This past year, I've become very interested in cake decorating, and find a lot of satisfaction and personal pride in it. I've also become very dissatisfied with my career as an Architect, and am looking for a change. I've been considering exploring a future cake business, particularly wedding cakes. (Incidentally, I think I've had this desire in me for a long time, but have never acted on it. When I was in graduate school, I used to cook and bring my goods into the studio to share them with my classmates, and it always brought me so much joy. They often joked that I should be a chef instead, so I guess I am returning to what I really love).
I know this can be a difficult and slow road, and I am prepared for this, but I feel I need to do a lot of practice and back end business work before I know if this will be viable for me. First off, I have a lot to learn before I can even consider this as a career (please don't judge my gallery too harshly). I'd like to give myself two years to study, practice, develop and test recipes, and determine if this is really for me. Then I will need to do demographic research, write a business plan, get licensed & insured, market, convince dear hubby that I can make this a viable business, etc. My youngest daughter will start school in two years, so I feel this is a good time line to set for myself.
I've been so inspired by all of the lovely and talented people on Cake Central, so I feel this is a great forum to voice my dreams and seek some advice. So now, my questions for you all are:
-What are the best ways to study and practice the art of cake decorating (self-taught, intern in a bakery, go to pastry school)?
-What are the best resources, books, etc for tutorials (gumpaste, stringwork, fondant, etc)?
-I have some basic fondant/gumpaste tools, but perhaps you could share your favorite go-to tools as well?
Thank you all for your input and advice.
Your cakes are lovely! ... I don't believe that there's only one way to achieve your goal. Think about what you want and the skills you lack, and how comfortable you feel learning on your own as opposed to going to school.
Working in food service is tough, and many people become disillusioned with the amount of hard work that comes with owning a successful business. In the consulting part of my business, I've had many clients, some of them with advanced degrees. Through our discussions they realize they are tired of the problems confronting their chosen profession and look at the food world as an escape. So before you switch careers, think about the demands of this new career. If you have a passion for it, and you are prepared to work, then pursue it. But the best path is the one you feel most comfortable traveling.
Try working in a bakery environment for someone else for a bit to see if you *really* like what it *really* is. Then realize that you will be working twice as hard when you are the owner. If you still love it, go for it
But beware - you will not make NEARLY as much as you do as an architect. Ever. Unless you get a TV show.
When I was in college, I studied accounting and economics, but I always said that I would rather be a college lit professor or a pastry chef. Thirty years later, after owning a marketing company and a construction company, I finally own a bakery.
I have never regretted my choice in education and my daughter is following my path exactly with the idea to own this business when she gets out. Even though you did not have a business background, hats off to you skill and logic in becoming an architect. If you can do that, you can do anything and you already know that you will take the path to success.
I have a book suggestion you may enjoy. It's called, My Life From Scratch, by Gesine Bullock-Prado. She is Sandra Bullock's sister and she left a production career in Hollywood to open a small bakery.
MimiFix, the above poster, wrote two books about the home based baking business. Her books are on Amazon. Even if you plan a shop first, she has plenty of pertinent information. I bought her book long before I got to know her on CC. I had plenty of business experience, but I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing anything essential in the baking business.
One practical bit of information: If you plan on building a commercial kitchen or storefront, the consensus is plan double the time and money quoted. Mine was true to both and I have a contractor's license. But you already know that. I forgot you are an architect.
Make sure you have your recipes planned. My site has a multitude of recipes because it's all made to order. But my shop will obviously need order and less selection. But that huge menu has helped me hone in on my niche. Not one person has ever ordered a chocolate cake. My orders are more of the exotic ones. So now the public has helped me to know that they are not going to pay more for chocolate cake, but they will pay for Brandy Alexander Cheesecake, for example.
I am OCD about a business plan. I don't do a formal one because I don't need financing. But I do need it to work. CC members will get mad at me and call me rude when I suggest that they may not be ready for a storefront. But I'm not ready for a storefront and I have been planning for over six months. I study demographics, market pricing, competition, cost, and branding.
I have purchased every fixture, display, picture, equipment, and serveware for my shop. All is debt free which I think is the most important aspect in storefront. I only need my front counter, but until I decide on a location, that will have to be built to fit.
My holdup is that I am working on making this a destination store. It not only challenges me to take my business to a higher level, but I think it is the key to success. I almost feel like the challenge is a game. I have never taken any money from my business. It is there only for the benefit of my three daughters, the youngest actually taking over. I have set it up to be able to go national in shipping. I already have a national wholesale commission after only one year in business and I have one product I personally have ready to go in retail stores within the year.
So it can be done. I think starting small with a vision of big is the way to go. It also helps you focus on what your customers really want from you. For example, my box presentation, cards, site, recipes, are already in place to go to a larger market. I never looked for the cheapest, as my clientele don't buy cheap.
People will pay top dollar for fine, gourmet scratch baking. That is my market. And in many areas, you may find yourself alone or with the least competitors in that market. Most bakers cater to the masses, but find themselves in a sea of competitors.
A good understanding of accounting, especially cost accounting would be a big help. Economics helps you to adapt to changing markets and to be able to forcast future trends and bumps in the economy. You can pick these classes up in night school. You don't really need to know tax accounting if you have a CPA. Bookkeeping can easily be learned in a Quick Books class.
I hope this information helps and good luck in your new endeavor. Susan
Edited for typos. The reply box sometimes cuts off part of the copy, making it hard to proofread.
Thank you all for your replies. I appreciate your candor, and it's nice to see others who have found themselves in my same position. Kory AK, yes I understand I will probably see a decrease in income, but if I am happy in what I am doing everyday, it will be worth it. Scp1127, I feel my heart's desires are very similar yours, so thank you for your story. I will definitely look into MimiFix's and Ms. Bullock-Prado's books. In terms of practice, I am probably best to self teach at this point (definitely not ready to leave my day job yet). Can anyone recommend good resources for learning sugar flowers, stringwork, etc? In the meantime, I am busily scouring, testing, and tweaking recipes to find those I think will fit my desired business profile. I will likely not jump into a storefront right away, but would like to build my business from home and save for the goal of a storefront. In the future, when I am ready, my two brothers are a CPA and an attorney, so I will have some guidance establishing my fundamentals.
Thank you, again.