Jobs Pop Up at Southside Cake Shop
This is part of KTVA.com's Small Business Connection
ANCHORAGE - Standing over the counter, Amy Grue studied an image on her iPhone, tapping the screen to get a better look.
“It’s supposed to be a Care Bear,” she said, glancing between the phone and bear-shaped cake on the counter in front of her. It was covered in pink fondant and lay on a pink-patterned board on the countertop: next to it, several misshapen balls of multicolored fondants and a paring knife. Grue said her process was simple.
“It’s all about the shapes,” she said, waving at the colorful illustration on her screen, pixelated from the zoom. “So there’ll be this patch, which is basically just a circle with a heart.”
She began rolling out a chunk of white fondant, shaping it into a log before expertly slicing off a perfectly shaped medallion. “This will go here,” Grue said, gesturing at the place it would eventually be placed over the cake bear’s heart. It was just one of many orders she needed to complete.
Fridays are reserved for decorating, and Grue said she and her “girls,” the three other employees who helped with everything from bookkeeping to decorating, would sometimes find themselves in the kitchen from ten in the morning to 4:00 a.m. Saturday. She was dressed comfortably in slip-on sneakers, jeans and a short-sleeved black shirt – her shoulder length brown hair was pulled back except for where a chunk of bangs fell across the silver stud in her eyebrow.
Her company, Cakes in Love, had been thrown together from scratch only a year ago, inspired by the instant popularity of the cake she designed for her daughter’s sixth birthday party. It was her first cake, she recalled; a Hannah Montana design followed quickly by a second, Dora the Explorer themed creation and then a purse shaped cake she said was her first foray into 3D design.
Word about her customized cakes spread among family and friends, but Grue said an unexpected offer by Groupon changed everything.
“I didn’t sleep for two weeks,” she said, recalling the frenzied rush to fill the sudden surge of cake orders. “It was crazy.”
The deal offered by the popular coupon company quickly sold out, and Grue said she realized her newfound enterprise had outgrown the status of a hobby. In order to operate as a licensed business, Grue said she installed an industrial kitchen attachment onto her and her husband’s South Anchorage home and enlisted the help of an old friend to make deliveries.
From there, she moved to the kitchen of Crosspoint Community Church, tucked in the corner of a Jewel Lake strip mall. But Grue said her fledgling company was also struck with a near-instant need for more manpower.
Now, Cakes in Love employs three, and is settled in a sunny space above a Southside dance studio. Besides two worn glass display cases filled with delicate, decorated cake pops and an industrial size espresso machine, the front room displays knick-knacks and assorted gifts from a handful of other local vendors. An adjacent room with wide, sunny windows provides the setting for tea parties and decorating classes, and in the back, the industrial style stainless steel counters line an otherwise suburban looking kitchen.
There were two black KitchenAid mixers, shelves packed with dozens of plastic containers of sprinkles in rainbow colors and assorted shapes, and underneath the counters, plastic tubs of multi-colored fondants and frostings.
Cakes in Love specializes in intricate, custom designs, and when customers request special flavors of cake, Grue said she would refer them to one of several other local shops. But it’s a two-way street, and she said she was happily surprised by how quickly her business was accepted into the local market.
“We get a lot of referrals, constantly,” Grue said, grinning. “I didn’t know these bakeries knew we existed!”
And her business continues to grow.
Bucking the traditional five-year small business cycle, Grue said Cakes in Love has been in the black since day one, and she was able to expand her company without the burden of debt. She chalked it up to an exceptional, eye-catching product with relatively little overhead. Now, in the market for a fourth employee barely a year after opening her doors, she said she can't wait to see where the business will take her.
“My whole life has changed,” she said, “I can never see myself working for someone else again.”