Extra Credit: Denfeld Students Run Awesome Businesses – Duluth News Tribune

Duluth — Maria Oppelt’s business has already taken a turn and is set to expand this summer.

Denfeld’s sophomore year begins

north shore sugar

She got a job in the bakery industry at the age of 13. Initially, she sold cakes and cupcakes, but then she transitioned to selling custom prepackaged cotton candy.

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Oppert said he has kept his business relatively small so far, but plans to open a store in the future.

bailey build

Attend Marketplace and other Twinport gatherings this summer. Her company currently has no employees, but sometimes her friends volunteer to help with events.

The up-and-coming entrepreneur answered several questions for the News Tribune about things like how he balances his business, academics and other obligations. Her answer has been lightly edited for clarity.

A high school girl making cotton candy with a cotton candy machine.

Maria Operto, 16, prepares cotton candy for customers at the North Shore Sugar booth.

Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Q: Why did you start the bakery business? What attracted you to that field?

answer: I have always loved not only eating, but also baking and cooking. I also saw the lack of creative and fun bakeries in Duluth and the surrounding area and knew I could make them. Baking cakes has always been a natural thing for me and a great way to express my creativity.

Q: What made you switch from cakes and cupcakes to cotton candy?

answer: A few months after purchasing this machine, I switched from baked goods to cotton candy. At that point, I had only done a few events for some friends and family, but the look on people’s faces, especially the children, made me realize there was no going back. I love making big cotton candy and seeing the eyes light up when I hand it over. I’ve always loved interacting with the people who make what I make, and it’s allowed me to do more than ever before.

A girl handing cotton candy to a young boy at a candy booth.

Ordering cotton candy prepared by Maria Oppert, 16, at the Oppert North Shore Sugar booth during the Spring Into Mother’s Day event in Bailey Bills, Duluth, Saturday, May 13. Benny Siegle, 4, from Duluth, eagerly receives the

Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Q: How do you balance social, academic, extracurricular activities and business obligations?

answer: The great thing about working by yourself is that you can set your own schedule and prioritize as the seasons change. I have had to say no at times, but this business fits surprisingly well with my school breaks and free weekends. My friends have been really supportive of me in this business venture and have even helped out at some big events. I am so grateful for my group of friends who are understanding and supportive when I have to work.

People at a candy booth during a business event.

Maria Oppert, 16, center, talks to customers while preparing cotton candy. Her brother Tomas Oppert, 12, second from right, and Maria’s friend Annika Jovik (right) helped out at the booth.

Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Q: Did North Shore Sugar make a profit? If so, what did it take to score that point? If not, when do you expect it to?

answer: Especially profitable with the new business model. This business was a great opportunity to grow my experience and work for myself when people my age were working for others. It took just a few events to turn a profit in the cotton candy business, but there was still a lot of work to do to get there. I took a risk buying a cotton candy machine because I was afraid it wouldn’t pay for itself, but I am so grateful I made the purchase and hope it will serve me well for years to come. If you’re interested in a particular industry, I recommend starting a business, especially while you’re a teenager. Done right, a business can be a great alternative to a job.

Q: Do you have any plans to change or expand your business? If so, what are your thoughts? What do you think?

answer: In the future, I would like to further develop the current business model and make cotton candy with a unique taste that cannot be obtained anywhere else. I would like to add a new package with my own package to include events that I am unable to attend. We also plan to purchase a second cotton candy machine and install it at a large event. I don’t think I’ll be moving away from cotton candy any time soon. Because we already have a wide range of flavors to choose from, and packages to cater for events and parties of all sizes.

Customers are waiting at the booth while the girls are making cotton candy.

Customers wait as Maria Oppert (center) prepares cotton candy at her booth.

Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Q: What are you most proud of about your business? What was the hardest thing about starting or running it?

answer: I am proud of where my business has come so far and where it stands today. It really started with a dream I had as a child and has evolved into more than I ever imagined. I am very proud of the people I have been able to give happiness to and I am grateful to those who have given me the chance to employ teenagers. One of the hardest things I’ve had to overcome in this business is the stress associated with running it, mostly scheduling and coordinating it.

Girl talking to customers at a sweets booth during a business event.

Maria Oppert (16 years old, left) smiles while conversing with a customer.

Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Q: Do you think North Shore Sugar will be the beginning of your business career?

answer: I have learned a lot from owning a business that will help me in whatever I do in the future. I learned many lessons about time management, networking, budgeting, and marketing presence.

Girl making cotton candy in cotton candy machine.

Maria Oppert prepares cotton candy at the North Shore Sugar booth.

Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Customers waiting at a candy booth at a business event.

Customers wait while Maria Oppert, 16, prepares cotton candy.

Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Girl making cotton candy in cotton candy machine.

Maria Operto prepares an order for cotton candy.

Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Girl making cotton candy in a cotton candy machine

A view through the plastic cover of a cotton candy machine as Maria Oppert prepares an order.

Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Girl smiling while posing near candy counter.

Maria Oppert, 16, poses next to the North Shore Sugar booth.

Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

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