Katie Matusiak is the owner of the home based cake business Katie Cakes Cakery. She graduated from Johnson & Wales with a Bachelor’s in Baking and Pastry. She has a wide range of experiences from working in commercial bake shops, opening a bakery, competing in cake contests, and participating in bridal shows. She works with birthday cakes, three dimensional (3D) cakes, wedding cakes, cupcakes, and petits fours. She also has a high level of experience with using gum paste and fresh flowers, buttercream icing and piping, fondant, chocolate, as well as other common wedding cake decorating techniques.
What are some of the steps involved in starting a home baking business?
How did you get the word out about your business?
What do you use as inspiration for cake designs?
Do you think TV has been nothing but a positive influence on your business?
Which event do you like creating cake for the most?
Any tips for covering cakes in fondant?
Why is Swiss meringue buttercream your icing of choice?
Are there certain cakes that are better than others for stacking in a tiered cake?
What has been your favorite part about being a business owner so far?
Any advice that you could give to those looking to start their own business?
I would recommend first looking into your city and state’s health regulations and policies. Before you invest too much effort and time into your business plan, it is important to know if your state even allows such a business to be done out of the home. State regulations vary greatly. Many states require there to be a separate kitchen in the home that is used solely for the business, while others won’t allow any retail home baking at all. Luckily for me, Pennsylvania does grant home baking licenses.
Once you have gotten the okay to run a home based baking business, start working on your business plan. A business plan should include company goals, a potential marketing plan, details on your products or services, general business information including zoning, health and insurance requirements, and a financial plan and outlook. A business plan should convey your business’s over all goals. It should also entail the core values of the business and should be written in a manner that will help your business succeed today, tomorrow, and in the future.
Decide on a name for your business, and if required, register your fictitious or “doing business as” name with the state.
Contact vendors and suppliers to see if you can order products through them. I use a local distributor who actually delivers right to my house every couple of weeks. Buying in bulk helps to save money if you have the available storage space.
Advertise!!! Having a website is an obvious necessity these days!!! Create business cards, flyers, and pamphlets and get your name out there. Go to local businesses with samples of your goodies and ask them to recommend you if they like what they see and taste. Depending on the location, (bridal gown shops and florists are great to attract wedding cake business) bring a portfolio of previous work that can be left on a table for customers to browse through. Remember, no one else is going to promote your business for you…unless of course you pay them to do so J
Product development is crucial. It is important to have a clear understanding of the product you plan to sell, who your potential market is, and the best locations and means to sell your items (internet, local shops, phone orders, etc.). You need to offer a product that will set you apart from others in your area. For Katie Cakes Cakery, that was the creative use of fondant on 3-d shaped cakes as well as tiered cakes. After the success of such shows as Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes, consumers have seen the endless possibilities available in the cake world. There really aren’t any bakeries in my immediate area that do that sort of work so it was a great opportunity for me to really shine!
Setting up a website was a must! You can either pay someone to create one for you or do what I did and make it on your own. I used Go Daddy’s WebSite Tonight to build my site using one of their templates.
After that, I designed my own business card online and had a couple hundred printed. Then I went out to a few local businesses that I frequent regularly and asked if they’d allow me to display some cards. I also brought cake samples to a few of the businesses that I knew might promote me. These included dress shops, flower shops, and a local coffee shop – all places brides tend to frequent.
Word of mouth was also a key component for me. My mom is by far my biggest fan and seems to tell everyone about my business. That, along with great reviews from previous customers who spread the word, is the strategy that has gotten me the majority of my business.
I use a lot of resources including cake design books, magazines such as CakeCentral Magazine and American Cake Decorating, and cake blogs and websites. I also use wallpaper sample books, fabrics from wedding dresses, event invitations, and various other items the client provides.
You mentioned that cake shows on television have shown customers the endless possibilities that can be done with cake. That being said, do you think these programs have been nothing but a positive influence on your business?
Yes, for the most part I think these shows have increased my specialty cake orders and have really challenged me in some aspects as client requests grow. My only complaint would be that viewers really don’t get a sense of how much time and effort goes into some of the designs. The average viewer probably doesn’t have a great idea of what the customer ends up paying for one of those magnificent cakes either. Most of the bakeries on TV start their prices at about $1000 for any custom designed cake. I have trouble getting someone to pay $150 for a cake, let alone a $1000.
I really enjoy wedding cakes, although they can be the most stressful. Children’s birthday cakes are also a lot of fun; there are so many new themes being used these days to create extravagant events. Both of these categories are great opportunities for me to incorporate my creativity and style, while staying within the requests of the client.
Plenty of cornstarch or powdered sugar is important so that the fondant doesn’t stick to the table.
A nice clean, smooth work surface is crucial as well as lots of patience!
Knowing how much fondant to use to cover the cake is very helpful when rolling out a piece that will not only be the correct dimension, but a good thickness. Wilton Cake Decorating provides a great chart for the amount of fondant you need for a cake.
Knead a little water and/or shortening into the fondant before rolling to help prevent it from drying out too quickly.
Roll the fondant fairly thin, somewhere around 1/8” thick. Fondant that is too thin or too thick will probably rip and tear, or create really noticeable cracks.
Air bubbles might occur after the fondant is placed over the cake. Use a small pin to prick the bubble and gently push out the air.
Airbrush or paint finished fondant cakes with lemon extract or vodka to get rid of pesky cornstarch marks (especially when using a colored fondant) or to give the cake a glossy finish.
Not too sweet like some sugary icings can be, making it a great medium for adding flavorings
Creates a really smooth air bubble free iced cake
Sponge and pound cake varieties are the easiest to work with as far as stability reasons, but through experience I have found it’s not what most customers prefer taste-wise. I could spend hours perfecting the best sponge or genoise recipe, but 9 times out of 10, people will pick a ‘box’ style cake. Americans tend to prefer really moist, light cakes like a box mix produces. Fortunately, I have found a happy medium for most of my recipes. It definitely has taken some trial and error, but for the most part the cakes I use are very moist but still easy to work with.
I would have to say the most gratifying part of the business is seeing the reactions and smiles on the customers face when they see their creation come to life. I really like to make people happy and seeing the enjoyment they get out of something I’ve created is a neat feeling. Most people can’t believe all the embellishments such as hand modeled figures, bows, flowers, etc. – that are part of a majority of my cakes – are completely edible!
The old saying is true; friends and business don’t mix. From personal experiences on more than one occasion, I have found this statement to be true.
Don’t trust everyone that you come into contact with along your business adventure. There are many people in this world that don’t have your best interest in mind, so just be careful with every step along the way.
Go with your gut instinct and don’t let others get in the way of your dreams. It’s okay to take the advice of more experienced business owners, but stick to your plan and ideas and be confident in the product you are selling.
And always get some of the money upfront before designing and creating large and intricate cake designs. You don’t want to invest all that time and money into a design without being sure the client is serious about the order.