Though Stephanie Dougherty spent nearly 17 years in a corporate career, deep down, she always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur.
“I always wanted to own my own business,” she said. “I just always felt like there was something else out there that I could do.”
Dougherty dreamed of joining the event industry or working with children. Scrolling through her Instagram feed one day in 2021, she discovered a way that she could do both: A cotton candy cart.
“The minute I saw it, I was like ‘oh my gosh, that’s it,’” Dougherty said.
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Started in May of 2021, Dougherty’s Cotton Sugar Co. candy cart has proved to be extremely popular–so much so that the Grandview Heights entrepreneur wants to build a staff to allow her to cater multiple events simultaneously.
Her very first summer found Dougherty booked solid via Instagram and word of mouth. After just a year, she was able to resign from her corporate job and focus on Cotton Sugar Co. full time.
“It feels really freeing,” she said.
Though the flexibility entrepreneurship affords is a definite benefit of her line of work, Dougherty’s favorite part of her job is creating her cotton candy flavors from scratch. Working out of 1400 Food Lab, she hand mixes extracts, oils, and sugars the day before each event. Her personal favorite is key lime. Customers love blue raspberry and birthday cake, among others. Hot cocoa and lemonade are seasonal favorites, while champagne is popular at weddings and wedding showers.
Dougherty also recently began offering Glitter Puffs for purchase on her website, dome containers that can be dropped into a beverage to change its color and make it sparkle.
Customers can choose from over 30 flavors of cotton candy, and the number of flavors they can offer to their guests varies upon the event’s duration: For a one-hour event, customers can choose two flavors of unlimited cotton candy.
While Dougherty occasionally can be found at farmers markets and other community events, hourly bookings make up about 90% of her business. She can be found at birthday parties, high school and preschool graduations. This year, she’ll be attending her very first quinceanera. Her cotton candy cart is popular with adults as well: Cotton Sugar Co. caters plenty of weddings, baby showers, house warming parties, and more.
“I even did a combo 50th/70th party for a daughter and father this year,” she said. “For in-person events I spin fresh cotton candy, and I hand mix the sugar myself fresh for each event. I’m up to over 30 flavors and counting now.”
Now that she’s no longer in the corporate world and invested in Cotton Sugar full-time, Dougherty wants to build on her business with more events at schools and corporations to fill her weekdays as well as her weekends. And that’s a sweet thing for Columbus.
“I’m really proud of what we accomplished,” she said. “I’ve just felt really, really supported by the people who have helped me.”
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