Sweet success: How a QU student started an online bakery business


Jack Spiegel

Photo by

David Matos, Arts & Life Editor

From skateboarding to rock climbing, everyone has their own niche or hobby. However, not everyone can make a business out of it. Quinnipiac University student Merve Sariyildiz turned her passion for baking into a successful online store called Strawberries by Merve.

In July 2020, at the height of COVID-19, Sariyildiz, a current sophomore interdisciplinary studies major, decided to pick up baking to pass the time, and it quickly became one of her favorite activities. But she began to want to try something a bit different. After swiping through her Instagram feed, she found what would soon become her biggest career move yet.

“I was scrolling through Instagram Reels and then I came across chocolate-covered sweets,” Sariyildiz said. “And then I saw how people made designs with them and put edible letters on it to make it very customized and personal. So I was like why not make a business out of it?”

After experiencing her eureka moment, she asked her parents if she could start her own business of making chocolate-covered sweets. At first, she was met with pushback as they wanted her time to be spent focusing on school rather than a business venture. After months her parents finally caved. In January 2021, Sariyildiz opened her very own online shop, Strawberries by Merve, specializing in chocolate-covered treats.

Her business offers a variety of chocolate-dipped delectables including strawberries, Oreos, pretzels and cake pops, and delivers her items locally. She recently ventured out into making cupcakes of different varieties.

One of the essential components of starting your own business is advertising your products. With this in mind, Sariyildiz took to Instagram to promote her chocolate-covered treats. To start, she would place her sweet products, usually following specific themes like Valentine’s Day or Bad Bunny, in a blue box, photographing her creations for the world to see. She then posted step-by-step tutorials bringing her chocolate-covered sweets to life on Instagram and TikTok.

“People started reposting and I did a few (Instagram) giveaways and those giveaways led to more people figuring my business out and they kept ordering,” Sariyildiz said

According to a 2021 World Bank survey, women-owned businesses responded to challenges caused by the pandemic with “resilience and innovation,” and in comparison to men-led small and microbusinesses, women-led small businesses “were much more likely to increase the use of digital platforms.”

Merve Sariyildiz, a sophomore QU student, started her own online baking business selling chocolate-dipped treats like strawberries, Oreos, cake pops and pretzels in January 2021. Photo contributed by Merve Sariyildiz

Sariyildiz said she didn’t expect to get more than two orders a month when she first started her business. However, after the positive feedback she received online, she wanted to keep growing Strawberries by Merve.

“It kind of motivated me to keep going,” Sariyildiz said. “In the beginning, I was a little hesitant. It was also considered my first job. And so after I started it off, I was like, ‘You know, this is kind of motivating to have customers keep coming and everyone kept complimenting my stuff.’ And it just felt good and I was like, ‘why not continue doing this?’”

For Sariyildiz, not everything was sunshine and roses. She said the most challenging part of her business thus far has been promoting it after a successful holiday season. Nevertheless, she has remedied this by creating impressive designs for her products and connecting with customers even after the holidays.

“Usually, around Valentine’s and Mother’s Day it slowed down a lot,” Sariyildiz said. “So I thought about different products or different designs to do so that it could catch people’s eyes.”

Sariyildiz said after nearly two years in business, she has received only positive feedback.

“Everyone loves every single item I made,” Sariyildiz said. “I always make sure they tell me the truth. And another way I figured out is if they rebuy from me again, and that kind of guaranteed me that they actually like my product.”

Her devotion to her craft has led her to sell her baked goods at events hosted by Quinnipiac organizations like the Latino Cultural Society, Women Empowered and the International Student Alliance, spreading her love and talent for creating chocolate-covered sweets to students.

Christine Lupo, a junior 3+1 marketing and business analytics double major, said she learned of Sariyildiz’s business through her boyfriend. After doing some digging herself on the Strawberries by Merve Instagram account, she liked how her work was presented.

Sariyildiz’s impressive display pushed Lupo to want to buy chocolate-covered strawberries for her boyfriend, but he’s lactose intolerant. However, Sariyildiz accommodated his needs by making vegan chocolate-dipped strawberries.

“He really loved it,” Lupo said. “You know, he can’t have a lot of sweets and all, so it’s really hard on him to really find junk food that he can actually eat. So he loved it and she makes the presentation of it look so good and it also equally tastes really good too. So I totally love her business and I would definitely purchase from her again.”

Sariyildiz is optimistic about her business’s future as she hopes to one day open a cafe or bakery featuring her best-selling items — her chocolate-covered treats.

“I would want it to be like a side hustle (in addition to) being a teacher as well, like on the weekends or like during holidays and stuff,” Sariyildiz said. “That would be like a good side hustle to focus on and to have like my name out there.”

She said her best advice for anyone that wants to start their own business or side hustle is to have courage and do whatever you put your mind to.

“Honestly, do what you want to do,” Sariyildiz said. “If some people tell you it won’t be a good idea, you won’t get enough customers or whatever it is — if you put your mind to it, you will eventually come to the goal that you want to reach. It’s just you have to be confident in yourself before you end up selling a product or even the thought of selling the product.”