WE HAVE NOW RETIRED!!!! and will be no longer making cakes to order after Saturday 3rd June 2023.
Sad Goodbyes And New Beginnings
Saturday June 3rd, 2023……that was the day I saw the last cake I will ever make as a professional cake decorator being driven away! After it had gone I closed my shop door, turned off the lights and sat down in my soon to be empty cake decorating room for a moment or two to think about all that had gone before and wonder what will come next……
So it began
At the tender age of 16, I attended the National bakery school, London to train as a cake decorator and then spent almost 10 years in the baking industry learning my craft in a commercial setting. On Saturday 2nd May 1987 I opened the doors of my first shop in Waltham Abbey, Essex and over the next 37 years, having moved premises multiple times, the last 20 years of trading were spent at Northgate End, Bishop’s Stortford.
My original business model was to sell cake decorations and equipment to home cake decorators combined with making celebration and wedding cakes to order. The two sides of the business complemented each other well until the pandemic, when we decided to focus solely on making cakes to order.
Throughout the journey, we faced both highs and lows. On the downside, a catastrophic fire occurred in the early 1990s (the exact date escapes me) at my original premises, necessitating a temporary relocation to Theydon Bois for rebuilding and refitting. There were also 3 financial crashes including the current one and a global pandemic! But the highs far outweighed the lows and probably why I kept going SOOOoooo long!
Staff and customers
Karen’s Cakes had some great staff and many, many fabulous, loyal customers. The team, which ebbed and flowed as their own life situations changed and my business model evolved, produced thousands and thousands of top-class cakes for all occasions. I was always at the helm, hands on, following the philosophy I wouldn’t ask someone to do anything I couldn’t or wouldn’t do myself….and anyway, I enjoyed cake making and being able to pass on some of my knowledge to staff and shop customers alike.
The many experiences
Another joy or curse, depending on the traffic and weather conditions, was delivering wedding or large bespoke cakes, there’s something special about seeing a cake in its final destination together with all the pre-buzz of the event.
I went all over the place, marquees in back gardens, pubs, restaurants, village halls and hotels of all types, some in central London or the depths of Cambridge, Suffolk, Essex and Hertfordshire!
A cake is often one of the last items to be delivered, allowing me to witness incredible transformations carried out by the on-site team to ensure everything goes smoothly. I remember one particular weekend during the height of our production when I had 18 wedding cakes to deliver for a bank holiday weekend. Careful planning meant I delivered all of them on time and without any issues.
For a period, I worked on international part-work magazines ‘My Cake Decorating’ and ‘Something Sweet.’ I had to visit a studio in central London, where the photography of my designed and created items took place. This experience, involving the recreation of various stages of the process for the magazine, was a welcome departure from my typical workday. I found it to be a fascinating incite into a creative process I knew so little about. I loved every moment of it!
I also had a very brief stint on a craft shopping channel. It’s fair to say, that was not my natural place, so I quickly bowed out! But it was great to give it a go and see behind the scenes of the industry.
Cake decorating as a hobby
We also ran cake decorating classes and demonstrations at various points along the way. Cake decorating as a hobby has experienced periods of great popularity, followed by quieter phases before surging once more. Strangely, we found it seemed to coincide with the economic climate! If people had more money in their pocket, they were happy to pay someone to make a cake for them, so we saw cake sales increase and cake supplies sales drop and vice-versa when we were in an economic slump.
TV shows also whetted the appetite of crafty, baker types wanting to dive into a bit of cake decorating. The Great British Bake-off being a prime example of a this. But for us, it was not great news! Big business then jumped on the band wagon! Supermarkets started selling our core products at prices we could never complete with and a whole flurry of online suppliers grew from nowhere, also with cut-price deals and a home delivery service on top. We became the last place people shopped for those supplies, which is the main reasons we dropped that side of the business post-Covid as shopping online had become the new normal.
Our online presence
Time to go
So that, brings me to ‘that’ decision, to stop making cakes and try something new. Something that doesn’t require the huge commitment every cake maker has to have, mine, with the added pressure of high street premises with its overhead costs that must be paid come what may! I feel we finished at the right time, I’d achieved and done all I wanted to with the business. I’d made cakes of every conceivable type, from cupcakes to spectacular wedding cakes, for the great and the good, corporate showstoppers at massive celebratory events, even the odd cake for a TV show or celebrity.
Karen’s Cakes had earned a great reputation! We worked hard to maintain our high standards and excellent customer service for nearly four decades of operation, and we always looked for ways to make our offer the very best it could be. We evolved and adapted to wherever came our way, and I’m proud to say, we stayed profitable right up to the end.
For me, I’d reached a natural endpoint, a place where I needed to embark on a new journey and passion, one without the everyday pressure of cake making and decorating. Right now, it’s simply defined in my mind as ‘not doing what I’ve been doing for so long’. It’s something new, that embraces some of my skill set. What that will be, I’m still discovering!
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