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Barbara Gardner: Let Them Eat Cake

Barbara Gardner loves art and funneled her talent into the niche of cake decorating. She grew her hobby into a business, and still thrives on her creative outlet. The cakes, cupcakes and cookies at Let Them Eat Cake are known for their beautiful decorations and the whimsical change in the...
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Barbara Gardner loves art and funneled her talent into the niche of cake decorating. She grew her hobby into a business, and still thrives on her creative outlet. The cakes, cupcakes and cookies at Let Them Eat Cake are known for their beautiful decorations and the whimsical change in the line up each month.

Was baking always your thing?
I really loved art, when I was a high school senior I took a Wilton cake decorating class. It was in the basement of JC Penney at The Park Central Mall. As soon as I took the class, I was hooked, I knew it was something I could start as a hobby and build up. I baked and decorated my first cake order for free.

I went to college, studied restaurant management, and thought about other careers like dietician, physical therapist, and athletic trainer. I would bake at night and continued cake decoration as a hobby. I worked as a waitress, florist, and portrait photographer; I always needed a creative outlet.

More Sweet Talk after the jump

I continued to take more advanced cake decorating classes, but I am mostly self-taught. I still take professional level classes. The education is on going. I don't love to bake, my husband is our baker, but I love to decorate! My passion is the decorating and sculpting. I found my niche to be the creative, elaborate custom work.

I started buying equipment, rented space in a restaurant and got my commercial license as the cake orders grew. I started to do bigger orders and went after the wedding cake business. I worked a day job; the cake business was my second job. I did that until the birth of my second child.

How did you pick the name "Let Them Eat Cake"?
My sister-in-law and I were eating pizza and brainstorming, tossing ideas around. My nephew, who was six or seven at the time looked up and said, "Let them eat cake!" I had a vision for the logo and the business card, and that was it.

How did you transition from part time cake provider to a full time brick and motor business?
I moved into this location four years after I began working to build the business and renting kitchen space from a restaurant. At first I was open was by appointment only, and still working two jobs. I would work all day, come home to be with my family, and then come in and bake. There were nights I slept under the desk.

After we had the space for 9 months the store next to us became available. We took a leap of faith and opened our Cupcake Café. I quit my other job and my husband joined the business. Its been hard work but I love what I do, which makes the hard work easier. I still see growth opportunity for our cake products and the business. We are adding a line of "cake sandwiches", rectangle slices with the fillings of the day.

I didn't take business classes in school. There is so much to learn about owning a business. You have to know, understand every aspect of running the business. You may be able to hire someone else to do a job, but you have to know how to do it too. I worked with SCORE, and learned to bring in the experts when necessary.

What are you favorite flavor combinations?
The first is chocolate with fudge and raspberry. Next would be lemon cream with cream cheese and raspberry. I like coming up with different cake fillings. Our cupcakes are made with the same batter we use in our cakes. It's a pound cake batter, its firm, stays moist, and holds up well.

What do you see trending in 2011 for brides?
Simple elegance never goes out of style. Simple cakes with a graphic design or a splash of color through ribbons or flowers are popular. Toppers and figurines are coming back.

The cake shows on TV get people thinking outside the box. The all occasion specialty cake business is growing from the exposure TV has given to the possibilities of cake creations. Customer expectation is elevated, and not just for wedding cakes.

I advise brides and grooms to personalize their cakes. They bring in beautiful photos from magazines and say, "this is what I like". That's good, but I want to make the wedding cake and groom cake personal- about the couple, about their wedding.

Buttercream or fondant?

I use them both; it depends on the finished look for the cake design. Most people like the taste of buttercream better, and brides need to love the cake.
For some cakes we use a combination.

What was the most outrageous cake request you've had from a bride and groom?
We did a 3-D Bevo, the University of Texas (Austin) longhorn mascot.
We also did a giant corn on the cob for a groom from Iowa, and a replica of a crushed beer can!

Do you participate in cake competitions?
Locally, I compete in the National Association of Catering Executives (NACE) events. There are different categories for entrants. I assisted Andrea Carusetta, Sedona Cake Couture, on the Food Network Cake Challenge: Golden Anniversary Classic. Competing is a great way to learn and a fun experience. Its on my bucket list to compete on a Food Network Cake challenge again.

Do you watch the Food Network challenges?
I do and I watch Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes. When I was in Baltimore I knocked on the door of Charm City Cakes, they are open by appointment only. Mary Alice came out, and we chatted and took a photo.

Who is the cook in the family?
My husband, Mitch does the cooking. He likes to cook and is the baker for our business. He cooks American comfort food- meatloaf, pasta, and pork tenderloin. He grills a lot. I am happy with some kind of chicken dish, salad, and grilled veggies.

We love to entertain at home, and invite a big crowd. We'll have a lobster, crawfish or shrimp boil. Its spontaneous, we invite friend and neighbors and everyone brings a pot -luck dish. We are pretty laid back.

What is the best part of owning a cake business?
I love being in this industry and having the partnerships I've developed with resorts and wedding venues. I have 5 staff members including culinary school and C-CAP interns. I love the creative energy the students bring. I take them under my wings, and I learn from them too. It's a two- way, interactive learning process. I value the talents of my employees.

I love teaching cake decorating. We have all levels-from decorating 101 to advanced fondant work and sculpting. In the summer we offer a camp for kids, they learn how to pipe and decorate. Students leave with the supplies and a decorated cake (cookies for the kids). I would love to do some mother-daughter classes.

stop back tomorrow for Barbara's Sugar Cookies with Poured Frosting recipe

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