[Ashley] Today on The Forever Bride Show we are talking about all things, wedding cakes and how to set realistic budget expectations. Stay tuned.
[ Ashley] Hi everyone, welcome to The Forever Bride Show. I am Ashley Hawks and we are talking all things wedding cakes today and I am so excited. I was kind of hoping that we were going to have a big beautiful cake that we would sit here and eat. That’s because I have my friend Leah who is in the studio today and Leah is the owner of INK Sweets. We have known each other for about two years now, we’ve worked on a couple styled shoots together. Leah, thank you so much for being here.
[Leah] Oh my gosh. Thanks girl. Great to be here.
[Ashley] So next time we do this we’re totally going to have to have like a big smorgasbord of like macaroons and cookies because you do way more than just cakes!
[Leah] Oh yeah. I mean if it’s got sugar in it I could probably make it!
[Ashley] Let’s do a little macaroons with some rosÃ©! That’s how we need to start doing this podcast you guys. Make sure you subscribe because I think it’s going to start getting more interesting after today. But anyway, today what I want to talk to Leah about is, and brides you know this, that Pinterest is one of the go to places to get inspiration, ideas, and things like that. But what’s happening in the wedding industry is there’s this disconnect between these beautiful things that you’re finding on Pinterest and then the realistic expectations of what you can actually afford. And Leah, you are planning a wedding right now, you can totally relate!
[Leah] Yeah I am. I am caught in a Pinterest trap myself. I thought I could do everything low budget. It’s not working out that way but it’s fine. It’s going to be great.
[Ashley] See brides, this is real! Here you have a woman who is in the wedding industry. She knows this and still is over budget. Anyway, before we dig into this, Leah, tell me, tell me about INK Sweets. And for those of you that are listening that want to follow along on Instagram her handle is INK Sweets. So make sure to give her a follow so you can understand, the amazing talent behind this woman. How did you how did you get started doing this? You just wake up one day and realize that you could just make these gorgeous flowers out of sugar?.
[Leah] I I grew up an artistic kid. I was crafting all the time, coloring on the wall, sculpting. I mean if it was anything that you could tear apart and put back together in the house, I did it. And one of my mom’s best friends actually was kind of our neighborhood craft mom. But she was also our neighborhood Martha Stewart. She always had something in the oven. And I just remember the smells from that house. When she would come over, she would bring over sweets and baked goods all the time. And so growing up around her, I was always doing crafts and having baked goods around. It’s just something that I always enjoyed. And then, when I was 14, actually the TV show Ace of Cakes was on with Duff Goldman and I was obsessed with it! Like you could not tear me away from the TV, I was obsessed with it! Duff Goldman actually ended up doing a tour and he did a little demo of the show, where he judged a competition near my hometown. So my mom, bless her heart, bought me a ticket and I got to go and I got to meet him! I remember I looked at him and I thought, I wish I could make cakes like you and — I will never forget it, he looked straight back at me just dead serious and said: “All right. So do it!” The next day I was like, well we have to go to the grocery store and I mean, back then it was like, I bought the Pillsbury mix and the Pillsbury Icing and it was a absolute trainwreck but, it was the first cake that I made and it was it was really exciting and “¦ it was horrible! But you know, I had made it. I had done it, and from there, at 14 years old, I absolutely knew what I’m doing with my life! And it’s pretty rare that it happens that young but I’ve been really, really fortunate that I’ve always known what I wanted to do. So that made the process of starting INK Sweets. It just feels so right. It feels like a very very long time coming.
[Ashley] That’s so awesome. Do you remember the flavor of cake that was your very first one, the Pillsbury?
[Leah] Oh gosh! It was probably funfetti for me, because truthfully as much as I love to bake and I bake from scratch and I am so proud of the things that I make, there is something about a Pillsbury funfetti box cake that tastes so good. It just tastes like nostalgia to me so I could probably put a bet on it. That was probably it.
[Ashley] Oh my gosh. That’s awesome. I will always think of that now when I see you. That’s so good. OK. Now INK Sweet. So you definitely have your own style and I mentioned this before, our listeners have to go see your instagram to see this style. Now your title is a professional dessert artist or a.k.a. the cake lady. If you guys are watching on YouTube you have to see these beautiful tattoos on her right arm. OK. And this is the first thing I noticed when you and I first met years ago. Tell me about your tattoos you have macaroons, doughnuts, pastries! Tell me. Tell me about it, you even have a whisk!
[Leah] I’ve got everything on my arm!
[Ashley] I love tattoos.They are beautiful.
[Leah] I’ve got peanuts, I’ve got butter. I’ve got prunes. I’ve got macaroons, doughnuts, croissants, bacon.
[Ashley] What’s your favorite tattoo on this arm?
[Leah] Probably, it’s not even the food on this arm, it’s the purple irises. They’re my mom’s favorite flower.
[Ashley] Those are really pretty.
[Leah] So that’s probably one of my favorites. Yeah. My favorite tattoo is actually on my back. You can’t see it, it’s the first tattoo I ever got. It’s this weird symbol that I drew. It’s all my family’s initials and this flick cool side. It’s really cool. It’s definitely the most meaningful tattoo I have because I mean “¦ when you have cake and bacon tattooed on your arm”¦
[Ashley] It’s because cake and bacon are awesome.
[Leah] I know. I don’t regret. I love all my tattoos.
[Ashley] They’re beautiful. I told you I took a picture of my phone earlier and I’m like I want to put a picture of your tattoos on our show notes. If you’ve listened to our podcast before I go on a million tangents and our guests go on tangents and that’s what makes it so fun, but we need show notes. And if you’re planning a wedding you go on tangents too. So you know how this goes but OK. So getting back on track. So this Pinterest world, which you are very much aware of, because you are a bride right now, is creating these unrealistic expectations of a ten thousand dollar cake on a Cub Foods budget and so how do you even start to work with a bride when she comes to you and she comes with these beautiful Pinterest ideas. What is kind of your process when you start working with a bride?
[Leah] I try to be pretty straightforward. When I approach people or where they approach me about tastings the first thing I do – I send them a little questionnaire to get to know them a little bit better, to get to know the day that they’re planning and what they’re looking for and on the questionnaire, I ask what is your ideal budget with a little asterisk that says that my cake starts at seven dollars a slice which is pretty standard for a small artist, like a contemporary arts cake studio. You’re obviously going to find prices that are cheaper elsewhere, people who are doing more production, obviously ground grocery stores and things like that. But I try to be really upfront about that because I don’t want any of my prices to come out of left field, but you know at the same time, people need to do their research a little bit because you’re absolutely right, people see these cakes on Pinterest and they bring them to me and they say: “I want this cake, but I have five hundred dollars.” I really pride myself on trying to accommodate people but you need to be aware of what you’re getting into. So you might want a fancy cake and we might be able to do that but it’s gonna be a tiny cake or you know we might have to go a different route. It’s my job to give you the cake of your dreams. And so there’s some wiggle room in there but you need to do a little bit of research and in an urban area prices are a little bit higher. So that’s just my advice. I try to be straightforward and if you find a cake that you love on Pinterest – bring it in, but also be prepared for the price that it’s going to be. The cakes on Pinterest are beautiful but I also know how long those cakes took to make and I know that they weren’t cheap. So just be aware of that. Bring those pictures, it definitely helps figure out like the route we should go, but don’t have your heart always dead set on that, be open. That’s what I like to say is: know your budget, but be open and do your research because it’s not always going to work out perfectly.
[Ashley] I think that’s a really good point too. You know when somebody comes in for a consultation, when you’re hiring an artist you should never go to the artist and say: “Make this exact thing”, because, for example, when you go and get a tattoo you’re going to an artist, you’re hiring them to bring in their own creativity to the piece, to bring in their own style, to learn your story and what you’re looking for. So yeah, when you do bring an inspiration keep it just as an inspiration. I think that’s a really good point: be OK with sitting down and talking to your cake artist about what you are looking for. Maybe there’s some other options instead of doing it. The thing that I am most blown away by you is these sugar flowers! Those flowers, I can’t even imagine the hours that it takes to make one of those and maybe you can say: “Hey, because we’re working with this budget, maybe we could look at doing the cake that you love but maybe with some fresh flowers instead of these extravagant ones. I would be pissed if someone ate that flower! We did a style shoot together and you brought this cake and I’ve never even seen a flower like this in my life! It was so insanely gorgeous. Please tell me people don’t eat those!
[Leah] Sometimes people do because they’re just curious. Obviously they’re edible, but I do not advise that you eat them. Some people, which I really really enjoy, save them and then I can get them back and I can rewire them into a bouquet almost if there was enough so then you can save them because they dry out and they can be preserved. They’re just very fragile. But I can wire them all back together I can make a bouquet which is really cool.
[Ashley] What a great keepsake!
[Leah] I know! You’re absolutely right though, that’s another thing that people don’t always understand. The cake process in general is a lot longer than people think. But these flowers they see on Pinterest with these super intricate designs and these flower and stuff, they don’t understand how much work people put into making those. I have spent over 60 hours on flowers for a cake, not including going to the store for the ingredients. And I am not complaining. I love it. It is my happy place. I thrive on the details. Again, going back to doing a little bit of research – those elements are really, really cool and they can really bring an interesting personal touch to your cake but they take time and time is not always cheap. It’s the labor of love.
[Ashley] Honestly, I love the idea of a keepsake. Cake toppers were such a trend and for those, you know like two people that actually follow me on Instagram, they know that I’m a psycho and I love collecting vintage cake toppers. That’s the modern cake topper, this beautiful intricate piece of art that you can keep after the wedding that’s it in your colors and it’s this beautiful piece! Now you do more. So we’ll put some photos on our show notes of these flowers that we’re talking about! These sugar flowers are different, these are crazy, but not just the sugar flowers! You did a cake recently it’s on your Instagram and it looks like it was a sliced open egget with the marble crystals on the side of it. What was that piece?
[Leah] That’s what I have been working on. I took a workshop with one of my favorite decorators last year and so I’ve really been playing with texture lately. So I’m not sure exactly which cake you’re talking about but I’ve done a couple recently that had these super cool, stony, odd unique textures and… that’s another note that I would like to make for brides: do not be afraid of the odd or the untraditional approach, because this is where I thrive. I can absolutely make you a white cake with lace and sugar flowers. I can do it and I’ll crush it. But the goal is to is to do something a little fun, to go out of the box. I did a cake dummy recently inspired by my fiance, Jordan. We took a trip up to the North Shore and it was this overcast day, there’s moss everywhere, there’s mushrooms growing on things. And so this cake, it looks like the rocks in the stone up on the beach and it’s got these sugar mushrooms and these weird branches and vines! It’s super weird but it’s so interesting to look at and I’ve gotten so many compliments on it because it’s just us, it was our trip, it was personal and I think it’s definitely something that people should consider more.
[Ashley] I love that idea. I’m doing an interview next week on one of the local news stations, and they want to talk about how to incorporate telling your love story into your wedding day. And I want to talk about that. That’s such a great idea, about “we”. That’s where your fiance proposed, on the North Shore. So we sat down with our cake artist and we told her the story and then she actually made this cake with the moss and the mushrooms and this side of the cliff! That’s so cool!
[Leah] And that’s my goal! Again, I can make whatever cake you want. If you’re a traditional and you want a white cake, that’s fine. Everyone’s got their own taste but don’t be afraid of doing something wacky. Come to me with a story. Come to me with a story about your first date or where you got engaged or maybe just a special vacation you went on. Those things, you might not realize, can turn into something else. And I think the cake is something that’s often overlooked as as a aspect of a wedding that can be really personalized. You know it’s just not something you think of but it really, really can be and maybe not everyone will even get it. But the fact that it’s my goal to create something for you that is going to be magical and create a sense of wonder and make people curious about why it is the way it is. I just think it’s more interesting to go outside the box and just do something a little weird.
[Ashley] I love it and that’s such a great conversation piece too for the guest talking about it. You know for maybe the 20 percent of the wedding guests that do know the story and then people are asking, what is this cake all about? Well that’s actually where he proposed or, for example, I’m telling a story later about how my husband and I met on a blind date and he brought a dozen long stemmed peach roses and I was put off because we hadn’t met before! That was a little over the top but that’s his style and then we incorporated peach roses into our wedding! One of the other questions I had for you was regarding budget because there are two ways to look at the cake per slice. There’s some people that will do the entire cake in one piece, three four tiers and this giant beautiful piece but there’s another way to look at it by doing a a smaller more decorative piece and then having you make another sheet cake in the back or the same flavor of cake that you can cut up and serve. Does that change your budget at all?
[Leah] It does. I will say it’s not always our favorite option as decorators because we want to create this showpiece but as someone who is planning a wedding and is trying to stay on budget I will do whatever I can. If a bride really really wants me as their vendor I’m honored enough in that I’m gonna figure out a way to make this work for your budget. So you sent me a five tier masterpiece on Pinterest that you absolutely love and we can take those elements and make a two tier cake and price it out that way and then do some sheet cakes that are a little bit less. My sheet cakes are still more than a grocery store but you are going to save a decent chunk of money and that is something that I like to tell people because I want to make the beautiful showpiece. And if you’ve got money for it, then just go for it. It’s gonna be awesome. But if you don’t, that’s fine. There is no shame or judgment. I’m in the same boat. I tell people that all the time! Girl, I’ve got you!
[Ashley] Go to ForeverBride.com! They have blogs about everything! So I have another question and maybe this is stupid, because I don’t know a lot about the cake side of things, but like flavors, when it comes to like flavors and fillings and different things like other price variations and that… like all real strawberries are off season. So doing like a strawberry cream middle a little bit more expensive rather than doing like you know a chocolate? Or does that play into pricing and budget at all?
[Leah] A little bit. I have set up my menu in such a way that it all balances out so I might have ingredients in one cake that are a little bit more expensive. But I’ve got ingredients in another cake that are a little bit less expensive so it just balances out. Now, I do tell people that they can come to me with custom flavors. I really, really love the menu that I have designed for the season, so I always hope that people want to go with those because I’m very proud of it and I spend a lot of time testing the flavors and the pairings, and the balance
[Ashley] And if you need help testing those flavors you know our office is down the road!
[Leah] So I do always hope that someone picks what I’ve got but I do leave it open if you want a custom flavor, that’s fine. But if you come to me and you are on a chocolate hazelnut butter, it’s gonna cost a little bit more but for the most part, things from my menu are all priced at the same price point because I think it makes it a little bit easier.
[Ashley] Ok. So tell me really quick, and this is again me just not knowing a lot about it, but fondant years ago was the typical rubber on the outside of the cake that you can eat and nobody really wants to eat. Tell me how much has fondant changed over the years? Because I’ve had a couple of cakes recently that had this fondant, that actually melts in your mouth and it looks it’s this perfect rubber siding that looks beautiful and you can actually eat it versus chewing on it like gum for 20 minutes.
[Leah] I love the fondant. I do. I will make you a buttercream or a white chocolate ganache cake. I will do it. However, fondant lends itself to the most fun creative ideas. And to your question, it honestly just depends on the brand. I started out when I was working in Chicago. We were using a specific brand that I hated, it tasted like Plato. It smelled weird. It was rubbery. It was gross. And I thought that that’s what fondant was. But now I have tried probably five or six different brands and I finally settled on one that again, goes into the price of the cake, the fondant that I do use is probably double what other fondants are but it’s good. It’s a dream to work with and it actually tastes good. I mean you don’t want to eat a bucket of it by itself but it tastes so much better than any other fondants I’ve had, so it has come a long way. But again, that’s another one of those little things that plays into the price because I’m trying to give people the best product and if you want a beautiful fondant cake, I’m going to get it for you. My fondant is imported from Switzerland, it’s fire! And I’m trying to provide you with the best product. And unfortunately it’s going to cost a little more but it’s good, it’s gonna make everything better, tastier, more wonderful.
[Ashley] What I want to do, I’m thinking of our next Forever Bride Market. We have a Market here in Minnesota called the Forever Bride Market, it’s like a boutique wedding expo at the Mall of America.The next one is in November. It’s beautiful and I was thinking how fun it would be to compare your fondant with other fondants. People are going to go: “Oh I know what you’re talking about, yes I understand why this is twice as much because it’s ten times as better”. Yeah that would be a really cool!
[Leah] Yeah I know. The reason that I switched and I bit the bullet and went with the more expensive stuff is because what I used to tell people is oh you want this really beautiful fondant cake you know here’s the price point but I wouldn’t recommend eating. I would just peel it off before you know you serve the cake like an orange. And so I did my research again and I went out and I found some stuff because I’m like.. this is just silly and a waste. You should be able to just eat your cake and it should be delicious.
[Ashley] Yeah. Go do the cheap stuff, if it’s just going to sit there all day anyways. But for your wedding, if you’re going to eat it. Is that still a thing, do people still save the top of their cake for things like the one year anniversary? It seems like it takes a lot of space in your freezer and kind of gross. Do people still do that?
[Leah] I am maybe going to have an unpopular opinion about this, but brides, do not keep the top tier of your wedding cake! I will bake you another one! You just let me know if you are really passionate about eating your wedding cake the next year!
[Ashley] I don’t know where the tradition is from.
[Leah]Do not understand it at all!
[Ashley] Everything in the phrase got her fired up. Also if you’re watching on YouTube this is good. She’s like getting pink in the cheeks like preach.
[Leah] This is just a trend I do not understand because anything in the freezer for more than four months to me is trash. So it’s like yeah you could eat it and you’re like oh this is sentimental. It’s our wedding cake. It’s going to taste awful. Just let me know. I will bake it and deliver. I will hand deliver you a little baby forage cake on your anniversary.
[Ashley] I love you!
[Leah] As long as you do not save that top tier because that is disgusting.
[Ashley] OK. We’re breaking traditions brides. You heard it here first. Go do it. Oh my. Another one I promise. OK. For any of you that are still listening to this because this is just awesome and if you gave up on us by now good you’re probably not our ideal bride anyways. But you know what. For those of you that have made it this far and love listening to this you have to join our Facebook group! We have a private Facebook group called Forever Brides. It’s a private group and it’s basically a place for you to go on and vent and ask questions and talk about silly traditions and ask other brides what they’re doing! It’s hilarious and it’s so nice and it’s safe and it’s just this this awesome place. It’s brides from all over the country! I love it. You guys have to check it out. It’s free, it’s just a little group at Facebook but it’s just so positive and encouraging. I think you’re a part of it too aren’t you? With the forever brides page?
[Leah] I am because I am a bride.
[Ashley] I know.
[Leah] It’s stressful though being like a bride and a wedding industry professional.
[Ashley] Something else we talked about before the show, what is the best way for a bride to prepare for a tasting? Because I think you understand how to go trying a wedding dress – you go, you look to the rack. What’s the best way for the bride to go. “OK well I’m setting up a consultation with Leah.” You know? How how does she prepare beforehand? What’s the process?
[Leah] So I just would like to point out I cannot speak for every decorator, but for me personally I want you to do a little bit of research. Come prepared, know what you like. Maybe go on Pinterest find the things that intrigue you the most but be open minded because again the thing that you fell in love with on Pinterest might be a five thousand dollar cake and that’s a lot and that’s a hard pill to swallow. And it’s hard for me sometimes to break the news to brides. So have an idea of what you like but be open minded to other ideas and alternatively to that, know what you don’t like, I would say about 50 percent of the time it’s easier for me to work backwards. You know I have a lot of people who sometimes just don’t know what they want and they’re like: “I don’t know, everything is pretty and I just was curious what you thought.” And I can’t work with that but I can start listing off questions like: square around cakes? Oh I hate square cakes! Do you want fondant? No I hate it. How do you feel about this? Oh I hate that! So if you don’t know exactly what you want maybe try to write a list of things that you don’t want because it might be easier to work backwards.
[Ashley] That’s a really really good piece of advice. So this will be my last question: as a bride, what is one piece of advice that you can give to other brides right now, who are just starting the planning process because you’re in the homestretch here? Advice or what’s something that you wish you knew earlier in the game?
[Leah] Don’t panic. I was just telling Ashley that I had a meltdown yesterday. Well luckily I have a very, very supportive wonderful fiance! It’s all fun fun fun fun fun, you do all your DIY, you do your crafting, and you get everything together; then I put everything in a spreadsheet and I did the auto stub and I went “Oh!” I was like: Oh no! But there’s nothing I could do about it. I’m so happy and ecstatic about the day that we’re planning. I had a little meltdown because things are expensive, but at the end of the day you hopefully only get married once and so try not to panic, try to enjoy it. I’ve had a few little meltdowns and it’s just been so silly because then the next day I’m so happy – I might put a deposit on something and I’m so happy. It’s like the little win. So just try not to freak out. Everything’s gonna be fine.
[Ashley] Her advice is don’t do spreadsheets! Just spend away, just don’t look at the price. Deal with it later you’ll figure it out!
[Leah] What I’d say to you if you are passionate about it.. you’ll figure it out.
[Ashley] That’s so good. Yes. That’s so good.
[Leah] Who knows, that could be horrible advice… First time bride here.
[Ashley] Do we need a disclaimer on this? Like we’re responsible for all the fiances are gonna be emailing us,saying she heard on The Forever Bride Show that she didn’t need to do a spreadsheet!
[Leah] Just don’t panic. You’ll figure it out because either you’ll realize you’re spending too much money and you need to pull it back. Maybe you need to make some cuts which are fine! I make a couple cuts and it’s not the end of the world! It’s totally fine! Or you’ll just say this is what I want. This is what is gonna make us happy. It’s gonna make the day better more personal. And you’ll just figure it out. So don’t panic. #dontpanic
[Ashley] This is way too much fun. You guys have to follow Leah on Instagram. Her work is out of this world. Beautiful. Also, make sure that you guys are subscribing to this podcast. We have one that comes out every single Friday, I get to bring in my friends to the studio and we just get to talk about weddings and hopefully make your life a little bit easier and a little bit more fun, because Lord knows this is stressful! And if we can make this a little bit more enjoyable for you, and help you laugh about some of the things, because that’s the best thing. So I really appreciate you guys listening. Thank you so much for just supporting us. This podcast is still new and I’m blown away and so so grateful and humble for how many people have subscribed and the great feedback we’re getting, so just please know that it means a lot to us. And and the fact that you’re supporting our local businesses based here in Minnesota – we really believe in community and supporting these incredible artists, so thank you so much. And we’ll have the show notes up on our website. Thank you guys so much for listening. I’m Ashley Hawks and this is Forever Bride.