Astoria Characters: The Student Who’s Rethinking Her Life

After whipping the buttercream icing, Alexis Heugly places the first layer of the chocolate birthday cake on a crystal stand that’s on the dining table in her apartment.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Alexis is from Utah.

She spreads on some ganache and sets the second layer, which had been cooling momentarily in the freezer, on top.

She ices the confection, filling a piping bag to decorate it with a bouquet of rosettes.

“This cake was easy to make,” she says. “It didn’t take me too long.”

Alexis, who is 27, has been baking pretty much her entire life; she’s made cakes for weddings attended by hundreds of guests.

She learned the craft from her mother, who owned a catering business but didn’t care for the precision and patience required to bake cakes.

Alexis began helping her out when she was in junior high school.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Alexis has been baking cakes professionally since she was in junior high.

So it made sense that when she decided to start her own business in New York City she fell back on something she had spent years perfecting.

At least that was her plan at the beginning of this year.

Alexis, whose casual manner makes you immediately feel right at home, grew up in a city in Utah called Price, which she describes as “45 minutes from anywhere.”

Yes, technically it’s a city, but Alexis says it’s more like a very, very small town where nothing much ever happens. The population is about 8,700.

In some ways, it reminds her of Astoria: Both are home to a significant number of Greek immigrants.

“Many of them in Price are shepherds,” she says. “I used to spend my summers herding sheep.”

Although Utah has the highest percentage of Mormons in the country, Price is more religiously diverse than other cities in the state.

“I grew up Mormon,” Alexis says, “but my parents always made it clear to me that religion is whatever I want it to be.”

Which is why Brigham Young University, which considers itself a religious institution and requires students to abide by a strict honor code, was such a culture shock for her.

After Alexis graduated with a degree in developmental psychology, she spent a couple of years as a behavioral technician for autistic children and working in an independent living program for autistic adults.

While doing this “fulfilling work,” Alexis, like several members of her family, was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which made her role all the more meaningful.

Ultimately, she decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and go to law school.

“I wanted to help people, and I wanted to open my own practice,” she says.

That’s how she ended up in New York City at the end of 2021.

She enrolled at CUNY School of Law, which is known for its public-interest curriculum.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Alexis makes custom cakes.

This year, though, Alexis began to think that law school may not be such a good fit.

“I started having migraines all the time when I was there,” she says. “And it didn’t feel right. I realized that it’s not what I am supposed to be doing now.”

The question became: What next?

She began baking cakes and announcing on Facebook that she was taking custom orders, intending to create her own bakery business.

About a month or so ago, though, she switched gears again, setting up a business, Blue Pencil, that focuses on academic coaching and consulting.

“I’ve always been good at writing, and through the years, I’ve helped friends write school admissions essays,” she says, adding that for several years, she has been charging for this service.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
She’s a law school student, too.

Baking cakes and coaching students may very well be the right mix for Alexis.

“I plan to do both,” she says. “I come from a family who like to call themselves workaholics. My parents owned several businesses at the same time.”

Setting up Blue Pencil has been equally challenging and interesting.

“This is my first service-based business; all my other businesses were product based,” she said. “I’ve had to learn a lot of new things, including how to build a website.”

Alexis is taking a break from law school.

She’ll spend the summer deciding whether she wants to go back part time or exclusively pursue her other interests.

In the meantime, she’s cultivating new areas of expertise.

Lately, she’s been focusing on painting and art.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The completed cake.

“Paint,” she says with a smile, “is far more forgiving than icing.”

That brings us back to the birthday cake.

She adds some rainbow-color sprinkles to the flowers and puts the finished cake in the refrigerator until delivery.

Fish, her black Maine Coon cat, is allowed back into the living room.

He’s a little cranky from being confined to the bedroom, where he made his presence known during the cake baking by meowing through the door.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Alexis’ other business is academic coaching and counseling.

An 8-year-old rescue, her has been living with Alexis for five years.

She’s spent a fair amount of time teaching him tricks.

She trained horses when she was younger, and she figured she could use her skills on the feline.

Do you want to see what Fish can do?

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Alexis putting Fish through his paces.

Alexis sits on the floor and opens a pack of fish flakes.

Each time she offers him a flake, Fish gives her a high five, lies down or spins around on command.

“I get bored easily,” Alexis says. “That’s why I do so many things. And when I do master them, I tend to move on.”

Fish, who has had his fill of flakes, walks toward the kitchen.

Copyright 2023 by Nancy A. Ruhling