For Joann Cilliers, before baking ever became a side-hustle, it was a form of therapy.

Cilliers worked as a health and hospice nurse for 25 years.

She'd always loved to bake things like cakes, brownies and cookies in her free time as a measure of warding off stress brought on by her job. As word got out that she was good at what she did, orders began to roll in from friends and family.

"During the last 30 years I've been doing a lot of catering for things, like my church, for potlucks and gatherings, and that's how I got into it," Cilliers said.

Cilliers, originally from north of the Twin Cities, moved to South Carolina after her youngest daughter graduated from high school. When she and husband André moved back to the area a couple years ago, they found a space on Water Street that will now house their combined retail store, The Neon Orchid Emporium, and bakery, I Just Can't Cake It. 

Family affair

"Things fell into place really quickly," Cilliers said.

André, still works full-time in real estate, so the couple decided to bring on other family members to help run the new business.

"My eldest daughter and her husband and my grandson moved here from Maine, she's partners with me in the retail store," Cilliers said. 

Eventually, Cilliers hopes to work with her son-in-law, who also works in real estate at the moment, to convert part of the retail store to a restaurant and bar.

Historic space

Housed in a former bank building and general store in Jordan, the interior of the Neon Orchid Emporium has been renovated while maintaining some of the original structural elements including original wood floors and brick detail on the archways connecting the two sides of the shop.

"It's a great little space in a town that has that historic element that just kind of spoke to all of us," Cilliers said.

On the bakery side of things, Cilliers will do the majority of baking operations for I Just Can't Cake It, with some help from her grandson.

In terms of specialty designs, Cilliers is a self-taught cake decorator who's able to craft sculpted desserts in the shape of Godzilla, for example, though she plans on sticking with the basics while they get up and running.

In addition to cakes the bakery will offer a rotating variety of goods including pastries, cupcakes and cookies, displayed in a case that will tantalize visitors as soon as they walk in the store.

The retail store will feature a combination of what Cilliers describes as vintage items, including home décor, glassware, candles, jewelry and a line of ReDesign decals to upcycle furniture.

One of the most important values to Cilliers when deciding what to stock the shop with was a focus on sustainability and supporting small.

"We're trying to stay with producers that are small, individual-owned, not mass-produced items you can buy 10,000 of from Amazon," Cilliers said. "We'll have a lot of things that are handcrafted, or small-batch, and come in a little bit more earth-friendly packaging."

She's also always on the lookout for women-owned businesses whose items she can stock in the shop.

New beginning

The Neon Orchid Emporium and I Just Can't Cake It Bakery just celebrated a soft opening Thursday, June 10. 

For now, they'll be open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. depending on how busy it is.

Although the pandemic created a challenge for many small business owners, Cilliers said it was just the push she needed to embark on a brand-new venture.

"The pandemic is kind of what precipitated us completely upending the life we had," Cilliers said. "We left a much larger home to live in a tiny apartment above an 1870s building. . . I'm very fortunate that my husband is flexible and willing to do things like that."

For Cilliers, Jordan feels like the perfect home for both of her businesses.

"We've had such a warm welcome from everybody here we've met in Jordan so far," Cilliers added.

I Just Can't Cake It Bakery and the Neon Orchid Emporium are located inside the same building at 214 Water Street in Jordan. 

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