Bakery Owner Jillian Hopke '02 Appears on The Food Network

Jillian Hopke holds cupcake

Jillian Hopke, RWU Class of 2002

Major:  Marketing

From dancing at Walt Disney World, to showing off her baking skills on television’s Food Network, Roger Williams alumna and baker Jillian Hopke lives every day full of excitement and, of course, sugar! Since graduating from the Gabelli School of Business in 2002, thousands have fallen in love with Jillian’s tasty and unique baked goods, leading to business venture, “Jillycakes,” a bakery owned and operated by Jillian herself.  

“When I was working as a performer at Disney World in 2007, I just started bringing in baked goods, all sorts of cupcakes, and cakes for managers celebrating anniversaries, and everyone told me, ‘These are really good! You should sell these’!” Jillycakes initially started as a home baking business while Jillian was still working full-time at Disney World. “It was like my own little built-in focus group.”

Jillian Hopke, '02, second from left, pictured at Walt Disney World
Jillian Hopke, '02, second from left, pictured at Walt Disney World

In the entertainment industry, they often say “it really is a small world after all,” and this sentiment rang true for Jillian’s next adventure. Someone, somewhere along the way, was impressed enough by Jillian’s baking to make some phone calls, because her beloved treats eventually landed her a role as a contestant on the Food Network’s hit show Cupcake Wars

“I still have no idea how they got my contact information. I was about to step out for a parade, and my phone rang, and I said to the parade managers, ‘It’s the Food Network, I need to take this call,’ and they were like, ‘It’s okay!’ and they sent out my unit with the contingency dancers.” 

After Jillian’s initial appearance on Cupcake Wars, the hectic demand got too much for her schedule, and home oven. She knew it was time to expand, so she put away her dancing shoes, and officially made the decision to become a baker full-time. Since then, Jillian has appeared several times on the Food Network, with the most recent appearance being on the newest season of Holiday Wars. “[The initial appearance] started a snowball; once they cast you once, they have a tendency to call the same people back when you already know the ropes!”

Jillian Hopke, '02, right, on this year's season of Food Network's Holiday Wars
Jillian Hopke, '02, right, on this year's season of Food Network's Holiday Wars

When asked about her time at Roger Williams, and how her degree in Marketing from the Gabelli School of Business helped pave the way for her to become a successful business owner, Jillian relayed that it really is all about communication. “Connections with people shape business more than the actual physical product does. A lot of the time, we see people have a really great product, but they don’t have any way to promote it and get it out to people, or maybe the customer service is lacking, so it doesn’t even matter how good the product is, people aren’t going to respond well. You have to bring a personable, human element to the product.”

Jillian credits two former Gabelli School of Business faculty members, Dr. Kathy Micken and Dr. Richard Bernardi, for teaching her how to be a successful business owner. “They taught me that truly caring about the people and the situation is what matters most; to always be thinking about how you are paving the way forward for your customers.”

Jillian Hopke, '02 pictured with Dr. Kathy Micken
Jillian Hopke, '02 pictured with Dr. Kathy Micken
Jillian Hopke, '02 pictured with Dr. Richard Bernardi
Jillian Hopke, '02 pictured with Dr. Richard Bernardi

If ever in the Orlando area, be sure to stop by the brand new Jillycakes location, found at 500 E Central Blvd in Orlando, Florida. In the meantime, Jillian wanted to share a baking tip for all her fellow home bakers out there as we prepare for the holidays: “The number one problem you hear from people is about overbaking. If the recipe says 350 degrees, take your oven, and set it to 325 degrees. It may take a few extra minutes, but 325 degrees will never steer you wrong. You will have a much more even bake.”   

Jillian’s appearances in Holiday Wars aired Sunday nights on the Food Network during the December 2021 holiday season. It can be streamed any time on Discovery+.