Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Better Than I Deserve

I'm a big fan of Dave Ramsey, and I've incorporated a lot of his teachings into the business and management plans for the bakery. That includes his company's zero tolerance policy for gossip- I love that. But one of the best things I've picked up from Dave Ramsey is the expression "Better than I deserve".

I'm sure other people have used that phrase before, but this is where I picked it up. And I love it. I am better than I deserve.

How are you?
"Better than I deserve."

How's the bakery coming?
"Better than I deserve."

Really, the bakery is coming along pretty darn well. I just spent the morning killing a magic eraser and half a bottle of pine sol in an attempt to clean out the fridge. It's much better now.
I've got power and water. I've got some things hung on the walls. I've got the contractor scheduled to start in a few weeks for the big stuff.

But the best thing I've got, that's truly better than I deserve, is the support of my family and friends. I've got a work day coming up where folks are going to help me get some things done in there. (It's on the 30th if you want to come help, too- I'd love the extra help!). I've got a successfully funded indiegogo campaign that raised 130% of its goal to help get the bakery started.

I don't know how to say thank you in a way that truly expresses the level of appreciation I have for the support I've received. Not just the contributions to the campaign: the offers of help, the promises to come be a customer, the words of encouragement, the pictures of you enjoying your cakes for the bakery walls. It's amazing and humbling. It's so much more than I deserve.

Thank you. Such an inadequate phrase to express my gratitude. But, thank you.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Never Have I Ever

About once a week, someone will call, e-mail, or message me with this question:

"Have you ever made a _____ cake?"
Fill in the blank with some idea or theme like a penguin eating a burrito on the beach.

My first reaction is always, "Oh no! I've never made a penguin eating a burrito on the beach cake! I have nothing like that to show them! What kind of cake decorator am I?" Pretty soon, though, I'll remember that no cake decorator has made every kind of cake. And I'm lucky that there are so many fun cakes that I've not made yet. If I'd already made every kind of cake, what would there be to look forward to?

So, about once a week, I'll reply, "No, I haven't made a ______ cake, but I would love to try!"
Then, usually, the person will start sharing details about their event and I'll start looking for places to buy burrito fondant molds.

I was thinking about this common conversation last night while I made this cake:

Now, the mom who ordered this one did not ask me if I'd ever made an octopus cake before. If she had, the answer would have been, "No, but I'd love to try!"

There were actually a few things on this cake that I'd never done before. I'd never covered a spherical cake in fondant- that part actually worried me about this one, but I did it on the first try! I'd never made eyes like this: five pieces of fondant per eye! I'd never swirled the batter in cupcakes before. I'd never baked polka dots into the batter of a spherical cake before. But it all came out well- better than expected, even.

All that to say, just because I've never made a _______ cake before doesn't mean I can't. I will always tell you if I think I won't be able to make the cake that you want. But I love, love, love trying new things. I've made hundreds of cakes, and I can name every single one that was a repeat of a previous design. There just aren't that many- 99% of my cakes are designs or techniques that I'm doing for the first time:

The first time I made anything three dimensional out of fondant: the ruby slippers:

 The first time I carved a cake into a dome shape:

 The first time I made sugar paper stand up vertically:

 The first time I tie dye swirled the icing:

I ended up doing a few of these, as I recall
 The first time I covered an irregularly shaped cake in fondant:

 The first time one of my cakes was manhandled by a tiger:

I'm ready for my next first time!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How To Order a Cake Like a Pro

Sometimes people seem unsure when they order cakes. They don't know what to ask for or where to start. I've been working on this post for a while now. Since the shop is opening soon, I guess it's OK to post it now.

p.s. This came out to be just a huge wall of text, so I'm adding in random cake pictures here and there to break it up. You're welcome.

How To Order a Cake Like a Pro by Cakeapotamus

1. Plan ahead.

If at all possible, e-mail me ( as soon as you know the date of the event for which you need your cake. The earlier you contact me, the better your chances of getting on the calendar. Now that I'm making cakes full time, I have much more room on the calendar for cakes. But my schedule can still get full, especially in the fall.

As of right now, I only require deposits on wedding cakes. Unfortunately, I must now require deposits on wedding cakes and parties, and I must also require custom cakes to be paid in full in order to get on the calendar.

In a perfect world, I'd have two weeks notice to plan and order any special materials your cake might need. I can do it with a week's notice most of the time. If you're ordering a cake within a few days of the event, there may be an extra charge for expediting some materials or ingredients.

2. Make your best guess on servings.

I know that you don't have a crystal ball that will tell you exactly how many people will show up to your party. A rough estimate is all we need to determine the size and design of the cake you're ordering and get you on the calendar. If a bunch of people R.S.V.P right before the event and your number changes drastically, just let me know. We can probably adjust things.

3. Be honest about your budget.

How you determine your budget is completely your business, but please be upfront about what you plan to spend on your cake. It's terribly disappointing for everyone to spend a lot of time planning an elaborate, sculpted cake only to find out that it's not in the budget.

Custom cakes are just like any other custom order: custom curtains, custom clothing, custom car detailing are all designed and created just for you. Like all custom items, custom cakes generally cost more.

You get what you pay for.

There's always someone who will do it cheaper.
Because all of my cakes are custom designs, they are all priced individually. The price is based off of the materials and ingredients required to make the cake and the time involved in decorating it. Generally speaking, you can plan on cakes starting at $2/serving for a buttercream cake and $3.50/serving for a fondant cake. Sculpted cakes take a long time and start at $100. Cupcakes start at $20/dozen for a "normal" cupcakes and $25/dozen for cupcakes with filling. Fondant toppers are available for an extra charge.

Sometimes, people say, "I can get a cake for $xx.xx at *grocery store*." That's true, you certainly can. If you are looking for a grocery store cake, by all means, go to the grocery store. "Aren't you afraid of losing a customer?" No. If they're looking for a grocery store cake, they weren't my customer to begin with.

Your Cakeapotamus cake will be baked with ingredients that were purchased just for your cake. Your cake will be decorated with a design that was created just for you. I'm not pulling frozen cakes out of a freezer or icing out of a bucket. I don't use preservatives; your cake will be made within 48 hours of delivery.

That said, I will always respect your budget. I want you to be happy with your cake and will offer you the best options I can within your budget. Usually, I even manage to come in under budget.

**You always have the option of saying, "My budget is _____, I need __#__ servings, I like ___flavor___, and the theme is _____." Surprise me. When I have carte blanche to design the cake, I put extra love and effort into it. **

*I hate that I need to add this, but here we go: No, I will not try to "beat Walmart" in price. I don't mass produce cakes, and I don't work for minimum wage. No, I will not give you a wink winky discount if you promise to tell all your friends. If you do not value my time and ability, odds are your friends won't either. It's OK. Cakeapotamus cakes aren't for everyone.
Also, if you are asking me to donate a cake to your event, please do not act like you are doing me a huge favor. I donate to as many good causes as I am able, but my schedule might just get too full to help you if you roll your eyes, puff your breath, and say, "That's it?" (Yes, that really happened.) And try not to play the "Get your name out there" card... if my name's not out there, how did you hear about me?
Sorry... end of rant.

4. Think flavors.

Have an idea of the flavors you like and don't like. Take a poll of the family (especially the guest of honor) to get an idea of what kind of flavor(s) you're looking for. Also, let me know about special dietary restrictions or allergies.

About those allergies, I have one kitchen and the equipment in it is used on all my cakes.  It is, of course, cleaned and sanitized regularly, but if someone has a severe allergy to an ingredient, please keep in mind that ingredient was probably processed in my cake's equipment at some point.

If you want something inside the cake like stripes, polka dots, tie dye, checkerboard, rainbow or ombre colors, or candy to spill out, please let me know up front so that I can factor that in to the design and pricing of the cake.

5. Do an open-minded google.

If at all possible, google the theme for your event and e-mail links or show me 2-3 cakes that you like. Here's the open-minded part: I will not copy another cake decorator's design without his/her permission. I will contact them to ask permission, though, and they usually say yes.
However, I am happy to design a cake "inspired by" someone else's design, no problem!

Please check out my work and get a feel for my style. I usually don't make a lot of dainty or frou-frou details on cakes. I'm happy to try, of course, but I want you to be happy. If I think I can't make a cake that you will like, I will absolutely let you know.

I LOVE making geeky cakes though.

6. "Simple" does NOT mean "easy".

You know that simple, plain white cake that's all smooth? That cake takes a lot more time to make than a cake with a rough icing texture. And, it's harder! Keeping the icing pure white and making sure there are no flaws... that's tough! Cakes with texture or embellishments are easier because you can just cover up a flaw with a decoration.

I know! Who knew? I would never have thought that before I started making cakes.

When I price a cake, I am basing part of the price on the time involved in decorating. Some things take longer and therefore increase the price of the cake: smooth icing or un-embellished fondant take longer. Chevrons are tough and take a long, long, long time. Fondant or sugar figures, flowers, and bows take time as well.

Some things are surprisingly quick and easy. And some cakes cost less because I really enjoy making them. That Sorting Hat up there? I love making that thing. This swirly cake?

Not as difficult as most people think. Though three tiers of it... not gonna lie, made my hand hurt!

The point is, stay open minded. If you're budget-conscious, I'll absolutely point you toward a design that takes less time. You might be surprised by what's in your budget!

7. Make a pick-up plan.

When you pick up your cake, make sure you have a way for it to ride on a flat surface in an air-conditioned car to your party location or home. Do not leave your cake in the car while you run errands- please take it straight home and leave it, in its box in the coolest part of your home. Also, make sure the box won't slide all around the back of the car- drive it like a newborn baby. First baby, not third.

Alabama is hot in the summer. And spring. And fall. Cakes are made of butter and milk (and sometimes cream cheese). Your cake will melt outdoors. Frosted Art (in Dallas, TX) made a great little video showing what happens to cakes outside in the sun:

Cakeapotamus is not responsible for cake disasters that occur after you pick up your cake. If you have an emergency, call or bring the cake in ASAP and we'll see what we can to help.

8. Ask questions. 

If you have a question, just ask! I answer e-mails and Facebook messages as quickly as I am able. Some common questions answered:

I don't share recipes.

I do sell icing, fondant, or fondant decorations if you want to make your cake yourself.

I am not currently hiring. However, if you would like me to keep your name on file for the future, e-mail me your resume, a link to an online portfolio of your work (like an imgur album), and a short message that describes what you can do that I can't. (What can you bring to the shop?)

I consider donation requests on an individual basis.

The shop will host tea parties and cupcake decorating parties.

I generally do not provide candles with cake orders, but if you're having your party at Cakeapotamus and you forget the candles or lighter, I've got your back.

I will offer adult classes in the evening. Yes, you can bring your friends. Yes, you can bring your wine. I don't sell any alcohol, so it's strictly BYO (including your glasses), but I'll try to have a corkscrew on hand.

Hopefully, this helps?