Pop-Up Cakes

I had my first pop-up shop on Saturday – it was a lot of hard work, but terrific fun!

Hopefully, within the long and rambling record that follows, there will be something of use to someone else wishing to do something similar.

Come on in!
One of the first challenges you face with a pop-up shop is that they tend not to be in the best of areas.  There are plenty of exceptions aimed at big name companies doing promotions, but on the whole, for small start ups like mine, what’s available will be premises that other people are not snapping up.

This obviously means you’re going to have to work hard to drive business to, and through, your doors…people are not just going to discover you all by themselves.  Cue social networking.

Did you notice me shudder then?!  ‘Social networking’ is so beyond my comfort zone it might almost be categorised as torture.  Almost.

This means I don’t have a personal Facebook page, nor do I do Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter.  Despite having Googled ‘what the hell is Twitter all about?’ and variations thereof, on numerous occasions, I just don’t get Twitter; I’m going to have to find a patient and non-condescending niece or nephew to help with it I think 😉

Little treats
Anyhoo, I did my best to overcome both reluctance and the lack of avenues I actually have through which  to socially network, pushing everyone I could possibly think of to publicise my business Facebook page through their social networking channels.  It will come as no surprise to you that it definitely helped raise my profile.

I’ve discovered that my desire to have my business be a reality is enough to at least partially overcome my social networking aversion; I still don’t want to get out there as an individual, but as a business…I’m up for it!  I shall be working on working out Twitter et al. over the coming weeks.

Here we are!
So, here we are, at my shop 😉

As I observed to Big Bro, this is not a location from which I’m likely to make my fortune; however, it’s a foot into the arena and is a fantastic, low risk way for me to try out ideas, start getting my name known, and to learn.

It’s also a great opportunity to try to put something into a community and area that has struggled historically, and to support residents of the area who are striving to improve their neighbourhood.  I believe wholeheartedly in the power of a strong community and the importance of contributing to it.

Stocks and supplies
The shop was clean, tidy and pretty empty, with just two small tables and a few plastic chairs.

In the back there was a small kitchen and storage area, complete with hot water urn, fridge, freezer and basic kitchen utensils.

In the windows were these cute paper lanterns, decorated by children using the art club, which also takes place in the pop-up shop (I think during holiday times).

Making tables
We used the existing chairs and tables for customer seating (we were also serving tea and coffee) and got creative for the display tables.

I wanted the overall look to be pretty and welcoming, and to look reasonably professional – not the ‘school bake sale’ look that tends to come with cakes displayed on folding tables 😉

So, using drawers taken from furniture at home, an old pine table top, woodworking clamps (provided by the ever helpful Medieval), and some fabrics, we made lovely, vintage looking benches.  These stood either side of a folding table that we also brought with us.

The drawers doubled up as packing crates when transporting things to and from the shop, so they more than earned their travel expenses 😀

A family affair
Then we all set to, putting out cakes, writing signs (after cleaning off previous notices!), stringing bunting all over the place and generally making the place our own.

This needs saying loud and clear  – I couldn’t possibly have pulled this off without the help of my wonderful friends and family…the morning ‘setting up’ helpers seen here, the daytime, ‘serving’ helpers, and the evening, ‘pack up and go home’ helpers.

In particular, thanks must go to Barn, Petit Man, Mme. E, Super L, Medieval, Queen Ay and Thange – THANK YOU so, so much – you rock my world!!

Time to sit and stare...
On the point of needing help with a venture of this nature, and at the risk of coming across as making some kind of passive aggressive jibe, I learned a valuable lesson, worth noting and passing on:

When people say, “Let me know if you need any help”, they don’t necessarily mean they’re going to give the help!

The thing is, your business is (one would hope) extremely important to you, probably your number one priority, particularly when you’re taking on your first public retail space, be that pop-up shop, market stall or whatever.

Not so for the majority of the people around you – they have other priorities.

And that’s fine, and natural and understandable, but you need to bear it in mind when making your plans – does “sure, I’ll help” mean someone’s really committed, or should you be careful about relying on that person?

On the flip side, don’t be afraid to go down all potential avenues of help and support…it often comes from the most surprising sources.

Cupcake Table
There were six choices on the cupcake menu:

  • Peach melba: sponge cake made with fresh peaches, filled with fresh raspberry purée, topped with a double swirl of buttercream – one flavoured with fresh peach purée, the other with fresh raspberry, finished with a natural peach jelly sweet.
  • Very Vanilla: Light sponge and silky Italian meringue buttercream, both flavoured with Madagascan vanilla.
  • Black Forest: Chocolate and black cherry cake, topped with light vanilla buttercream and a drizzle of black cherry compote, finished with dark chocolate shards.
  • Award winning Banoffee after Dark: Roasted banana cupcake topped with a puddle of caramel and a swirl of dark chocolate whipped ganache, finished with a banana chip.
  • Citrus Tang: Lemon and lime sponge cake topped with a double swirl (one lemon, one lime) of buttercream and finished with lemon and lime zest.
  • Choc on Choc: Fudgy chocolate cake topped with dark chocolate ganache and finished with a trio of chocolate buttons.

On the treats table we had:

  • Choc pops: Strawberry, Lemon & Lime or Apple
  • Hand made vanilla fudge
  • Cake loaves: Lemon Curd or Black Cherry & Vanilla (both yoghurt cake)
  • Chocolate Bark: Dark & Milk with Cranberries & Pistachios; Strawberry & Vanilla with Strawberry & Meringue; Milk & Peanut Butter with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

There was also a table for a couple of display cakes, to advertise the custom celebration cake service.

And there we were, all set up and ready to go.

Just time for a cup of tea before opening up 🙂

We flung open the door and…well, I can’t say we were exactly knocked over by the rush!  Nonetheless, a slow but steady trickle of people started to pop in…and buy 🙂

Of course...put the display cakes in the window!
Things were helped a great deal when Barn and I realised there’d been a collective, ‘Duh’ moment during setting up (blame tiredness and over excitement); having moved the display cakes to the window we began to attract a lot more attention from passers by.  Fancy that, eh?!  Honestly, for intelligent people we can sometimes be so stupid! 😀

So apart from the obvious thing about putting your display where people can see it(!!!) what else did I learn over the course of the day that might be helpful next time?

  • Curiosity might have killed the cat but the human race is pretty safe!  If some new place opens up around where I live, I’ll be there, face pressed against the glass, seeing what’s gong on.  In fact, I’ll probably have chatted with the builders/shopfitters/delivery people beforehand 😉  Turns out most people are not as nosey as I am.
  • With due regard to the above, I need an A-frame and a large printed window sign in order to attract more attention.
  • Ditto…need to build online and social presence and really push the business name so that people know who we are and want  to come to where we are!
  • Allowing for waste, stock that will carry forward to next week, rent, insurance etc., my takings meant I finished the day on a small loss, just short of breaking even.  With less waste I might even have made a tiny profit…so next time, make and take less stock!
  • I need to invest in some polystyrene cake dummies for the display cakes.  I didn’t have time (or the resources right now!) to get any this time around, so they were made up of odd layers, baked from various leftover cake batters.  Not only was this an unnecessary cost, it also made the creation of the cakes more time consuming than needs be.
  • Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was a business (although, in fairness, that could be filed under ‘Things I Already Knew’).

What next?  Well, I’ll be at the same place this coming Saturday but then I’ll be taking a break from the pop-up for a while; there are some legal necessities that have to be dealt with and put in place before I go any deeper into this venture.

I definitely, most certainly, positively, for sure, want to keep going on this path.

One day I’m going to open up the cutest little cake and tea shop, with welcoming staff, comfy seating, delectable, top quality treats to eat, and a Cake Tailor on hand for when you’re ready to order your custom designed celebration cake…

Perhaps I’ll see you there? 🙂



You know how when small children get very excited abut something they express it physically?  Like running on the spot or clapping or even, like Barn’s niece, actually juddering all over when the excitement gets too big to contain in her little body…

Well, that’s about where I’m at right now – utterly fizzing!

I was going to wait until things were totally finalised before sharing this news with you all…but I’m so excited I can’t contain myself any longer…

I’ve bagged some Saturdays in a pop up shop for my fledgling cake business – first one will be Saturday 2nd April!

Of course, there’s now a frantic whirlwind of preparation underway….insurance, baking, business cards, baking, working out the ‘staging’, baking, roping in assistance, baking…  it’s truly awesome fun 😀

So now that I’m going ‘official’ I think it’s time to introduce my alter-ego to you…I am The Cake Tailor of Manchester and I aim to bake the nation happy!

The dream in my head is finally stepping out into the real world and I couldn’t be more thrilled!


You know you’re going in the right direction when…

FEATURED IMAGE: “Full Steam Ahead” by Vladimir Kush

Well, as I indicated in this earlier post there have been some major upheavals in the day job arena.  Due mainly to circumstances beyond my control things have got very, very messy, very, very quickly – to such an extent, in fact, that from the 12th February I shall be day-jobless.

I’m not going to go into much detail, for two reasons:

  1. It’s rather uninteresting for those not directly involved, so I think it’s best not to bore the pants off you, dear reader…that’s what family’s for 😉
  2. What has been (and is) taking place is now the subject of pending legal action and as such is not an appropriate discussion to have in public.

Suffice it to say, the last few weeks have been mentally and emotionally exhausting and the next couple are not looking like being a walk in the park either.  There are now 8 working days left for me and the countdown is sometimes the mantra that gets me through the day.  I never thought I’d be walking away from there in this way – it’s quite sobering to realise that a job I’ve enjoyed so much could turn sour so fast.

So where does this all leave me and the wannabe cake business?

Apart from the aforementioned day job related exhaustion, it actually leaves me in a very good space…more determined than ever to build a successful and profitable business, more positive of my ability to make that happen and to do it in a way that is legal and ethical.

The plan is to find a new day job that is part time and far less responsibility laden than the current one.  This will free up time and mental space for my cakes.

The work that is necessary to be done on the kitchen in order to pass certification inspection should commence mid-Feb; this will take some time as we will be undertaking most of the labour ourselves…the aim is to be inspection ready in April.

In the meantime there are numerous things to be done: seeking out potential funding avenues, and applying for it, passing my driving test (!!!), signing up for a business mentor, sourcing affordable equipment, getting a website up (where do you even start?!), getting decent business cards and promo leaflets/flyers designed and made up, getting public liability insurance, registering with tax office etc., getting all H&S and food hygiene assessment docs written up, finding and booking sites at appropriate local summer fêtes and shows…

This could all get overwhelming but Chef J and I have teamed up to create a trans-Atlantic Accountability Committee; in an effort to beat our twin procrastination habits we are identifying weekly/fortnightly targets and challenges, upon which we have to report (with evidence of progress!! 😉 ) at specific times.  We don’t let each other off the hook, so it works.

You’d think a soon to be day-jobless person with no definite income ahead would be at least a bit sad or freaked out, wouldn’t you?  But no.  Truth of the matter is, I feel excited – as if I’m on the cusp of some grand new adventure.  You know you’re going in the right direction when you look ahead and that’s how it feels 🙂


8 Reasons why your custom made cake “costs SO much”

I know I am not alone in the cake making community when I say I need to increase my confidence when pricing and quoting for my work.

Although I wasn’t actually charging for most of the cakes I’ve made to date, I know what they should have been priced at for full paying clients. With an eye to the future business I’ve kept a careful record of costs, so over time I’ve built up an increasingly realistic picture of materials, ingredients and time expenditure required for different types and styles of cake.

Despite this, whenever someone asks, as a paying client, about cake costs, I can feel myself wincing a bit inside at the thought of saying the final figure to them (I so much prefer doing it by email!)

Why? Because all too often the response goes something like this:

How much?! It’s only a cake! I can get one from the supermarket for £30!”

And that isn’t a great thing to hear.

Black and White Hat Box Cake with Roses & Pearls
Hat box cake – £85

So, let’s break this down:

  1. It’s not only a cake…it is an edible piece of art, the centrepiece to your table, created just for you, designed to reflect you and the occasion you are celebrating.
Chanel handbag
Chanel handbag cake – £105

You will definitely not be able to find something like this in your local supermarket. Your cake is an individual, one off, piece – just like with clothes, paintings, restaurants and cars, you should expect to pay more for cake exclusivity 😉

Christening cake
Crib Christening cake – £90
  1. Look at the ingredient list on a £30 supermarket cake.  Goes on a bit, doesn’t it?  Lots of nasties.

If you are ordering from a reputable crafts person, with high standards, they will be using just a few ingredients, all of the best quality…organic butter, free range eggs, high cocoa content chocolate, Madagascan vanilla extract…well, you get the picture.  No nasty palm oils, synthetic essences or long lists of preservatives.

A gluten free baker will need to carefully check all baking and decorating ingredients, including sugarpastes and colourings, to ensure the integrity of the gluten free-ness of the cake. Sometimes ingredients need to be specially ordered. That all takes time and effort.

£30 wouldn’t cover the basic cost of ingredients for most custom made cakes, never mind the labour.

Simple vs complex cakes
3D Corset cake – £105
Tangled Tower cake – £170
Pets birthday cake – £65
  1. The larger the cake and the more complex the structure, the more it will cost.

It stands to reason that a single tier, circular cake with a couple of small figures and ‘Happy Birthday’ written on it is going to cost less than multiple tiers and complex shapes. Doesn’t it?

Tangled Tower Birthday Cake - tower creation collage
Planning and building Tangled Tower
  1. A bespoke cake takes time to design, plan and to execute.

Coming up with a final design that you’re happy with may involve several consultations, multiple sketches and the pushing of feasibility boundaries.

Your cake creator wants you to LOVE your cake so will put a lot of time, thought and effort into the design.

Get in the bowl
M&M cake – £85

Continue reading

A Good/Bad Sandwich

Some recent, new to me, ‘oh my gosh’ business related occurrences:

1) Someone wrote to me, via Facebook, asking for work.  Now I know this person would have been doing a mass mailing to all the cake businesses she could find in the area, so this was not a specific desire to work for me.  However, the buzz comes from the fact that my page must look professional enough to warrant the query…does that make sense?!

2) While sorting through photos on Flickr, I did a couple of idle curiosity Google searches and found two of my cake pictures on Pinterest.  That was really exciting.  🙂

Until, that is, I discovered that the person had downloaded then uploaded them, complete with all my wording and description, but without crediting me or linking back to me 😦  Feeling like a bit of a twat, but also feeling the need to protect my intellectual property, I filled in the form reporting copyright violation.

I would have liked to somehow be able to give the option that the pictures could remain as long as credit was given…let’s face it, if I’m building a business, having people publicise my work is definitely a positive thing.  Unfortunately the choices were basically limited to ‘remove my pictures and warn the person to stop doing this’ or ‘remove my pictures and remove the person too’.  Obviously I chose the former – the latter seemed ridiculously harsh!

I couldn’t help but be impressed by the speed and efficiency of the system – a few days later I received an e-mail informing me that the pictures had been removed (and they have).

3) On the back of finding those pictures I did a more thorough search on more of my cakes – I discovered that if you type the words “yellow green corset cake” into Google my corset cake comes up right at the top of the images results!  I know it’s a really goofy of me, but that gave me such a thrill 🙂


Statement of Intent (NOT New Year’s Resolutions!)

I think it’s time to state my intentions and ambitions clearly on these pages:

  • I want to build up a cake making and party planning business.
  • I want to design and make personalised cakes – I don’t want to churn out ‘standard kid cakes’, but to produce one off creations tailored to the individual.
  • I want to be able to give up the day job and to earn my way in life entirely as a self-employed person.
  • I want the business to grow far beyond a home based operation and for it to be successful enough to enable me to employ others.

I decided all this nearly a year ago.  In that year I’ve been chipping away at the practicalities – paving the way, as it were.

The top priority has been to make the changes to my kitchen that will be necessary for me to pass an environmental health inspection and to receive my hygiene certification.  Once I have that certificate I can really start to move things on.  Don’t get me wrong, as it stands the kitchen is not at all unhygienic, but the requirements for a food business operator kitchen are somewhat more stringent than for a domestic one.  We’ve been replacing, adding to and updating all the large kitchen appliances – just need another fridge and a new dishwasher and we’ll be done.  The biggest challenge has been working out how to fit the extra fridge and freezer in!  Actually, I tell a lie, the biggest challenge was walking away from the oven of my dreams, at a cost of several thousand pounds, and settling for a less desirable but eminently more affordable one.  I’ll be back for you later, oh lust worthy bake box.

We’ve worked out how to alter the layout of the kitchen in order to separate business from domestic, so that even within our rather small kitchen there is a clear delineation between the two.  We’ve also very carefully worked out the work space and storage that will be needed, down to the last cup, saucer and modelling tool!  Getting the money together for this may take another year (then again, it may not – who knows what’s around the corner), but we are saving and the fund is steadily growing.

Once the kitchen is done and the certificate gained, I’ll be able to register the business.  After insurances etc. are in place I’ll then, finally, be official and be able to start advertising.

Some time ago, with that end point in mind, I created a Facebook page under the business name I’ve chosen; when the time comes to actually ‘open the doors’ I will have an established portfolio and a ‘history’ of cake baking for others to peruse.  I’m not going to link this blog with that page right now…the time isn’t right…but at some point in the future I probably will.

At times I find it frustrating not to be able to just dive right in, but patience is a virtue I’m trying to nurture – the progress is undoubtedly there and I believe my time will come.  In the meantime, I’ll continue to make cakes and plan parties for my nearest and dearest, enjoying every minute of it and relishing the prospect of the day when I get paid real money for doing something that is so much fun 🙂