“Life Is What You Bake It,” with Margo Engberg
Margo Jarvies Engberg '89 is the founder and CEO of PinkaBella Cupcakes and PB Franchising. After 20 years of running a successful housecleaning business, she started baking cupcakes for children who had never had a birthday party. This grew into stores, franchises, and catering for large companies. PinkaBella also donates a portion of profits and all store tips to various charitable organizations, including programs that care for abandoned children. Margo has donated more than half a million cupcakes to local charities. Margo is the mother of five beautiful adopted children and the wife of Doug Engberg, who dedicates his life to helping kids in need. She was selected as SPU's Alumna of the Year in 2013.
Amanda Stubbert: Let’s start with your own story. I know your business grew out of your own family’s experience, so can we just start with that?
Margo Engberg: Sure. So my husband and I were both really involved in organizations that raised money for kids. From adoption to orphaned children, to now moms and homeless children. So we’ve always been really passionate about that. When we were first married, I think it was a year into our marriage, we had a little knock at our door and it was a former Young Life girl that I had mentored over the years when she was in high school. Lost touch with her. But she showed up at my door because she wanted to introduce me to her new little baby girl. And when she dropped her off that night … and when I say dropped her off, I mean that literally. She brought her to meet us but said she wanted to go run some errands and really, essentially she never came back. She didn’t just abandon her. She worked through a process of coming to the conclusion that she couldn’t care for that baby.
That night, my husband kind of made a funny joke. We were having our Christmas party the next day and he’s like, “Is that thing spending the night because we’re having our big party tomorrow?” And I’m like, “Yes. Yes, she is.” So it was literally one day into having Jasmine, our first, that my husband and I both became keenly aware of the children in need around us. We were already passionately involved in organizations that serve the underserved. So we knew the impact and we instantly loved this little girl. We had a lot of people tell us, “Oh, you guys are crazy. You’re going to lose her. You’re enabling the mother.” And we just really believed that we were to love her with reckless abandon. Like Jesus loves us. So we loved her as if it didn’t matter if we lost her. And I always cry when I tell this story, even though I’ve been telling it …
Amanda: It’s a tear-worthy story.
Margo: Yes. I’ve been telling this story for, well, 17 years now. She really was our motivation that there were children all around us. We didn’t have to look far to find kids that needed a family or to belong. That actually prompted our next adoption of a baby. I had always wanted to adopt a baby from Guatemala, and I don’t really know where that was birthed except my best friend had done a mission trip there and told me that there were literally babies in the dump. So I thought someday I might go to Guatemala and get a baby, but I had never been there, I didn’t know anything about it. But I convinced my husband that we didn’t want Jazzy, our first, to be an only child and he agreed. We were older parents. I was 37 when I got married, almost 39 when I got Jazzy. My husband was pushing 50. So we were like, “Gosh, we don’t want to have this only child and have her be all alone.”
“We didn’t have to look far to find kids that needed a family or to belong. That actually prompted our next adoption of a baby.”
So we went to Guatemala after starting the process to adopt a baby, Mia. She was just a couple of days old when we got there. So we got to meet her right away. But when we were there on the visit, we were on an elevator with our facilitator who brings the baby to you. Picks her up and does all the in-between paperwork. She had two older children on the elevator with her. They asked her something in Spanish, and we said, “What did they say?” And she said, “Oh, they asked if you were adopting them.” And apparently they were going to meet another family. So my husband just said, “Yes.” And I looked at him, I’m probably white as a ghost. And I’m like, “Did you say that out loud? Because I’m pretty sure they know yes in English.” And they did. They knew yes. However, they were going to meet another family.
So later that night, our facilitator checked in on the baby, asked did we need anything, how was the baby doing? And we asked her, “How did it go with the big kids today?” And she said that the family didn’t want them. Again, our hearts …
Amanda: How old were they at the time?
Margo: They were 7 and 9.
Amanda: So old enough to know what was going on.
Margo: Yes. And we were crushed to hear that. And again, she’s like, “Well, they’re used to it. They’re used to hearing no.” And we’re like, “No child should be told they don’t belong to a home or a family.” So with reckless abandon, we said, “We’ll take them.” We didn’t know where we were going to come up with the money. We had no clue. We had no money to do this. We had spent, just a little backstory, over $100,000 fighting for Jazzy, the one whose mother dropped her off. Because the birth father, from prison, a level-three sex offender, had the right to fight for her.
So that ended up taking up every dime we had to fight for her. But because we had to get a loan to do that, we ended up having enough money to adopt one baby, which was Mia. So we told the facilitator, “Gosh, we’d love to figure this out, but we have no money.” I think in our minds we’re thinking she would just give them to us, we wouldn’t have to pay anything. But she said, “Oh, no problem. We’ll do a two-for-one. Like they were donuts or something. And we said, “Well, we don’t even have enough money to do one.” It was 30 grand.
“No child should be told they don’t belong to a home or a family.”
And so that night we kept the kids with us. They got to stay with us and we prayed. What should we do? Though we knew racking up a credit card debt seemed irresponsible, we didn’t think borrowing against our credit card was irresponsible to take on these kids. Though the questions came up, okay, well if we can’t even afford to do the adoption, how do you put them through college? And how do you give them weddings? And all of the things that we knew would come someday. But we’re like, a home is all they need. They can find their way through college. We both found our way. I worked myself through college, I paid for my own wedding. These kids just need a mom and a dad. They don’t need to worry about college now. And I know parents that are responsible plan for their kids’ college. We didn’t have a plan because to us, at that moment, the most important thing was giving these kids a loving home.
So we put them on our credit card, for real. We put our kids on a credit card. We got home, got them settled. We’re dealing with the kids and the English and Spanish language barrier. Blending them with Jasmine who had been King Kong for about four years by herself. And now you’re bringing in a baby and two big kids that have never spoken a lick of English, lots of needs. And so we’re just balancing all of that out.
In the meantime, one beautiful sunny day, I went to the mailbox and there was a check in the mail from the IRS that I had from a former business … been fighting with them for years to figure out that I didn’t owe certain money. And I had a refund in the amount of $52,000, that I never thought I would see. And so we were able to pay off our credit card and get our kids into some programs that they desperately needed because we had this money. It was amazing. It was such a God thing and it was a confirmation. It doesn’t mean it’s been easy for the last 12 years. I mean our kids are really truly amazing. They have very few issues, from other things we’ve heard from other adoptive parents.
But we still have issues. We still have to deal with counseling and we have pasts that we have to deal with. But really, they’re no more broken than any of us. And that’s where you love people, right? You love them where they’re broken, and you don’t love people because they’re perfect. And I really believe these kids deserved a home, and they got a home. I wish we could do that for more kids. But that’s really the story of how our family came to be.
So how PinkaBella came to be was, after we got the kids home, I got my two older kids, then 9 and 11, into public school, second and fourth grade. I found out there were so many kids, even in my kids’ own school in Kirkland, Washington, that couldn’t afford to bring treats on their birthday. And I didn’t come from a very good background, but my mom always made sure I had cupcakes on my birthday. And I just couldn’t imagine these kids not being able to afford treats. So I volunteered to be cupcake mom. I really love to create. I didn’t own PinkaBella at that time, but I loved baking cupcakes and cookies and frosting them. And I was kind of known for my sugar cookies and my frosting, which were my grandma’s sugar cookie and frosting recipe. So I thought, “Well, that’s something I could do.” I was working full time cleaning houses, running a business. But I thought, “Cupcakes are something I can do when I get home, and I can offer those to kids in our kids’ school who can’t afford it.”
“I really believe these kids deserved a home, and they got a home. I wish we could do that for more kids.”
Amanda: But just pause for a sec to say, I love that attitude so much because, how often do we all look around and say the need is so big, so deep, so wide. There’s nothing I can do, I can’t fix it. Of course, we can’t fix everything, but what can we do?
Margo: What can we do?
Amanda: What I can do is bake cupcakes for the kids who don’t have them. So I just, I love that attitude. I wish more of us would do that more often. So, all right. Keep going.
Margo: So that was the, what can we do? And I started bringing cupcakes and the orders were coming in. I’d get emails from teachers like, “Oh, I have a little boy in my class who, tomorrow’s his birthday. His mom doesn’t have anything to give him.” And so I started doing the cupcakes over the top. I mean, not Safeway cupcakes. They were, “Oh, he likes basketball. I’m going to make a basketball. If he likes this, I’m going to do that.” And now those are the most expensive cupcakes in our store, but I wasn’t doing it for profit. I wasn’t doing it as a business, I was just doing it.
But what was born out of that was not a desire to, oh, I should start selling these so I can make money off all of this. It was more like, what if we could do something where we were making a profit and we were selling our products to be able to give back to those organizations that were passionate about that? Whether it’s through a donation of a dozen cupcakes that gets sold at an auction. I mean, don’t underestimate the power of a dozen cupcakes. On multiple occasions, our cupcakes have sold for over $10,000 for one dozen.
Margo: Yes. It’s crazy. So we never underestimated the impact a dozen cupcakes could make. Again, it’s what can I do? A dozen cupcakes seems like, we sell them in our store for $44 but when they’re auctioned off at an auction, I mean that is … it’s nothing for us to give a dozen.
So we thought if we were to open a cupcake store and sold them for profit, that would be monies we could share. But it was 2009, the economy was tanked. And I was running a successful housecleaning business, contributing to our family income. And we had very little money in the bank because at the time my husband was doing consulting work with multiple organizations who had to cut back. So we counted on my income from cleaning. But I also knew that in that down economy, I was going to start losing some accounts. People were going to have to cut back somewhere. So I came to my husband and I said, “Let’s open a cupcake store.” He’s like, “Okay, now I do think you’re crazy. There’s something not right with you.” And I said, “No, I think we can make this work.” I said, “I went to Redmond Town Center.”
I did all this on my own without my husband even knowing I was researching. I said, “I went to Redmond Town Center and they have a ton of openings. And they’re signing 6-month leases to let you try it out.” And he goes, “Those are not selling points. Those are happening because of the economy.” And I’m like-
Amanda: That tells me successful businesses can’t make it happen.
Margo: Right. And so he’s like, “Hon, I just, I don’t know how we can do it.” And I said, “Well, what do we have to lose? If we don’t invest money in a bakery, I can rent.” I had researched renting space to bake by the hour. So whatever I’m baking off, I’ll pay by the hour and bring it over to our store and we’ll sell it and I’ll work all the hours. I’ll bake in the middle of the night. I’ll decorate early in the morning, come home, take the kids to school, then go back and work the store until the kids could come down after school and we could have dinner together. That was our life. And we would bring the kids down and Doug would bring food, and we’d eat at the table so that we were still together.
That didn’t last long because I had gone around to multiple people at the mall and said, “Would you buy our cupcakes? And do you think there’s a need?” And I did the math because I’m not a mathematician at all. I’m also not very much of a businessperson, have zero background in business though all I’ve ever done is run my own businesses. I didn’t know all the details of cashflow and all of that, but I did the math and I needed to sell 84 cupcakes a day to pay the rent.
And I’m like, “Okay, that seems reasonable.” And my husband’s like, “Okay, but you’ve got to pay rent, you have labor, you have lights, and you’ve got to buy all the ingredients.” Right? I’m like, “I know, but 84 cupcakes a day, on a weekend, is no big deal. And then there’s going to be orders.” And so we finally agreed that we didn’t have much to lose because at the store we just put our own touches on it. We painted it. It was an existing store, we painted it, we put up countertops and built our own display, and bought a cheap cash register for 80 bucks at Home Depot or Office Depot. And that was what we were going to do.
And I didn’t realize, I mean obviously, that working 17 hours a day was going to take a toll on me. I’ve never been afraid of hard work. But we got in and on opening day we sold 3,000 cupcakes and we… Oh, I’m sorry. It was 2,000 cupcakes, and we never looked back. Every day was not 2,000 cupcakes, but it was a following. It was people that were like, “Oh my gosh, those were amazing. I need them for this party, that party.” The part of my business that I never envisioned was the bigger picture: the catering, the weddings. I just thought it was one cupcake at a time. And, in a way, it still is because I think of even the donations that come from a dozen cupcakes to an organization. It is one cupcake at a time. It doesn’t have to be the order from Microsoft, which we love, for 500 cupcakes. 5,000 cupcakes was our first big order. And we’re like, “What are we going to do?”
I did hire someone right away, and that was awesome. She was with me all these 10 years. She just retired a month ago, so that’s been a little bit hard to lose somebody that’s been there from the very get-go. But we’re just always growing into ourselves. People ask me on a regular basis, “How did you open your second store?” I’m like, “We grew into that second store.” I didn’t go out and buy more equipment and hire more people. I utilized what I already had to maximize and once we maxed out, then we would make those kinds of decisions.
“5,000 cupcakes was our first big order. And we’re like, ‘What are we going to do?'”
I have four stores now and two franchisees, and still business is hard. It’s still run like a small business. Cashflow is always tight because we have to buy a van or we have to put new tires on the van or our oven broke down or we need to get a new freezer. I mean, that’s ongoing. When you think you got it all figured out, something breaks. And it’s never anything cheap that breaks. So that’s how we started PinkaBella. It’s how we came to be. It really was inspired by my kids.
Amanda: That’s so amazing, just the whole arc of that story. So I know that you give a lot of profits back, and you donate a lot of cupcakes. Is there a specific story that you’re just so proud of, of where that money went or how the cupcakes were part of an organization?
Margo: Well, I mean there is just something so amazing about being at that auction when the paddle goes up to $10,000 for a dozen. And yeah. Okay, Matt Hasselbeck bought them. But you’re still so proud, and even in that moment, though I’ve been to enough auctions and we give enough at auctions to know that when someone’s paying $20,000 for a parking spot, it’s not that the parking spot is worth $20,000. It’s they’re going to give, they’re going to get something little back for it. It’s so amazing to see people give. Whether they’re buying a $10,000 cupcakes, or $400 on the cupcakes, they’re giving back. And to me, that blesses me. But yes, those are proud moments. We just sold our cake at the Union Gospel Mission auction for $13,000, and a Seahawk was holding it on the stage. But it’s still, you just sit back, and you think, “This is what we were born for. This is why we created PinkaBella.”
My husband and I still struggle month to month. It’s not like we have … I think people look at our stores and wow, they’re crazy busy and they’re rolling in the dough. And it isn’t like that at all. We live in a beautiful home, we don’t lack food, but we’re still, it’s humble. It’s what we’ve got and we love to give back. So when we give, a lot of times it is sacrificially and we don’t regret it ever. I’ve never, ever regretted giving one dime or one dozen cupcakes to any organization because I just don’t believe you can out-give God. I truly believe that.
Amanda: Well, from the woman that who came home with three children when she came to get one, I would believe that all day long. I love that story so much. So for those of us who may never be able to love that recklessly to bring home three children in one trip, what can the rest of us do that don’t have a bakery to give away the cupcakes to the auctions? What can we do? What can we do on a daily basis to help be a part of what you do?
Margo: Yeah. It doesn’t have to be big. I learned that early on. When you look at the Gates Foundation and what they’re able to do, and you think, “How is my little dozen cupcakes going to make a difference?” But it does. My whole story is example after example of one dozen cupcakes, what it can do. I think if we all thought to ourselves, what is it that I do on a daily basis? What is one thing that I do today that could make an impact? It could be volunteering at the shelter or turning your clothes over, not just to get them away quick to an organization that’s going to sell them, but thoughtfully thinking through organizations that have women that are battered women or homeless women and children. And saying, “Those guys could use my clothes.”
I think I learned that because it used to just be so easy to drop them off at Value Village. You get your little ticket or at the big trailers that are parked at Fred Meyer. But those, and bless them, they’re making a business out of it. But there are so many organizations that are setting up homes for children and women. My husband works for Acres of Diamonds now and it’s for transitional housing. So every time I get sick of a lamp, I’m like, “I bet somebody over there would think my lamp was amazing.” And so those are the differences we can make. It is making cookies for an auction to be auctioned off. It’s if you have a profession, something that you’re good at, that could service someone else. Saying, “I’m an attorney and I could give 10 hours a month to somebody who needs me and can’t afford me.” I mean, we all have something. We all have a gift. So I guess the first step is find your gift and then figure out how you can share your gift with others. Because when God gives us a gift, he doesn’t give it to us to keep for ourselves. He gives it to us for us to share and to multiply his kingdom. That’s my firm belief.
Amanda: Well, I know I am challenged today to go home and think of what I can do. What I can give in new ways and in better ways. Like you said, maybe there are things you’re already giving, but you can reassess. What is the most impact I can have with that gift? So I just want to say thank you.
Margo: Oh, you’re welcome.
Amanda: Thank you for coming today. Thank you for sharing your story, but thank you for who you are. Thank you for what you do, what you’ve done for your kids, and for just our whole region with your business.
Margo: Thank you. Thank you.