Opportunity arises

In April, Williams was let go. The academy did not have the money to keep paying her and several others.

The layoff came as a shock. So did her unexpected need to apply for unemployment.

As a single-income household — Williams divorced her children's father in 2004 and does not receive child support — Williams needed government assistance to stay afloat.

To make ends meet, she cut movie nights and dining out for her and her children. They spent more time around the dinner table.

"I learned how to live off a quarter of my salary," Williams said. "I realized I didn't need as much as I was buying or getting, even for my children. It made them feel less entitled to privileges. It taught them how to appreciate them."

After the shock wore off, Williams began seeing her situation differently. Her job loss was an opportunity. She decided to follow her calling; to plant her seeds while she was down.

Even before she was fired, Williams began pursuing her baking in a more serious way. In February, not long after her fast-induced, late-night brownie baking, she took part in the Chocolate Affair fundraiser, organized by Baltimore nonprofit Healthcare for the Homeless. She made 800 samples of her brownies for the event.

The next month, Williams baked for a church convention. On a day off from her full-time job, she worked from sun-up until midnight, baking furiously to ready all of the batches she would need.

"When I turned the oven off that night, I stood there and I said, 'I'm tired but, man, if I could just do this all day I would be so happy,'" Williams said.

It wasn't even two weeks later that she lost her job.

Williams threw herself into baking and learning how to start her own company. She took a ServSafe food handler certification class and enrolled in classes at a Baltimore nonprofit, where she learned how to craft a business plan.

"For her, it was a life change. Not just a career change," said Ann Mitchell-Sackey, Williams' instructor at Women Entrepreneurs of Baltimore Inc.

About one-third of the people she mentors in entrepreneurship, Mitchell-Sackey said, are trying to launch food-related businesses. But Williams stood out, she said.

"She never went anywhere without having samples of her product," Mitchell-Sackey said. "She was her business."

Expanding recipe box

Last January, Williams decided to fast again, because she had "been so moved by how God led the business" during the prior year, she said.

"This particular time, on the fourth day again of my water fast — where I can't eat anything — I woke up in the middle of the night and every ingredient I needed to make this strawberry cheesecake cookie that I really, really had been trying to fathom in my head came to me," Williams said.

It was "almost a conversation," she said. Someone was telling her which ingredients she needed to achieve this cookie, she said. She wrote everything down, then headed to the grocery store the next morning to follow the instructions.

Not only did the recipe work, it spawned a whole new branch of cookies. She began drawing up cookie recipes that mimicked gourmet desserts: lemon custard, key lime pie and red velvet cake among them.