Tuesday, May 28, 2013

On the Right Track

You know how, when you're doing something to get your bakery opened, you sometimes get to something that is scarily familiar because it reminds you of working at the zoo? I love that, too.

Today and tomorrow, I'm in the ServSafe class as part of the health department requirements for opening the shop. The instructor is adorable and fun, but not even Ms. Janet can make all of this stuff interesting. Oy. It's not that hard, though, and a lot of the guidelines are familiar. Really familiar. Scarily familiar.

Before I set out on this bakery adventure, I was a teacher for kids with behavior problems. Before I was a teacher for kids with behavior problems, I was an animal behaviorist. 

Like the Crocodile Hunter but less jungley and more in zoos and laboratories.

Because life it too short for only one career, that's why.

As part of my animal behaviorist life, I worked in a couple of zoos. 

No, really. See?
This is Bart. We both like eggs for breakfast.
When I was at Zoo Atlanta (and Sea World for that matter), I was privileged to get to work with a LOT of different types of animals in a several different areas of the zoo. Every area has different guidelines and procedures, but food prep safety is a HUGE deal in every area. 

Please don't eat the Mandi
I'll spare you the specifics, but the rules for preparing animal food were extensive and specific. "Restaurant quality or better" was the mantra repeated countless times. Food was inspected again and again. The meat prep area was completely separate from the produce prep area; not just separate knives, I'm talking separate tables, sinks, and areas of the kitchen.. Things were stored in individual bags, labeled twice, and thrown away earlier than their expiration date.

"Restaurant quality or better."

So, when I started making cakes for people other than just my family, my old zoo habits came back. I remember thinking that I had to keep things cleaner than the zoo- because the standards for animal food should be lower than the standards for human food, right? I wash my hands, on average, every 4 minutes when I'm caking. (I counted once.) I label, I throw away, I go through Clorox wipes like you wouldn't believe. I'm pretty careful, y'all...

Now, imagine my surprise when I attended the ServSafe class today and learned that the Zoo Atlanta standards for food prep really are restaurant quality or higher. Mostly higher. 

I can do this, you guys!

I find it very affirming that my zoo background is paying off in the bakery. Woo hoo! I'll take it as a sign that I'm on the right path.

Also, this:

is whackadoo. Really? Who keeps cake in the same fridge as fish? EW!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Big Business and Stuff

Everybody thinks that their job is the hardest job ever. Most people are wrong, though, because my job is the hardest job ever.

Anyway, lots of business people think they have the hardest job ever. Maybe they do, what do I know? But I'm starting to get a little weary of hearing about how hard it's going to be to open a business.

Harder than working all day, going to school at night, making cakes on the side, being a wife, a mother of two, and getting sick? Probably not. But then, I don't know. I've not opened a business before, so maybe it really is harder than childbirth.

By and large, people have been kind and supportive of my bakery plans. Friends, family, and clients are all on board. Successful business owners are supportive as well. It's other small business owners who can be the Debbie Downers on this train ride. Because their job is WAY harder than I can imagine.

I was talking the other day to a small business owner who was waxing prophetic about how hard it is to start a business. Now, I don't disagree completely. It's a lot. But... as much paperwork as there is in starting a business, there's more in being a teacher. Just a regular teacher, even, not a special ed teacher with all the IEPs and whatnot. Business is a lot of paperwork, but I'm not daunted by it. Sorry.

Then, there's dealing with the public. Yeah. I've been teaching adolescents with behavior problems (and their parents) for seven and a half years. Bring it. I seriously doubt a cake client will threaten to sue me because I'm a witch. Yup, that happened during my time in education.

There's a lot to do, certainly. And I know there are requirements and roadblocks headed my way that I haven't even dreamed of yet. But I'm tired of hearing how hard it's going to be. And so, when that small business owner said, for the third time, how hard it is to open a business, I may have snapped at him a little. With a calm, straight face, I said, "Harder than beating cancer?"

I know. I shouldn't have. It's rude and dismissive.

"Excuse me?"

"Is it harder than beating cancer?" asked with polite curiosity.

"Well... I don't know. I've never had to deal with that. But I wouldn't think it's harder than cancer."

"Then it won't even be the hardest thing I've done this month, will it?"

I know. Rude.

Meanwhile, I called Coke during my lunch break today and I'm setting up an account so that I can sell bottles of soda in the shop. Wasn't hard... just sayin'.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Entering the Big Time

You guys! I only have two more weeks of being a teacher! Then, I'll be a professional cake decorator. It's simultaneously exciting and terrifying.

So much to do!

But I wanted to take a minute to blog about my experience at the Georgia ICES meeting last weekend. GA ICES are good people, y'all.

There was an announcement on the GA ICES Facebook page a few weeks ago, asking for people to do demos that the spring meeting. I thought, "Hey, if I want to teach cake decorating at the bakery, I should take advantage of this opportunity to practice cake talking in front of people!"
So, I clicked the e-mail and volunteered to do a demo. Woot! I was on my way! After all, if I could demo in front of people who have been caking longer than me, I shouldn't be nervous teaching the evening cake classes at the bakery. No problem!

Wait. One problem. The week before the demo, I would be in quarantine* away from home. I wouldn't be able to prepare any food stuffs for the meeting.

So I decided to offer a demo on cake stands. Cute, fancy, or tacky cake stands to enhance the presentation of your cakes. I could make the stands in quarantine since they were non-edible. Plus, I'd get to use my hot glue gun. I love my hot glue gun... probably more than is appropriate.

So, I put together some cake stands, and, when the day came, loaded up the car and headed to northeast Nowhere, GA. It was a cool, rainy day. Very rainy. The river or lake or tributary that I crossed over was very high. And the bridge across it was... creatively repaired. But I made it safely to the Lion's Club Hall up there in WhereamI, GA.

Here's what you need to know about ICES. The International Cake Exploration Society is an organization for cake decorators. It's mostly women, and those women know their way around a kitchen. When they get together, they cook and bake for each other. Now, imagine a group of the BEST church lady cooks from all over the South getting together. They bring food, but because  they're bringing it to other cooks, they pull out all the stops (and put in all the butter). The Tennessee ICES meetings usually span two days and the food that gets made there... holy cow. I was expecting some good treats at the GA ICES meeting, and they didn't disappoint.

There was good food. There were good people. There were awesome demos from great cake decorators. And then it was my turn.

Now, at the beginning of the meeting, we'd gone around the room and introduced ourselves. In the back, there was a table of older ladies. During the introduction, I found out that they have been decorating cakes for over fifty years (each). Gulp. And, they were founding members of ICES. Holy geez, it's like royalty. During the demos, they sat quietly at their table (some attached to oxygen tanks), seemingly unimpressed by what they were seeing. It was intimidating.

And then it was my turn.

I've been teaching in one way or another for fifteen years. At zoos, as a public school teacher, at universities. I've talked to all kinds of groups of people. But seeing the Cake Volturi in the back during this demonstration made me nervous. And when I'm nervous, I go faster.

I dragged my huge box of cake stands to the demo table and introduced myself.

"Hi, y'all! I'm Mandi Buckalew and I am so excited to be here. Thank you so much for letting me do a demonstration for you today! Let's talk about cake stands."

I talked about how, with Pinterest and Etsy, people are looking for more of a display with their cakes. I talked about how ridiculously expensive cake stands are. I talked about how much I love my hot glue gun- may have lapsed into a haiku during that part.

Then, I started showing off the cake stands I'd made. They were relative inexpensive and easy to make and everybody seemed pretty impressed. Even the Cake Volturi in the back.

Y'all. When those veteran veteran veteran cake decorators looked interested in my cake stands... there are no words. That was a huge feeling. I still can't believe that happened.

After my demo, people took pictures of my cake stands! And they got posted on the GA ICES Facebook page. I'm a big deal, apparently.

But wait. On my way out, one of the Volturi (I terrible with names, so I'll call her Aro) came over to thank me for my "creativity and enthusiasm" during my demo. I still squee inside when I remember that part.

So, here are some of my creative and enthusiastic cake stands. I'll be offering custom cake stands to go with the custom cakes when the shop opens.

There are better pictures on the Georgia ICES Facebook page.

Next stop: Finding the perfect place for the bakery!

*Quarantine: I haven't really talked about the whole cancer thing on the Cakeapotamus pages, but I feel fine about sharing it now that it's over. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in November. Two surgeries, one round of radiation, and now I'm in remission. Piece of cake.