Maggie Notley Gross went out on a limb last year when she married her two loves — cooking and party planning — and opened the first gourmet cupcake shop in Lorain County. Celebrating Sweets by Maggie’s first anniversary last month, Gross says the response was more than she could have ever imagined.

“People aren’t used to stuff like this that you can’t get at the grocery store; everything is custom, made to order and it’s all one of a kind,” says Gross, who says her favorite cupcake constantly changes, but her go-to choice is the classic chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing.

Gross, who spent 11 years in a lucrative career with Walt Disney World after graduating from Pittsburgh-based Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, moved back to her hometown to be closer to family and seize an opportunity to work for the Culinary Vegetable Institute. She never planned to open a bakery. In fact, her goals were far from it.

At that time, Gross wanted to get away from cooking and launch a party-planning business for kids. But a good friend suggested she combine her interests. She took that advice and began concocting various cupcake flavors and selling them out of her house, while she worked at the Institute. The business snowballed from there.

“We don’t measure anything. You don’t have to follow a recipe to create new things,” says Gross, who recently sent in an audition tape and is waiting to hear back from Food Network’s hit competition show Cupcake Wars. “With other pastries, you don’t have that opportunity because everything’s a science when it comes to baking. But there’s so much room to create when it comes to cupcakes.”

Today, the whimsical Amherst-based “cupcakery” is tucked between turquoise-colored walls covered in giant sprinkle decals, complete with a custom silver counter reminiscent of cupcake paper with its zigzag design. In addition to custom cakes and gourmet cupcakes, Sweets by Maggie also plays host to decorate-your-own cupcake parties, happy-hour events and Kids Crafts nights.

Throughout her first year of business, Gross and her six-member team have invented 175 flavors and counting. Each week, two new flavors are introduced. She’s constantly in search of new ideas and even turns to her kids for inspiration. Hence, the PB & J cupcake, a white cake filled with jam and topped with peanut-butter cream icing. Her inspiration also comes from day-to-day activities and the things she loves. For example, after taking her kids to the fair, a cotton-candy cupcake was featured that week, and when Yuengling beer came to Ohio, a cupcake highlighting the tasty beverage was born.

Each day, Sweets by Maggie features eight to 12 flavors on the chalkboard menu. Gross bakes cupcakes all day until about 3 p.m., depending on that day’s demand. At the publishing of this article, the record number was 107 dozen cupcakes baked in one day.

It’s all evidence the cupcake craze is in full force.

“It’s small, it’s easy and again the creativity,” Gross speculates. “Maybe they like it because it’s popular and it’s on TV, or maybe they just like it because it is something that’s personal. We have people that come in for their family birthdays, and they just get a dozen [different flavors] so everybody is happy.”

Honors in Growth

Team Lorain County and its president and CEO Steve Morey are making things happen and attracting new business investments into the county.

“This could be through utilizing marketing and sales tactics to bring in new businesses from outside of the county and state,” says Morey. “This also includes calling on existing companies to find out ways to help them grow and expand their businesses in the Lorain area.”

And now Morey is getting honored for his work as one of the young, established professionals in the business society who received the Crain’s Cleveland Business Forty Under 40 award.

Frank DeTillio, president and CEO of Lorain County Chamber of Commerce, says this is not a surprise given Morey’s capability to create a program that is refreshing and a “guidance that is well respected.”

“I see it as an honor, but also it’s a reflection of Team Lorain County, the organization, our board, our staff and the good work we do with our economic-development partners in Lorain County,” says Morey.

He continues to successfully steer the business community in a positive direction, which has resulted in several accomplishments for his team along the way. It has worked with the Lorain County Growth Partnership to attract GreenField Solar to the county, create a new distribution center for Heidelberg Distribution and help TeleTech, which is a call center, bring 750 jobs to the county.

“Looking toward the future, we certainly hope to continue to cultivate development for Lorain County with Steve’s leadership in the area of marketing and attraction,” says DeTillio.

— Tara Golenberke