So delighted was Vivien Phoenix’s mother with the cupcake tower she made on Mother’s Day 2013, she decided then and there to go into business.
Thus was born Bossy Bakery Boutique, Cleveland’s first Black- and female-owned mobile bakery.
Five years later, Phoenix and her hot-pink bakery truck are going strong, enjoying a lively trade at local festivals, farmer’s markets, and private events. A black female entrepreneur, Phoenix channels her culture, love of food, and vast life experience into a unique and popular menu featuring cake popsicles, funnel cakes, and “Cocoa Bombs.”
“It has given me a way to heal from things that I’ve gone through,” said Phoenix, who prefers to go by her professional name, Chef Bossy. “It was about me bossing up.”
Bossy Bakery hasn’t always been mobile. The chef only hit the road with a towable kitchen last fall, after four years baking in rented kitchens and selling goods at pop-up shops under a tent.
Now, rather than asking customers to come to her, Chef Bossy applies her former experience as a professional driver and goes where the people are, to neighborhood festivals and other gathering places all across Northeast Ohio. It’s a model that works well for her, especially during the pandemic.
“I realized that this is what I’ve been doing for years—driving,” Phoenix said. “Why be ashamed of it? I’ll bring the treats to you.”
A curvy path to “Boss”-hood
Baking hasn’t been her only passion, either. Certainly not her only form of employment. Her journey to become an independent entrepreneur is as colorful as her hot pink mobile bakery.
Into Bossy Bakery Boutique Phoenix has poured a variety of life experiences including hospitality management, retail, theater, and film. For a time, she even worked in a nursing home as a certified nursing assistant.
Working long shifts and earning good money “gave me a good perspective on life,” but left her unsatisfied, Phoenix said. “Here I am a drama queen and thinking I’m going to be famous and you look up and you’re working in a nursing home?”
Growing up in Cleveland during the 1990s, Phoenix moved all over the city. Her parents never owned a home, and so the family lived everywhere from the Woodland, Grandview, and Kinsman neighborhoods to the area around West Boulevard and Madison Avenue, where Tamir Rice was killed.
The interest in baking came from her father’s family. While her mother was at work, her father cooked. He could have been a chef, Phoenix said. Baking itself came from her paternal grandmother and great grandmother.
An early interest in the arts
Somewhere along the line, Phoenix was bitten by the theater bug, and found her way into the Cleveland School of the Arts. After that, she said, “it was theater, theater, theater. We performed all over.”
After high school, Phoenix enrolled at Chicago’s Columbia College, intending to channel her interest in theater and study film and become a film director. Sadly, however, she ran out of money and had to come home and work.
“It hurt my soul,” she said. “If you knew me, you would know how something like that was embarrassing.”
Theater, film, and business might not seem related, but for Phoenix, they are. Chef Bossy is itself a kind of role, and her time on stage was just a different expression of the creativity and outgoing nature she now pours into marketing Bossy Boutique Bakery on Instagram.
“Honestly, I’ve always been this way,” the chef said. “When we were kids, our mother would take us to the nice neighborhoods where they had good candy. I would take a large garbage bag and fill it up. I would take my brother and sister’s candy and put it all together. Then, I would put it in little sandwich baggies and sell it to kids at school.
“I’ve always been a hustler,” she added. “If there was something I wanted, I took the necessary steps to make it happen.”
The “boss” gets an education
The hustling instinct led Phoenix to Kent State University, where she first enrolled as a business major but later switched to hospitality management, after deciding she wanted to own a restaurant.
But the pressure that forced her out of Columbia College reared years earlier its ugly head again at Kent. Needing money, Phoenix took a left turn, earned a commercial driver’s license, and became a truck driver.
“After the whole [Columbia] incident, I realized that it could happen again,” Phoenix recalled. “[S]o I started driving Kent State buses.”
A fortuitous visit to Kent by a representative of The Walt Disney Co. prompted Phoenix to take yet another sharp turn. Reviewing the resumes of hospitality majors, the Disney recruiter was impressed by Phoenix’s CDL and hired her for the company’s transportation department.
This led her to Orlando for a year-long internship and to the realization that in her chosen field, with her skin color, she’d have to make her own way if she wanted to have a true career.
Here the seeds of her “boss” mentality were nourished. Phoenix found that in a hotel or restaurant, her favorite place wasn’t the front desk or hostess stand but rather the kitchen, where she could put her love for cooking to good use.
“I work[ed] in hotels, every area of the hotel industry, but there [was] no real money in that work unless you own the hotel, or you’re the big boss,” Phoenix said. “And I can tell you that back then, there was no place for a black woman in the hospitality industry…I’d rather be in the back of the house cooking and washing dishes with the boys.”
Bossy Bakery Boutique emerges triumphant
While working as a bus driver in Cleveland, degree from Kent State in hand, the “boss” in her began to rise, in keeping with her surname. The cupcake tower for her mother inspired her to sell at pop-up shops around town, and the rest, as they say, is history.
These days, Phoenix hustles in a different way: traversing Northeast Ohio with her hot-pink food truck. Now, she’s in control. Her website, Facebook, and Instagram pages are filled with colorful pictures of her treats and marketing images of her big smile and signature blonde hair.
Her specialty item is a luxury treat collection called the Bossy Box. She’s also proud of her sugar cookies, which she offers to customize. She’ll even bring them right to you, to let you feel like the boss.
“People always said I was bossy,” Phoenix said. “I’ve had to accept who I am.”
According to a report by NBC News, “More than 40 percent of Black-owned businesses shut down by April of last year, compared with a 17 percent decline among white-owned businesses. And while around 75 percent of Black-owned small businesses saw upticks in the two months after George Floyd’s death and subsequent national attention to issues around discrimination and police brutality, sales at many Black-owned businesses soon after plummeted back to their pre-Covid-19 rates, according to a survey by the Black Chamber of Commerce. Even if you shelf the pandemic’s effect on Black-owned businesses, eight out of 10 fail within the first 18 months.”
For more information on prices, items or how to book the Bossy Bakery Express, and to see where she will be in Northeast Ohio, visit https://www.bossybakery.com. You can also follow Vivien Phoenix on Instagram @bossybakeryboutique or @bossybakeryexpress, call 216-399-0895 or email theb[email protected].
Charlotte Morgan is a journalist and nonfiction writer based in Cleveland, Ohio. Her rideshare journeys enable her to meet interesting people like Vivien Phoenix.