Ok, I know for a fact that there are LOTS of us out there; hard-working people who’s passion in life is baking, baking and more baking. We’ve baked and decorated cakes for our co-workers, made cookies for our friends’ baby showers, catered parties with trays and trays of beautiful baked goods, and maybe even won a few baking contests (hehe!). We’re bakers. We’ve worked hard and have finally developed a sense of pride and accomplishment in what we do. Now it’s getting closer and closer to being time to take that next (and giant) step forward: opening a bakery. If you’re anything like me, you might be wondering how the heck this thing works. How hard is it? How much money will I make? What if I suck? (Ok, you might not be wondering that- maybe that’s just me!)
I’ve had the (freaking sweet!) opportunity to do an interview with Catherine Ruehle, owner and head honcho at the Sublime Bakery in Fort Worth, Texas. As some of you may remember, I won a cookie baking contest back in December and the Sublime Bakery started selling my winning cookies. I had the pleasure of having lunch with Chef Catherine and getting to know her; and she graciously agreed to give me this interview- how cool is that? I thought it might be a big help to those of us who aspire to open our own bakeries someday. Catherine has recently been on TWO Food Network Cake Challenges (they’ll be airing soon!), has worked with David Tutera, and her cake business is among the best in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. And now we get to “hang out” with her for a few! Cool! A lot of these questions came straight from you- I asked the girls on a popular cooking forum what questions they’d like to ask a professional baker and they came up with some great ones! I threw them in there with a few of my own and I think we came up with a pretty good interview! Here goes:
Just how crazy are the hours? I think so many of us have these grand ideas of strolling into the bakery around 8 AM, popping a few cakes in the oven, greet a steady flow of happy customers until around 5 or so, then call it a day. How realistic is that? Yeah, well, that’s not very realistic, but it depends on how your business is structured and how many people are sharing the work load. When I first opened I worked from 5am to 8pm 6 days a week. Now that I have more staff, we don’t have the pastry case for walk in, and we open 2 hours later each day, I work from 8am to 5pm on Tuesday and Wednesday, a bit later on Thursday, a LOT later on Friday (sometimes past midnight to get the wedding cakes done for Saturday), and Saturdays vary depending on deliveries. But, I also put in at least 3 hours at home every day after work (on the computer) and I always have a LOT to do on my “days off” as well. When it’s all said and done, I usually work 70-80 hours a week. If you’re not prepared to live your work then you just shouldn’t consider opening a shop.
What do you think is the most important tip for successful baking? Start with the best ingredients and make everything from scratch, every day. Don’t skimp for the sake of a couple of pennies profit, don’t cut corners. Most important, LOVE what you do and hire others who love it too. If you don’t love it the product will suffer, guaranteed! Funny story: a while back, just out of the blue, we were having trouble with our cakes sticking really badly in the cake pans. The cakes were breaking when we turned them out because they were sticking so bad. It was such a pain, we tried everything and just couldn’t figure out why this was happening all of a sudden. Then we had a “staffing change” and someone who was really unhappy left the bakery. Like a miracle, the cakes stopped sticking the very day she left and haven’t stuck again since. True story.
Now, this one is very important: Chocolate or Vanilla- which is better? Personal preference is for Chocolate (Good woman!)
I know you can’t give away very much information about your recent Food Network Challenge debut, but if you could sum up the experience in one word, what would it be? There is not one word that could possibly express my experience at Challenge. It was the most amazing professional experience of my life, without a doubt! My competitors are now my friends, I have Kerry Vincent on speed dial! It’s stressful, it’s emotionally and physically exhausting but it’s also exhilarating. It was 3 days of absolute heaven for me (I’m genetically inclined toward competition). I am DYING to watch the episode to see what they edit out and what they keep. It is a TV show after all, so you never know what they will make of it!
I know the main attraction at Sublime Bakery is the custom made cakes, but aside from that, what would you say is your number one item? I’ve heard great things about the S’Mores bars! Yes, the S’Mores are big. We also do a lot of gluten free and vegan cupcakes and bakery cakes. And our cheesecake lollipops are a big seller as well.
I think a lot of us really have no idea what goes into starting a baking business (I’m definitely including myself in that!). How difficult was it getting your bakery started? Yikes. That’s a loaded question. The hardest part is dealing with the city for permits and such. It’s a nightmare, I won’t sugar coat it. You need a contractor who’s done it a million times and even then it will be a nightmare. It will cost you at least twice what you budget and you’ll run at least a month late for your opening. Count on it. It’s a lesson in patience and perseverance and it you can get through that it’s good practice for running the business! Oh yeah, and don’t expect to pay yourself for a while, no matter how good you are and how successful your start up is. It takes time.
It seems like styles are constantly changing when it comes to custom cakes- what would you say are the latest trends right now? We’re doing more and more 3-D cakes which makes me very happy because they’re my fave. Clients are also wanting really personal cakes. For example, even our wedding couples are including sculpted figures of their pets or they’re wanting to include personal elements that reflect their hobbies and interests. Color is always trending, right now we’re seeing a lot of greens and purples.
What training/experience would you say is necessary/helpful for those that want to open a bakery? Training is always good but passion and a boat load of cash are absolute necessities.
Any favorite stories/experiences about owning a bakery? How much time do you have?
What do you do with any leftover stuff that doesn’t sell? Personally, if it were me, I’d most likely end up in the kitchen floor, shoving my face full of day-old cake! But somehow I doubt you do that! Well, one of the reasons we stopped the pastry case is because I couldn’t stand having product left over at the end of the day, even if it was just a couple of bars and cupcakes. Everything is special order now so we have no waste! I would usually give leftover product to my neighboring businesses and of course I’d take some home to my kids!
Ok, last one: Any advice for aspiring bakery owners? Show no fear and work like a dog!!
Wow- very, very helpful info! Thank you SO much for taking the time to give us all a little insight!! I really hope this has been helpful to some of you aspiring bakery owners! You can become a fan of Sublime Bakery on Facebook, or follow on Twitter to keep up with Catherine and all the cool things she’s taking part in!