Patrice Farooq, Founder & CEO of the Cupcake Kitchen Houston

Patricia Farooq, the owner of Cupcake Kitchen in Third Ward, is just one of many Black teachers who successfully transitioned out of the education sector and into entrepreneurship.

Fifteen years ago, the former Houston Independent School District math and science teacher pivoted into a career in culinary arts as a way to increase her revenue stream. Now, she not only operates a successful bakery, but she also expanded the business by serving savory seafood and soul food dishes.

She plans to open a second location of Cupcake Kitchen off of SH-288 toward Pearland in the Fall.

Farooq spoke with the Defender about her time as an educator and her vision for the next phase of her journey as an entrepreneur.

Defender: When you started as a teacher, what motivated you to stay in the industry for as long as you did?

Farooq: I taught for about 15 years before I left to go into cooking full time. My mother was already in the education field when I decided to go in. My sister was also in education. I taught for the entire time in education, but my goal was to come out of the classroom and take on some form of leadership if I stayed in education. When that didn’t happen, that’s when I decided to leave.

Defender: As a Black educator, were there specific challenges that outweighed the positive experiences?

Farooq: There were a lot of challenges. I worked in primarily low socioeconomic areas. I taught fourth and fifth-grade math, and students were fallen behind in those areas. That motivated me more because the learning gaps were huge, and I wanted to close them and provide a high level of education to children who wouldn’t receive it outside of school. These kids are heavily reliant on the educational system.

Defender: What did you learn as an educator to help you pivot into your business?

Farooq: Learning data. I was good at creating plans and building on the strengths and talents of the students. I contribute much of the data-driven education piece to what I do now. What I do now depend heavily on marketing to help learn about the consumer and their expectations.

Defender: Cooking is not as easy as it sounds. What interested you in culinary arts? Are you self-taught?

Farooq: I’m self-taught. When I was a teacher, I used to have a lot of gatherings at my house like birthday parties, social gatherings, Super Bowl, and things like that. At the time, social media wasn’t as big as it is now, so I had the Food Network or a recipes book, and I had friends come over, and I would always cook things outside the box. My mother also had a restaurant while she was in education. I had that as my foundation to help me understand the business. I always wanted to do something outside of teaching that would bring me income for cooking and selling food. My schedule was a lot. I would wake up preparing people’s catering orders, go to work, and then come back home to finish. So, as it became more popular, it took a lot of my time. Baking wasn’t time-consuming, and I was able to be more creative. I felt that this could take me out of the classroom. I knew I didn’t want to retire as a teacher. I wanted to work for myself.

Defender: When you finally left the education field, what thoughts went through your mind?

Farooq: 2014 is when the storefront opened. It was 300 square feet, and all I did was desserts. [Fall] of 2014, I was ready to go. My mom advised me to teach a little longer because I had health insurance and other benefits. But as the months went by, things got busier to the point where there was no time to do anything outside of work, and I knew I wasn’t giving my all to my students. It wasn’t fair to them or me.

Defender: Why was opening Cupcake Kitchen in Third Ward vital to you?

Farooq: My family is from the Third Ward. My parents were raised here. Both of them went to Jake Yates, and I also went there. Having a lot of history in that community had a lot to do with me wanting to open my business in Third Ward.

Defender: The COVID-19 pandemic was a hard time for many small businesses. How were you able to stay afloat in 2020?

Farooq: We were able to stay afloat. Our company was already online. A lot of businesses didn’t make it because of that. When COVID started, people couldn’t dine in. COVID impacted us more afterward because people changed their spending habits regarding food. During the lockdown, people were at home every day ordering food online. 

Defender: Did you expand Cupcake Kitchen and CCK Seafood and Soul food?

Farooq: I started Cupcake Kitchen first. Then we moved to our third [unit], where we are now. It was a larger unit, and I had more space, and the rent was higher, so I had to incorporate some other revenue source besides desserts. Initially, we started with food and served that in the evening time. It was called ‘Munchies After Dark.” After a while, there was demand from people who wanted to buy food during lunch. Eventually, we switched over to doing food every day. In 2019, we had to expand because the kitchen was too small, so we leased the unit next door. Currently, we are building out our second location.

Defender: What had this journey taught you about yourself and your purpose?

Farooq: I knew this was already in me, but now it’s coming to the surface. The restaurant business is already challenging for women, especially Black women. I learned how to pull myself together and figure it out. You are met with many challenges, so it’s easy to fold. I’ve done so much to scale the business that is still growing successfully. I’ve accomplished a lot and will still have more to do.

Defender: What do you have to say to educators who are looking to make pivot into another career field?

Farooq: Make sure you have a plan. Stay positive. Research and learn about the business. Don’t take criticism personally. 

Laura Onyeneho

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...