Getting to Know... Hollis Wilder

Hollis Wilder is an entrepreneur who turned her culinary talents into a flavorful career • From the February edition of Jacksonville Magazine

by Kerry Speckman  //  photo by Agnes Lopez

Anyone who watched the first season of Cupcake Wars on the Food Network must have thought contestant Hollis Wilder was nuts when she presented a salmon-lemon cupcake with cream cheese frosting to the judges. But, her risky recipe paid off, and she won the competition. Since 2010, she’s been invited back—becoming the show’s first two-time winner—and will be appearing in a fan-favorite episode later this year. How’s that for just desserts?

Currently, Wilder owns and operates two SweetByHolly cupcake and frozen yogurt shops: the original in Orlando, and one in Jacksonville at the St. Johns Towns Center. She also makes dozens of TV appearances and will release her first cookbook, Savory Bites: Meals You Can Make in Your Cupcake Pan, on Mother’s Day. Here are some other tidbits about Wilder you won’t read in any of her recipes:

• Wilder grew up in Michigan, but she wanted to be an actress so she moved to Los Angeles after college. She stumbled into the catering business after working in retail and as a photographer’s assistant, waitress and nanny.
• On her cross-country drive to the West Coast, she stopped in Taos, New Mexico, where she met a guy and wound up living with him in a teepee before making it to L.A.
• Her big break came when a friend asked her to cater a dinner party. She didn’t know until she arrived that the event was at the home of Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver in attendance.
• She describes herself as “loud, bawdy and outspoken.”
• Once her business was established, she catered on-set meals for hit shows including Seinfeld and Will & Grace.
• After the birth of her children, she and her husband wanted to get out of the rat race. They chose to settle in Winter Park, a small city just outside of Orlando, for its slower pace and potential for growth. She splits her time between her home and Jacksonville.
• She used to work 18 hours a day, seven days a week. The turning point, she says, was her daughter asking which was more important: cupcakes or her family.
• Her personal philosophy: “I never ask permission, and I never make excuses for my ambition.”