Renaissance revival for Stockton’s artists. Many small shops have popped up ready to fill consumer demands with the help of social media trends and entrepreneurs.

It is not uncommon in this city to hear about people who are looking to make money from their hobbies. If one has a skill, it’s not too long before they’re advised to “Use it as a side hustle!”. Not everyone will work their dream job, but that doesn’t stop some Stocktonians from trying.

Local Instagram shops such as, @cakes_byleti and @j.warecandleco have all used their individual platforms to promote themselves and their products.

Jamese Ware is a local nursing assistant and mother, with a knack for gifting. Leticia Paniagua is a college student who has taken her cake handling and decorating skills from a hobby to business. And Najja Haynes, a justice department worker turned skin and hair product CEO, have all taken to filling orders alongside their regular nine to fives.

Jamese Ware is the owner of J. Ware Candle Co. as her side hustle. Ware delivers, ships, and sets up booths with her candles in Stockton. She began J. Ware Candle Co in Dec 2018 and started selling in Feb of 2019. “I didn’t think it would be like this,” she said when asked about her local success.

Jamese mentioned strangers come up to her and compliment her on her work. While she has many avenues for her sales, her coworkers are still asking to buy from her when they see her. Ware’s day to day is filled with tasks from her day job and mom-duties, then candle making. Much of her life has become increasingly more challenging because of the pandemic. She works part time as a nursing assistant and cares for her son while he attends school online.

Ware says candle making is the best business for her because of the stress-free aspects of the job. She relaxes herself while making her products, and she knows the candles will go out into the world to relax others.

“I like candles because they can pull out memories,” she said. “The aroma and mood of them attract people.” Ware dabbles in soap making and acne treatments, but has found candle making takes up the most time, so she sticks with it.

At night, she works on the candles and enjoys the “release” of the process. Ware’s candles are garnished with dried flowers and other natural products. She calls this trademark aesthetic “something extra”. It allows customers to experience her passion for beautiful things.

The initial inspiration for candle making came from the need to make gifts for her family. The drive behind her ultimate decision to start this business can be traced back to her childhood hustle of selling name keychains. “I was artsy-fartsy when I was a kid,” Ware said.

Candle making is lucrative for Jamese, but she said the money is a bonus. The craft itself “makes her feel good in the soul”.

Her time spent online for the business includes checking messages, emails, and orders. Her website allows her to check the analytics. With this feature she can track the traffic on the site. Analytics come in handy to see what customers want, but Ware isn’t too attached to the feature. She found that it affects her creativity. She said that it isn’t the best choice to see what people like, because it can land her in a creative rut. If she knows what customers are attached to, she might never create new inventory.

Stocktonians may have seen Jamese in local media. She and owner were featured in @stockmarketca’s “Pop Up Shop” before the pandemic.

Her advice to fellow Stocktonians entrepreneurs: “Continue doing positive. If it’s not working keep going. Find people or write it, keep yourself motivated and pray. Ask for guidance, and that’s it. It’s easy to fall into a depression. Find release.”

Sales for her candles can be found online on her website ( and through her various social media pages. Jamese is constantly looking for new things to add to her candles. As of today she has two sizes of candles and wax melts.

Najja Haynes creates and sells skin care products. She has an Etsy shop and gains most of her support from out of state. Unlike J. Ware Candle Co., Naturals by Naj LLC doesn’t have much local support in terms of sales. Hopefully, readers will change that.

Haynes wasn’t looking to start a business. She became inspired by a friend who opened a store in the Weberstown Mall. “She guided me into wanting to be an entrepreneur,” she said.

After attending Delta College, Haynes went off to Law School. Now she works in the District Attorney’s office doing data work, and she is continuing her schooling for a Masters of legal studies program.

Najja said, “This is something I want to continue doing despite my very busy schedule.” The business takes a lot of brain power when it comes to promotion and research.

Online, she keeps up with TikTok and other social media trends. Check out her page for some amusing content from a small business owner.

Haynes puts in lots of work for her products before she even begins to shop for ingredients. She spends many hours looking into what ingredients are best for new ideas for products. For example, she is able to create natural dupes of popular colognes and scents.

“I can make that here at home for a fraction of the cost. But you’re also getting quality products and very minimal ingredients. I really pride myself on that with my business,” she said. In this way, she is a bit of a scientist in the kitchen.

D5535627-00E5-40E0-8825-601EBAFB56FA.jpeg 9EB94064-0160-4B5C-AB8A-C4B90497893F.jpeg Photos by Vivienne Aguilar

She is her first customer when it comes to her products. Najja began making skin care products for herself and continuously holds herself to her own standards.

Her products can easily be found on Instagram and Etsy by searching “Naturals by Naj”. Check her out for yourself. Summer is coming up, and no one wants to be dry as the world opens up and we can finally party again!

When it comes to parties, consider hitting up Leticia Paniagua, or @cakes_byleti on Instagram. She hopes to change her moniker in the future. Commission her to make you a beautiful cake to wow all your guests.

A994C187-78C4-4BA1-B84D-D9AD8E1A4F0C.jpeg Photo by Vivienne Aguilar

Leticia works with ideas that customers have to present to her. Think of it like Cake Boss on TLC. Be prepared with the idea, size and details of the cake, and she will let you know the price. There is no price list for this kind of creativity.

The kinds of cakes featured on her Instagram range from traditional to trendy. “You have to know what’s trending or what would make certain things pop up on people’s pages,” she said. She uses the #Stockton and more to gain attention beyond her recurring customers. She credits her boyfriend for the push to promote herself through tags.

Some of the trends Leticia has adopted are: number cakes, chocolate drip decoration, cartoon character themes, mini liquor bottles and fruit decorations, and she’s still open to ideas. Decorations are her main objective.

Recently, she and her mom designed a cake that the recipient smoked a joint out of! Check out her Instagram page to see it in all its glory. Paniagua says they took tubing and ran it through the cake itself, essentially turning it into a pipe.

This Stanislaus State student took a family side hustle and has made it her own. Leticia grew up watching her mother in the kitchen and adopted the hobby as her own.

Initially, there was some concern over whether or not she wanted to be interviewed by Placeholder Magazine. Because the cakes are a “side hustle” she didn’t want the hassle of the potential issues when it comes to her taxes. Unlike @naturals.bynaj and @j.warecandleco, she doesn’t have an LLC or sole proprietor’s license. However, it all worked out in the end.

While seeking attention for a small business is important, it is most important that entrepreneurs, like Paniagua, are savvy and surrounded by advisors who can spot potential risks.

Paniagua is able to turn to her mother and aunt when it comes to making and designing cakes. They have even sent her to cake decorating classes so that she could hone her skills.

These three hard working women embody what happens when creativity, drive, and brainpower can do when combined. Be on the lookout for their work. And as always SUPPORT LOCAL SMALL BUSINESS!