Don’t forget the Cake!!

Memories of being a kid in a candy shop are what first come to mind when you walk through the doors of Cakes and Co, on Newtownpark Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin.


Cakes for every occasion surround you, a teddy bear bride and groom stand atop a three tier wedding cake, sugar paste ‘children’ scramble up another creation throwing snow balls at each other and a host of new born babies crawl quietly along, their blue or pink blankets trailing behind them.


Cakes and Co. is run by two women, Joannie Langbroek and Rosanna Mulligan, who in 1993 got serious about their cake-decorating hobby and decided to follow their own business dreams.


The two originally met through the sugar craft ‘world’, which is an amalgamation of guilds, organisations and associations dedicated to the creative use of sugar as a medium to decorate special occasion cakes.


With Joannie’s background in social science and personnel management, Rosanna’s marketing acumen and background in the business and some personal financing, the two combined their divergent talents and took a chance on their friendship and creativity.


Starting with a focus on Wedding Cakes, the two travelled to every wedding fare they could and placed select advertisements in wedding magazines.


“Right from the start, we were lucky because we made a decision to move away from traditional icing methods such as ‘butter cream’ and ‘royal’ and pioneer the use of sugar paste icing for our cakes. As a result we brought sugar paste icing to a new level of use and stood out from the crowd because we had something different to offer” says Rosanna.


While the majority of revenue came from cake decoration, the company also diversified into selling cake decorating equipment (such as sugar paste colours, cake boards and ribbons) and giving training courses in the area. However, over time the training courses went by the wayside in favour of concentration on the more profitable areas of decoration and equipment.


Today Cakes and Co. employs five full time and two part time employees. The company creates cakes for every event and occasion including company celebrations, retirements, product launches, confirmations, weddings and anniversaries. In fact for any occasion you have – Cakes and Co. have an edible masterpiece with which to celebrate it!


The creativity involved in this business is inspiring and though the process of designing and creating is very labour intensive, the completed product is usually a feat of engineering and awe. The cakes themselves are baked to order at a local bakery with Irish ingredients and the equipment and sugar paste icing purchased from Irish companies. Once delivered, the design process begins with the team meeting together to discuss ideas and then try them out. Frequently, it can take upwards on five to seven days to complete one cake.
According to Rosanna and Joannie, trends in the cake decorating industry move really quickly and part of what they enjoy most is the challenge to keep one step ahead! Flavoured cakes are now rising in popularity and where once every cake created was a traditional fruitcake customers are now going for a variety of options such as chocolate biscuit cake, carrot cake, madeira, chocolate madeira or a variety of options.
The filling inside cakes is becoming more modern and extending from chocolate ganache (which is a mixture of high quality chocolate and cream) to chocolate, lemon or vanilla buttercream. Rolled fondant icing has become the stylish choice for brides who want a very smooth and elegant look to their wedding cake and white chocolate icing is also becoming a firm favourite. Is your mouth watering yet?


Customers are also using their imaginations to think of different shapes and themes for their special occasions. For example, Cakes and Co have created cakes for celebrities, rock stars, politicians, actors, entrepreneurs, film sets, TV sets etc. but some of its more unusual commissions have included a red Ferrari wedding cake four foot long, hen night hens with ‘L’ signs and the Blue Ridge mountains in Australia with a wedding couple on top!


The most popular wedding cake being commissioned at the moment is a cake that resembles a stack of presents. This cake is styled in the shape of squares – ‘gift wrapped’ presents – each tied with a bow (either real or made of icing), which are stacked on top of one another with the bows left to cascade down the sides of the tiers.


In terms of decoration, plastic bride and grooms are a bit ‘passe’ with more popular choices being ceramic figures, sugar caricature figures, sugar flowers, fresh flowers and ribbons.


But it’s not all about weddings. The company deals in cakes (and cake top pieces) for every occasion and finds that work moves in seasonal cycles:


“From January to March we receive orders for corporate cakes and special occasion cakes such as Birthdays and Christenings, then between April to October the business goes wild with orders for Wedding, Confirmation and Holy Communion cakes. Finally, from September to December of course you’ve got Halloween and Christmas, so we’re kept busy all year long and the variety is amazing” says Joannie.


Recently, one of the company’s greatest highlights was the honour of being selected to create the cake for Georgina Ahern and Nicky Byrnes wedding in August 2003. To complete the cake both Rosanna and Joannie flew to France and worked for 15 hours in the châteaux where the couple got married in order to complete the 9-tier cake and its detailed decoration.


Speaking on the experience, Joannie commented: “It was a fairy tale venue, absolutely exquisite and Georgina’s dream. We really got caught up in the atmosphere and really enjoyed the experience. It’s the first time one of our cakes had its own security!”


With regard to their business rules and advice for those who might follow in their footsteps, the company’s primary rule is ‘If In Doubt, It Doesn’t Go Out’.


According to Rosanna “Our business is primarily driven by word of mouth so it’s exceptionally important to only allow first class products to go out the door. We’re always very strict about this, if we have any doubts about a cake at all its doesn’t leave the premises”.


In terms of lessons learnt both Rosanna and Joannie are a wealth of information. Their ‘top tips’ on setting up your own business include:


1. Plan the company’s finances. Get your estimations and then add at least 50%!
2. Make sure every partner in the business has the same level of commitment and the same goals.
3. Be prepared for hard work.
4. Be flexible to change.
5. Recognise opportunities but don’t grow so quickly that the quality of your product and service suffers.
6. Know your business and your markets intimately.
7. Clearly define everyone’s roles and responsibilities so all jobs get done and there’s no overlapping or conflict.
8. Make sure there are systems in place for production, management and training.
9. Involve train and mentor employees
10. Quality is King! – “If in doubt, it doesn’t go out!’


These women truly love their work. The people they meet, the variety of their work and the creativity involved. In fact the only thing they complain about is that there aren’t enough hours in the day. Some women can have it all!
If you’re interested in following in their sugar coated footsteps, courses in cake decoration are held within Newpark Comprehensive, Cathal Brugha Street and Kevin Street.


Cakes and Co.
Jane Cottage, Newtownpark Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin.
Phone 01 283 6544