My next subject randomly found me before I could locate him. You see, Jason Mercado is always on the move, whether he's baking a batch of deliciousness or acting as liaison for the 4th Street Market East End Kitchens. Crossing paths a second time meant it was about time to start asking those questions.
Please elaborate on your tagline: Inspire. Empower. Encourage.
The goal of Sweet Mission Company is to work with those that have faced challenges in life (ex-felons, recovering addicts, at-risk youth, homeless individuals, etc.) and teach them about entrepreneurship and help them get their lives back on track. So I want to Inspire people to look beyond their situation, Empower them to follow their dream/goals and Encourage them to never give up (even in the face of adversity).
You're making breakfast; what are you having?
I'm having biscuits and sausage gravy, eggs (scrambled with cheese) and orange juice.
Where did you grow up?
I actually was born and raised in Salem, New Jersey. Moved to Orange County from Philadelphia to pursue my dream and goal of launching Sweet Mission Cookie Company. It was cookies that landed me in Orange County.
I was told that you endured some tough times. Could you please elaborate?
So, I started my company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in June of 2012 as a result of being homeless. I was working for a coffee company for about eight years, and got laid off in 2011/2012. I was kinda clueless as to what my next move was to be. It was then that I decided to start my own business, because I remember that I liked to bake as a kid. I was afforded the opportunity to take some business classes through an organization called Entrepreneur Works (through a scholarship I was awarded).
What is the most challenging thing about running your own business?
The most challenging thing about running your own business for me is not having enough finances to fully operate. Because I cannot qualify for a traditional loan, I have to look for other alternative funding sources. Also, not having enough staff to help forces me to work long hours to be able to complete orders. But it's part of being a business owner.
How did you come up with the name?
Came up with the name with the help of a friend, because my mission is to help people transform their lives through baking cookies, and that's pretty SWEET . . .hence the name Sweet Mission Cookie Company.
One food you can't live without.
Pho is my go-to food. In fact, I'm about to have some now. Pho for me is filling, flavorful and just plain delicious [Editor's Note: He mentioned enjoying the pho at Pholicious in Fountain Valley]!!
What are your most popular desserts?
My most popular dessert is my award-winning Hawaiian Cooler Cookie – lemon, coconut, white chocolate and macadamia nuts; a second place winner in the dessert category of the Taste of Success Bake-Off in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
I first met you at 4th Street Market, where you offered me a cherry cheesecake. What other responsibilities do you have there (in addition to your dessert business)?
I am the East End Kitchens (EEK) Assistant. My responsibility as an assistant is to conduct tours of the facility for new potential food makers interested in EEK (to guide them through their paperwork process as a new food maker), help with current food makers, keeping track of schedules, and assisting the Manager (Sheila) with other overall day-to-day operations pertaining to the kitchens. I am also the Entertainment Coordinator/Event Planner for 4th Street Market.
How do you feel about pumpkin-flavored desserts? Do you have any seasonal treats in store?
We plan on doing pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin cheesecake in a cup and potentially pumpkin cookies. Stay tuned.
What are your thoughts on customer service?
CUSTOMER SERVICE IS NUMBER ONE! If the customer is happy, then you've done your job.
Tell me about your earliest dessert memory.
My earliest dessert memory comes from a place in Salem, New Jersey called The Oak Diner (which still exists today). I used to go to the diner, sit in the very last spin-style stool and order banana cream pie. Till this day, when I go home to Salem, I go to The Oak Diner and order a slice of banana cream pie, and sit in the same spin-style stool I sat in as a kid. Part of the tradition was to spin on the stool, even as an adult (laughs). I'll do it at least once when I go back.
I would like to know about the program you run for those less fortunate.
I'm in the process of starting a nonprofit called The Sweet Mission Project. The goal of the Sweet Mission Project is to provide services for the homeless and less fortunate. So far, we've hosted two dinners for the homeless and less fortunate in and around Westminster.
Where was your most recent meal?
My most recent meal was at Yojie Japanese Fondue. I had the Yojie's Cut (beef) Geisha plate, Shabu-Shabu style. YUM!
When you're not at work, how do you spend your leisure time?
I pretty much spend my free time helping others develop their businesses and helping the homeless.
Hardest lesson you've learned:
In starting a business, sometimes you ride alone. Can't expect everyone to jump on board.
Last thing you looked up online:
Recipe for tiramisu.
The last time I ran into you, we were in the administrative offices for the OC Fair. How did that go?
That was awesome! Their marketing team ordered 30 dozen cookies from Sweet Mission, which in turn they gave to 20 different hotels around Orange County that were supporters of the fair.
What's your favorite childhood memory?
My favorite childhood memory was getting to lead songs on the church bus in front of all the other kids.
What would you like to try if you weren't in this business?
Being a drug and alcohol counselor, plus a life coach/mentor to high school kids and at-risk youth.