”