Unadilla native Paula Youngs-Fitch is making something sweet from her lifelong passion.
Youngs-Fitch, 50, said, while the business became official during and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been in the kitchen for decades.
“My first job was at the Unadilla Diner, at the bakery, when I was 18 years old,” she said. “The bakery lady at the time left unexpectedly and I took on that position and taught myself and used what she’d taught me along the way. So, I’ve had this passion for a really long time, but it really started growing up in the kitchen of my grandmother. She baked everything, so that led me to that first job, and I’ve been baking ever since.
“But (the business) really started to go full force last year, in April,” Youngs-Fitch, a longtime employee of ACCO Brands in Sidney, continued. “I went on furlough, and that really scared me; I was unemployed for the first time in 25 years, so I decided to take my passion and position myself where, if something were to happen, I would have my baking. It’s funny, it kind of exploded. Literally, every night, I’m baking; I leave my office at 5 and, at 5:30, my ovens are on and I bake until 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning every night, seven days a week.”
Youngs-Fitch said her business, Tootie and Bugs, offers “pretty much anything that’s a baked good.”
“It’s specialty cakes — I do a lot of wedding cakes and catering dessert tables — cupcakes, cannolis, cream puffs, cookies, confections. It’s pretty much anything you’d walk into a bakery and see,” she said. “(Most popular) would probably be my cakes and cupcakes and now the cookies, with the most popular flavors chocolate and peanut butter, and my DIY cookie (kits). And I try to make it where there’s not a minimum, so if someone wants cookies for their kids or just wants to try the cannolis, I accommodate all orders.”
Youngs-Fitch said she offers local delivery whenever possible, often in costume, depending on the holiday.
She said customers near and far are sweet on her sweets.
“I go anywhere,” she said. “I drove out to Pennsylvania and took all my supplies with me and made cupcakes and a wedding cake, so it was like a bake-and-go bakery. I have cakes ordered here that travel to New York City, which is cool, and I have people picking up orders. It’s cool being a home bakery, because I can personalize every order that comes through the door.
“(The clientele) is all over the board,” Youngs-Fitch continued. “Everybody loves fresh-baked goods; there’s no age to loving baked goods, so the demographic is really all over — anybody and everybody. And I do gluten-free and sugar-free cakes and I really put a lot of time into my research. We try to accommodate anyone.”
That support, Youngs-Fitch said, is reciprocal.
“I was born and raised here and I’m living in a house right across from the house I grew up in,” she said. “I have local roots here with the community and local business owners. This is my dream and, without my community, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Gavin’s in Sidney and the Sidney Federal Credit Union have been great supporters — I just did 200 gingerbread cookies for them — so it’s not just individuals and consumers, but businesses as well. And I always follow up with every single customer to see how their experience was. I know what I’m doing right, but it’s important to know their point of view and their ordering experience. My business card says, ‘Tootie and Bugs: Your neighborhood bakery’ and that’s what I want to be known for.”
Youngs-Fitch said she plans to build on that momentum.
“Hopefully there’s a storefront coming soon,” she said, noting that such a site would “absolutely” remain local. “With my home bakery license, there are certain restrictions, so I’m hoping they’ll be lifted as soon as I have a (storefront). We have some things in the works … for a brick-and-mortar, hopefully in 2022. This is my passion and it’s not just about making money. When I see a little child’s whole face light up at something that I’m delivering … or a bride comes out and sees this beautiful cake, that is literally the topping on the cake. That’s why I do it.”
For more information or to place an order, find “Tootie and Bugs” on Facebook, follow @tootandbugs on Instagram, call 607-643-3460 or stop by 835 county Highway 2 in Unadilla.