Subscribe to "Escondido Business Insight" for more stories like this delivered monthly to your inbox.

Enjoy Sweet Celebrations with These Women-Owned Businesses in Escondido

From left to right: Downtown business owners Louisa Magoon, Jill Reilly and Suzanne Schaffner

In honor of National Women's Small Business Month, the City of Escondido salutes women entrepreneurs who are taking risks to pursue their passions while contributing to the regional economy, adding jobs to our city, as well as improving the quality of life for residents and visitors alike. 

Below, we take a look at how three Escondido-based women-owned businesses are embracing community, celebrating every occasion, and creating quality food experiences. Susanne Schaffner, Jill Reilly, and Louisa Magoon work in Escondido because they each embrace and appreciate the supportive community spirit within their city. Their respective businesses - EscoGelato, Cute Cakes, and The Grand Tea Room  - are all local favorites that can be found in Escondido’s thriving downtown center.

A hometown local blends European flavor into her gelato

Growing up in Escondido, Suzanne Schaffner loved her community and the hometown feel of the downtown area, especially Grand Avenue. She fondly remembers shopping at Play Co, celebrating birthdays at Farrell’s or Swenson’s and enjoying the local feel of downtown Escondido. While studying and working in Europe as a young adult, Schaffner embraced the local vibe of the cities of Salamanca, Spain, and Stuttgart, Germany where she lived and dreamed of a way to bring that back to her hometown. This became a reality when eight years ago she opened EscoGelato, a café and gelato shop located in the heart of downtown Escondido.

Owner Suzanne Schaffner outside Esco Gelato

Like gelato shops throughout Europe, EscoGelato prides itself on creating fresh, seasonal gelato using locally grown ingredients.

“We are first and foremost an artisanal gelato shop,” Schaffner said.

This means they make their gelato one batch and one flavor at a time. With 14-to-18 flavors offered throughout the day, EscoGelato is making new batches every day. While chocolate is the only flavor available daily, seasonal favorites such as fig and mascarpone, pumpkin sweet cream cheese, roasted butternut, green tea and honey, and the fall must-have, Italian-inspired hazelnut cookie can be tasted this season. Schaffner is also  inspired to create flavors from food combinations she sees around her. For example, her apricot and goat cheese gelato was created after seeing this combination on a cheese board at a party.

Some of the flavors Esco Gelato makes in house daily

“That’s what’s fun about small batches,” she said. Every flavor Schaffner creates has to be something she too will eat. Her rule for gelato is, no matter how creative the idea, it has to taste amazing.

One of the things that helps make Schaffner’s gelato and café menu delicious is that she sources her ingredients from local farmers and businesses. Here too Schaffner’s love for the European lifestyle plays a part in her decision to use local ingredients. 

“One of the things I love about Europe and its way of life is that they celebrate their local products,” she said. “We use local ingredients in all our food. Figs, lemons, strawberries, carrots, tomatoes, avocados, and passion fruit all come from local family farms in the area. My brother even goes to local houses and trades lemons for gelato.”

Schaffner said her realization that local ingredients were the best to use came when she ordered a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box from local organic farm, Be Wise Ranch. “The greens in their box were the best I’ve ever had,” she said..

Stehly Farms is also a local organic farm that supplies many of the fresh ingredients that go into the gelato and café items, including the avocados that make up the Deedo panini. Sourcing locally not only helps support community businesses, but also allows for Schaffner to maintain a near zero waste kitchen because local inventory cuts down on food and shipping waste.

Visitors can find gelato, paninis, and select coffees throughout the day at EscoGelato. With seating for 20 inside, its comfortable and casual environment is reminiscent of the European cafes Schaffer is so fond of.

Additionally, Gelato-on-the-Go, a mobile gelato cart, is available for events such as weddings, school functions, and events. Schaffner said she was honored to be included in Celebrate the Craft at Torrey Pines where she brought the cart. This event celebrated California’s rich and thriving culinary foods and its artisans. 

With eight years as an integral member of the Escondido community, Schaffner said she is “thankful this all worked out” and is grateful to be part of such a thriving community, including surrounding businesses.

”I really appreciated the community of businesses,” she said.. “I appreciate that there is support from the other shops in the community. The café and restaurant community really supports each other.”

She believes in sweet celebrations for every occasion

When you mix southern hospitality with yummy family recipes, and sprinkle in a relentless creative passion for perfection, you will find yourself in the city-center of Escondido at Cute Cakes. Cute Cakes CEO and Cake Artist Jill Reilly has been making designer cakes in Escondido for over 10 years and her bakery and café has quickly become a staple in the community. 

Owner Jill Reilly in Cute Cakes

Cute Cakes is all about celebrations and Reilly makes cakes and sweets for every celebration, from birthdays to weddings, to gigantic anniversary cakes for businesses like Sycuan Casino that have to feed 10,000 people.

What started as a custom bakery has now become an award-winning cake shop, café, and party and decorating studio.Reilly has been awarded the Best Of honor by the wedding style website, the KNOT for the past 10 years and has been in its prestigious Hall of Fame for five years. She has also won the Couples Choice Award on Wedding Wire every year since she began making cakes 11 years ago. In 2017 Reilly was featured on the television show Cake Wars when it premiered with the “Captain America” episode.

Outside photo of Cute Cakes 

The café serves breakfast and lunch daily with a special brunch menu on the weekends. As a self-proclaimed “coffeeholic” Reilly also offers a wide variety of coffee flavors that compliment both the sweet and savory items on the menu. Locals have become regulars here because the café is filled with southern charm.  Stepping inside the cozy café, guests can choose to sit at tables, on warm, inviting couches or comfy chairs. Games are set up all around, as well as a complimentary library stocked with books for every interest. Others may choose to set up their computer by the fireplace and get some work done while they eat a sweet treat.

Also available on site is a spacious party studio that hosts cookie and cake decorating parties, cake decorating workshops, and private events.

What sets Reilly’s menu apart is her passion for baking, her creative talents, and her homemade southern-inspired family recipes. “The recipes themselves are Southern inspired. Most of the recipes are family recipes,” she said.

This includes the carrot cake, chocolate cake, sweet southern pound cake, the Virginia apple walnut cake, and the Deep-South chocolate cake. Menus include favorites such as the Apple Fritter Monte Cristo, the Johnny Tsunami Wrap, and the Ham Pear Gorgonzola Panini. Of course, southern sweet tea is also a drink option on the menu.

While food and sweets can be ordered on a grab-and-go menu, it’s the designer cakes that gave Cute Cakes its name.

Local patrons enjoying breakfast together at Cute Cakes

Reilly, who loves to decorate, said one of her favorite things to create is making cakes that look like other foods such as pizza or a hamburger. “Tricking the eye to make it look like something else is fun.”

When asked if the unique cake designs created on popular television cake shows has challenged her, Reilly said she’s up for any design request. “I have some of the most fabulous decorators and we can do any design.”

Reilly thinks these shows have highlighted the wonderful art of cake decorating. She enjoys the challenge of creating new designs and cakes she’s never made before. She said one of the most recent challenges is the trend for upside down cakes. She explained cake decorators are like sculptors; they have to think about things like structural support and how to carve their designs into reality.

Reilly  - who believes women owned businesses are successful because women are natural multi-taskers and they bring compassion to their work that helps build relationships and passion into their products  - is grateful to be a business owner in Escondido. She is so invested in the area’s growth that she bought the property where Cute Cakes is located. Her hope is that Cute Cakes, like the other shops and restaurants on Grand, will help keep this special community thriving.

Pouring community in every drop

An invitation to a tea party became the inspiration for bringing a proper tea room to Escondido. The Grand Tea Room owner and operator Louisa Magoon came into the tea business after a successful career in corporate food services. As the Director of Risk Management and Human Resources for Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, she oversaw its daily operations throughout the United States. But on the side, she found herself hosting tea parties after attending one.

Owner Louisa Magoon at The Grand Tea Room

When there was a major shift at her company that left her looking for a new job, her husband encouraged her to try something new and open her own tea room and gift shop. Living in Escondido, she knew it was the perfect place for such a shop. They searched Grand Avenue and found a vacant spot that needed some work. They signed a lease in February 2011 and by August, The Grand Tea Room became a downtown staple that Magoon now runs with her daughter Leola. 

The Grand Tea Room offers guests a grand experience in downtown Escondido. Walking into the space, tables adorned with fresh roses, and set  with gold-lined tea cups and saucers painted in blue, red, yellow, and pink roses atop richly colored burgundy tablecloths and lace covers, guests will feel like they have been transported to a British cottage. Crystal chandeliers, artworks, and china cabinets filled with yet more delicate plates and tea settings surround the room.

Outside patio area of The Grand Tea Room fit with outdoor seating

With over 45 teas available, the most popular among them are the Crème Brûlée Caramel and the Buccaneer Black tea which is a blend of coconut and chocolate. The Grand Tea Room is a full-service tea room and gift shop. What makes The Grand Tea Room unique is that there is a full service kitchen on site so all the food served is made fresh daily and changes seasonally. These tasty bite-sized delights include fresh salads and soups including their signature soup – tomato; fruit and plain scones; miniature shepherd’s pies and quiches; smartly cut cream cheese and cucumber, egg salad, and chicken sandwiches; and various desserts including lemon bars, cupcakes, chocolate cake, and ones to be eaten with a spoon such as chocolate mousse. Teas are served in floral teapots and are tagged with names to help guests remember which tea they have chosen and the food is creatively displayed in a sweet/savory order on tiered serving dishes.

Enjoying a tea is a grand event and guests come to The Grand Tea Room dressed at the ready. Most are adorned in their Sunday best dresses or pantsuits and fine jewelry; while others go all out donning hats, British-styled fascinators, and gloves (that can also be found in the gift shop).

The gift shop at the Grand Tea Room

A high tea is a two-hour experience and Magoon recommends guests call ahead to reserve a time but walk-ins are welcome when there is space. Magoon offers three tea times daily at 11:00 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.

The Grand Tea Room happily hosts specialty parties such as bridal showers, baby showers, birthday parties, and children’s celebrations. Parties can be scheduled during business hours or as private events.

Even within her own business, Magoon supports women-run endeavors. In fact, it was a bridal shower that brought dinner theatre to The Grand Tea Room. Two guests who happened to be theatre performers became regulars at The Grand Tea Room and one day the women pitched the idea of creating a show for guests. Magoon was open to the idea and now twice a year, guests can enjoy a fully produced play while sitting down to tea in the evening. Shows are typically British-inspired plays or murder mysteries including Shakespeare’s works, plays by Oscar Wilde, and works by Jane Austen. With help from 413 Project Theater Co., the curtain will rise on a new production in February 2020.

While Magoon considers herself the management side of the business, she credits her daughter for being a true partner in the business. “We’re good at different things. My daughter is very creative; I come up with ideas, she runs with it.” 

One of her daughter's ideas was a Downton Abbey themed party that became a hit as the television show was in its height of viewership. Leola also runs the kitchen and they both oversee the serving along with a four-person serving staff.

As a business owner, Magoon knows the importance of embracing other businesses in the Escondido area. That’s why as a member of the Board of Directors for the Escondido Downtown Business Association, she helps get the word out on upcoming events and meetings in newsletters and alerts to the community. Her gratitude for the support she received when opening her tea room is displayed in her willingness to give back.

The elegant interior of The Grand Tea Room 

Although the idea of a tea room in Escondido may have sounded crazy eight years ago when she started, Magoon has found that the city has embraced its charm whole-heartedly. “Even the naysayers have come on board,” she said. “Not too long ago at a city event someone said, ‘I’m so amazed this is working.’” 

Not only is it working, Magoon sees guests coming from all over, including Temecula, Rancho Santa Fe, Carlsbad and even Hemet to enjoy tea. She knows that its success lies in the reality that people enjoy moments when they can sit down, have wonderful conversations with friends, and feel special.

Thriving and bringing community together

All three women agree Escondido is a wonderful place to run a business and they feel that both the community and city leaders are instrumental in supporting their businesses. Not only do they work to build their own businesses, they also work with community leaders to continue to grow the area. As Jill Reilly said, “As a property owner, it’s important to me that Grand does well. I’ll do whatever I can to be part of it.”

Subscribe to "Escondido Business Insight" for more stories like this delivered monthly to your inbox.