Recently, Eventplanner interviewed me about my entrepreneurial journey. It’s really important that people in this industry and for any industry in that manner are aware of the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur. Of course, I’ve had successful opportunities but I’ve also experienced hardships and challenges behind what appears to be a successful opportunity. I work very hard and sometimes a little too hard and that’s because I know of the positive outcomes that I am capable of achieving.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced while planning for an event and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I had to overcome was having a planned event on February 16, 2019, after having surgery on January 31, 2019. My surgery date came as a surprise as I had expected it to be earlier in January however a call from the physician office changed that. I was hosting my first Valentine’s Day Sip & Decorate. This was a couples-only cake decorating workshop. Couples were invited to participate in learning the art of cake decorating while sipping on Champagne and enjoy chocolate-dipped strawberries. The attendees learned how to stack and decorate a Unicorn theme Valentine’s Day Cake. I did not want to cancel this event which would then disappoint my attendees. Additionally, I did not want this to affect my brand. I reached out to another baker and expressed to her that I wanted to collaborate with her. I offered that she can retain the profit of the tickets sold however she would just have to purchase supplies and prep her space for me. I would completely instruct the class. She agreed and the class was a success. I received support from her, her daughters, and a friend with re-organizing her space after the class.
What are 2 trends in the catering industry that you’re excited about?
I’ve always focused on using premium ingredients when it comes to my products and I am happy to learn that more consumers are willing to pay more if they can understand and see the quality in baked goods. I am also attempting to personally transition to a plant-based lifestyle. Recently, I revamped some of my recipes to include plant-based ingredients. I tried Country Crocks’ plant-based butter in my buttercream recipe and the response rate was very high. I feel that the growing awareness of food justice is going to lead us as a community into a more sustainable environment.
What is a go-to meal for a tight budget, that also leaves the attendees feeling like they’ve just eaten a gourmet meal?
This past summer, I had a bride reach out to me in need of a cake for her wedding in less than 30 days. When it comes to a wedding cake or large-scale events you want to book in a timely fashion. She was on a tight budget. I offered her a three-tier cake and three sheet cakes to serve her guests. I shared with her that she would have her beautiful cake on display to cut with her groom and that the hall can cut up the sheet cakes in the back kitchen. Her three-tier cake consisted of pineapple coconut rum and her sheet cakes were wicked Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt Caramel. Tiered cakes are labor-intensive and require more stacking, more supporting, baking, and decorating which increases costs substantially.
If you had unlimited resources, what would your dream client and event look like?
I would love to host a Sweet Saturday Fundraising Gala to fund and support De L’or Cakery Kitchen. This program is a subsidiary apprenticeship program of De L’or Cakery supporting teenage youth in foster care and from under-resourced communities to learn Sugar Artistry.
The goal is to influence youth interested in the Food Industry to seek out post-secondary education. There is over 25,000 youth in the New York City foster care system:
• 6% will earn a 2- or 4-year degree by the age of 24
• 59% of kids enter due to neglect
• 22% of kids will age out of foster care ages 12 and older
• 15% of aged out youth become homeless with little to no educational pursuits
The participants of the apprenticeship program would study under me at no cost to them. The goal is to partner with foster care programs and under-resourced schools to refer youth to our program. I envision a host of Food Network, Cooking Channel, and PBS cooking beneficiaries and attendees enjoying my desserts and supporting this fundraiser. My dream clients Melissa Viviane Jefferson and Kim Zolciak would definitely be in the house co-hosting with me.
How important are your relationships with vendors and what are some ways that you successfully cultivate and ensure good rapport?
I treat my vendors as a member of my team. In essence, we are connected and we need each other. They know my work acumen and what I stand for. Recently, one of my vendors whom I’ve supported donated products to my apprenticeship program. I’ve known the owner for over five years and I consider her a friend. I have a vendor whom I utilize for custom cake toppers. We know each other for years and took advanced cake courses together. When we are collaborating, we make sure to share as much information as possible down to every detail and maintain communication so the end results are a very happy client.
How do you handle the diverse dietary needs and requests of your clients and what is one of the most challenging requests you’ve been presented with?
Last year, I had a client reach out to me wanting a custom diabetic cake for her mother. So, I shared with my client that I’ve never done it before but that I can execute it. So, I used a whole foods diabetic cake box mix for my foundation. I used a sugar-free cool whip as a filling and vegan buttercream to hold the filling. I placed the cake in the freezer for 20 minutes and then covered the cake in fondant. The client was aware that the cake would be covered in fondant as she requested but that fondant is not sugar-free. She understood that her mother should skip eating the exterior of the cake. It was beautifully decorated and she phoned and texted me at how happy her mother was. She ordered again for mothers’ day with matching cupcakes.
What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?
One of the most exciting things on the horizon for me is starting next week, Monday, I will be instructing my pilot apprenticeship program at Citizens School in Harlem, New York. I kickstarted a Facebook fundraiser where I was able to raise $1,000.00 to offset tools. The support was overwhelmingly positive. For a year, I will be offering this program to school for free.
On Sunday, October 27, 2019, I am hosting a New York City Sugar Artistry Meetup. This is a networking event for Cake Designers, Bakers, Sugar Artists, and food entrepreneurs to meet up, connect, eat, drink, mix, and mingle. The goal is to build connections, have fun, catch up, and learn/share techniques. I’m very excited about the two very talented Sugar Artists offering demos.
What inspired you to launch your own company in catering? How long did it take from initially having the idea of setting up and starting to attract a client base?
I started baking at the age of 10. It was in 2008/2009 I walked into a local Joann’s and saw that they were offering cake decorating classes. I said what the heck I know how to bake let’s learn how to decorate. I took all of their courses and excelled. My instructor offered me a role in teaching cake decorating for their kids’ cohorts and I agreed. It didn’t pay a lot but I loved doing it. The discounts were fabulous and I received new Wilton products for free to demo. I started posting on Facebook and an entrepreneur reached out to me and said let me show you how to make money. She put me in touch with a graphic designer and here I am after a few rebranding processes. I consider my early experiences as my learning stage. My rebranding phase has resulted in my professional era.
What’s the first event you can remember catering and how did it go?
My first fondant order was for a local elementary school in Atlanta, GA. It was another baker that reached out to me sharing that she was ill and she inquired if I could execute the order. I agreed to take the order and she said to me it does not have to be perfect it’s for kids. I recall being so nervous. I made a yellow cake with vanilla buttercream in between each layer. I covered the cake in black fondant with a red tassel hanging out of the side of the cake. I hand made the name of the school lettering incorporating the words “5th-grade class” along with a handmade apple and a pencil out of fondant. When the parent coordinators arrived at my home to pick up the cake, they looked at each other and were speechless. My initial thought was that they did not like the cake until she responded, “oh my God this is way better than I had expected. Honey, you have talent!”. Her positive response allowed me to tap into my internal power and I started testing out new recipes after that.
What are some things you wished you knew before starting your business?
Some of the things I wish I knew about was PayPal’s electronic services to invoice clients and receive payment prior to picking up. I’ve experienced hardships where clients would pay me with a personal check and have no available funds. This was lost time, labor, and materials. Recently, I decided to utilize HelloSign services to upload my contracts where clients can electronically sign for the delivery of their goods as well as pay upfront. The contracts were provided by a law firm that details what the clients are responsible for and how to go about arbitration in the event of a disagreement.
What is the most unique location that you’ve had to plan around?
In the summer of 2014, I recall catering to a client’s baby shower in Queens, NY. It was 99 degrees outside and the event was in the client’s beautiful backyard. I strongly urged the client to keep the cake inside the home until they are ready to cut it. The client and her family insisted that the cake is on display under the tent.
What sets you apart from other caterers?
My family is from Jamaica West Indies and Cuba which is reflective in my cooking and baking. I specialize in exotic flavored cupcakes such as my White Chocolate Strawberry Hibiscus cupcakes and Sea Salt Caramel Bourbon cake pops.
What kind of food are you known for and what is your favorite food?
I am known for my Wicked Dark Chocolate Cupcakes, Wicked Dark Oreo Cake Pops, and Sea Salt Bourbon Caramel Cupcakes. These are my high selling products. I love chocolate. I am a verified and diagnosed chocoholic. In terms of savory dishes, I am known for my five-cheese macaroni and cheese. I did not realize how good my recipe was until family, friends, and church patrons would often request this dish along with my caramel cheesecake. I’ve been told that my caramel cheesecake tastes like ice cream.
What types of events do you service?
De L’or Cakery services weddings, birthdays, baby showers, galas, corporate gatherings, and times where you just want to shower yourself with exotic desserts pampering your palette.
Anything else you’d like to comment on while we, have you?
For those of you that desire to become a professional Sugar Artist, you have to invest in yourself. This means investing in designers that will teach you what they know as well as taking marketing and/or business courses. Make sure that when you decide to venture in this or any other field that you do so because you love it not because of what you could possibly earn. Lastly, know your worth and work on your numbers.