Zac's Sweet Shop
A teen's love for sweets and frustration with prices led him to become a candy maker. Twitter / USC @USC

Zac Coughlin's fascination with art, food, and business emerged at an early age. By the time he was 13, he was not just a typical teenager but an entrepreneur in the making. Unlike his peers, Coughlin spent his time in mall food courts, not for toys or clothes, but to study the food business. He closely observed the operations of establishments like Dairy Queen and Mrs. Fields, learning about marketing strategies, branding techniques, and customer upselling.

"I always say, I went to the mall not for toys or clothes, but I went straight to the food court, and I would study the food business," Coughlin said in an interview with Entrepreneur. The high prices at speciality sweet shops caught his attention. Convinced that he could create delicious treats at a more affordable price, Coughlin saw a golden opportunity. This insight sparked the inception of Zac's Sweet Shop, marking the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey.

The Birth of Zac's Sweet Shop

With his mother's support, Coughlin started his first business venture at just 13 years old. Armed with a 12-ounce chocolate melting pot, he began dipping strawberries and cookies, selling them to friends. His father helped with deliveries, ensuring the treats reached customers in pristine condition. "I would dip strawberries and cookies for my friends, who were my first customers," Coughlin recalls. His father even assisted with deliveries to ensure everything arrived in perfect condition.

Word of Coughlin's confectionery skills spread quickly through his school. By seventh grade, he was receiving pre-orders from classmates, transforming his hobby into a thriving business. "People would text me to pre-order, and I would bring these boxes of sweets in the hallways," he said. The demand grew rapidly, from four or five orders to forty in no time.

A Celebrity Shout-Out and Explosive Growth

In October 2019, Zac's Sweet Shop officially launched, generating modest monthly sales of around $1,000, with a spike during the holidays. The turning point came in June 2020 when Beyoncé gave the shop an unexpected shout-out. This celebrity endorsement catapulted sales to $20,000 in just two weeks. The surge necessitated a rapid scaling effort, with friends helping to fulfil orders until 3 am.

"That shout-out changed everything. We had to scale up operations overnight," Coughlin said. Today, Zac's Sweet Shop ships nationwide, and the business is projecting a 400% growth next year, aiming for seven-figure revenues. The impressive client list includes tech giants like Google, Disney, Meta, and entertainment powerhouses like Hulu, American Express, Lionsgate, and Netflix, as reported by Entrepreneur.

The Drive to Prove His Worth

Coughlin's sweets are a nostalgic take on classic treats. Picture bite-sized pretzel rods dipped in creamy caramel, smooth milk chocolate, and sprinkled with salt flakes, or s'mores bark combining cinnamon graham crackers, marshmallows, and dark chocolate drizzle. "My sweets are a take on nostalgic classics that we grew up with," he explains.

His entrepreneurial spirit was partly fuelled by his experience of being adopted. "Being adopted has given me this unwavering urge of self-sufficiency to prove my worth and my value not only to the people around me, my family, friends and colleagues, but to myself," Coughlin explained. This drive for self-worth and value has been a constant force in his life.

"I always felt this need to show that I could achieve something on my own, to prove that I was capable," he said.

Expanding Horizons: The Future of Zac's Sweet Shop

As Zac's Sweet Shop prepares for a brand relaunch, exciting changes are on the horizon. Coughlin plans to expand his team, currently consisting of himself, one other person, and freelancers, and invest in branded packaging. This next phase promises to elevate the brand to new heights.

"We are gearing up for a thrilling brand relaunch. This involves expanding the team and investing in branded packaging," he said.

Community Engagement and Future Plans

Beyond the kitchen, Coughlin is deeply involved in community outreach. He regularly donates a portion of his profits to local charities and participates in community events to raise awareness about his brand. This community-centric approach has garnered Zac's Sweet Shop a loyal local following, further propelling its success.

Coughlin also emphasises the importance of sustainability in his business model. He sources ingredients from local suppliers, uses eco-friendly packaging, and implements sustainable practices in his operations. These efforts not only reduce the environmental footprint but also appeal to the growing number of environmentally conscious consumers.

"Sustainability is at the core of our business. We source ingredients locally and use eco-friendly packaging," Coughlin noted.

Tips for Starting a Side Hustle Selling Baked Goods

For those inspired by Zac's journey and looking to start their own side hustle selling baked goods, here are some key tips:

  1. Start Small: Begin with a few recipes you're confident in and expand your offerings as you grow.
  2. Market Research: Understand your target market and what types of baked goods they prefer.
  3. Online Presence: Create a website or social media pages to showcase your products and take orders.
  4. Compliance: Ensure you comply with local health and safety regulations.
  5. Networking: Build relationships with local suppliers and other small businesses for mutual support.

The story of Zac's Sweet Shop is a testament to Coughlin's entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, and perseverance. From a 13-year-old with a chocolate melting pot to a business owner on the brink of seven-figure revenues, Coughlin's journey is inspiring. His ability to adapt, innovate, and grow has positioned Zac's Sweet Shop as a beloved brand with a bright future.