Malaka Wilson-Greene, co-owner of California-based bakery Two Chicks in the Mix, started her business with her best friend in 2013 after taking up baking as a hobby a few months before. In fact, baking was her side hustle to working at a preschool up until 2019, when she turned to it full-time. Juggling two jobs—from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., plus catering on weekends—had taken a toll.
“Being a preschool teacher is a really physical and emotional job, and baking is really physical, and entrepreneurship can be emotional in general,” she notes. In addition, the bakery was becoming financially stable. “If I put a lot more time into the business, how much more could it grow?” she recalls thinking.
Customers mostly find the bakery through Instagram, their website, and word of mouth. Prospective customers fill out an inquiry form on the website with their wedding information and, in general, what they want their cake to look like. Semi-naked cakes are their specialty, and customers usually already know from their website and Instagram that’s the aesthetic: usually, a plain white base with fresh flowers on it. “What we do is really popular—most people do just want a simple traditional wedding cake,” says Wilson-Greene.
Occasionally, however, she’ll have to refer customers to other bakers: “For example, we don't do fondant—it doesn’t taste good. Or if they want their cake to look like a peacock, we don’t do that. We have a really simple, rustic, elegant cake design.”
If a customer’s idea is in their wheelhouse, the bakery will provide an initial quote, ask for inspiration photos, and direct them to purchase a tasting of four preselected, best-seller cake-and-buttercream pairings that customers pick up from their kitchen (a commissary and commercial kitchen in Alameda called The Prep Station, where they share space with various other food businesses). From there, they’ll send the customer a proposal with all the details, and the customer will put down a deposit that is 50% of the balance, with the other half due one month before the wedding day.
If a wedding reception is on a Saturday, Wilson-Greene will begin shopping on Wednesday and Thursday and baking it on Friday. “But it doesn’t usually happen like that,” she chuckles. “It would if yours were the only wedding on my calendar. Juggling a bunch of things, I’m usually a day or half a day behind.” That means trying to make as much as she can on Thursday, frosting the cake Friday, and then applying the flowers to the cake right before the wedding day.
On the day of, an insulated box keeps the cake level and stable in the back of her SUV’s trunk, and she turns the air conditioning on for added coolness. “The process of delivering it is stressful, but I try not to worry about it too much.”
She makes sure the wedding cake is set up about 30 minutes before the guests arrive: “The cake is part of the cake decoration, in my opinion, so I want the cake to be there just as the flowers and all those other things should be done.” (That may vary depending on whether the beautiful cake is set up outside, for example, or whether guests are first gathering at a different area away from the cake.)
On any given week, she juggles two weddings max per day on Friday and Saturday with about a dozen or so smaller cake orders or tastings. She tries to balance those two weddings by booking one larger (or farther) one and one smaller (or closer) one each of those days. “That’s because, it’s only me—I have to deliver them,” she laughs. “I can’t be running here and there.”
Wilson-Greene is firm about doing the flowers on their cakes, although clients often suggest their florists can handle the cake dressing. “We say that’s our policy because cake making is an art form, even though our cakes a really simple. And because they're really simple, flowers are the decor on the cake. An artist wouldn’t give a blank or half-completed canvas or artwork, and we feel the same way about our cakes—we are responsible for them from start to finish.”
A client recently said their wedding florists would put the fresh flowers on the cake and asked Wilson-Greene to remove that from the price quote. “But that’s already included in the price, and we don’t give discounts,” she had to point out. That’s just one way that clients try to bring the price down—“that energy of nickel and diming,” as she calls it.
“I understand because everybody has a set income, and we are in a pandemic where a lot of people have been hurting financially. But I think just recognizing that people on the other side of the transaction are people too. When you order your dream wedding cake, you're getting it from a small business or small wedding vendors—corporations don’t make wedding cakes and desserts. Even before the pandemic, we see restaurants struggling all the time. It is a very high-cost, low-profit industry. A lot of people are looking for the cheapest thing in so many facets of life.”
“As a food business, you have your cost of goods—so basically how much it costs me to make a cake,” Wilson-Greene explains. “That includes ingredients, the time it takes to make something at our kitchen, packaging—all the different things that I have to spend money on to produce the cake. Then we have a number that's how much profit do we want to make, or how much of the price is the cost and then how much is the profit. So that's all math.”
She revisits that math annually. “Food costs go up all the time, and you have to factor in the cost of living and inflation, and you want to be able to give yourself a raise, and all those things.” That includes knowing what your competitors are charging as well. “You don't want to undercut your competitors, but you don't want to overcharge either.” She also considers goals for the business and her personal goals when creating prices.
Wilson-Greene finds that a lot of clients want a small cake and then a sheet cake, which her company does not do. Couples, in their wedding research, may see advice that it’s a cheaper route, but she disputes that. “Sheet cakes are still cakes, and it costs money to make them. People may think that they're getting such a huge discount when they're really not. When we did do sheet cakes, it didn't turn out to be such huge savings for clients.” She advises that your cake will serve more people than you think. “Each baker or cake designer has their own guideline about how much their cake will serve. But it usually serves more.”
Wilson-Greene doesn’t work on Sundays, and she won’t deliver further than an hour away. In November, before Thanksgiving, they shut down completely for orders to focus on pies. Inevitably, that means she turns away a lot of customers. So how does she decide which customers to work with? “If we have the day open, if it’s a cake we’re excited to do and is within our delivery parameters, we won’t say no.” That said, “before, when we were doing in-person tastings, people would turn me off, just their personality or the way they behaved, and I would say no to them.” If a customer seems overly demanding or difficult, she’ll decline to work with them. “I’ve had people come in who are completely rude or want to show so badly they’re not interested in this process. That’s not a good fit because it is a relationship where I’ll be talking to them and working with them until their day. Sometimes, in the industry that we are in, people take the labor that we do for granted.”
Before the pandemic 85% of the business was weddings, but when COVID-19 hit, they pivoted to offering free local cake delivery: Their small cake serves eight to 10 people, and the petite cake includes four to six small slices. “During the first part of the pandemic, that is what really sustained our business,” Wilson-Greene says. “Now that we are just opening again, weddings are about 60% of our income, and 40% are people ordering those small cakes.”
Ideally, weddings would be 25% of her business. “Weddings are stressful,” she admits. “It's a different kind of energy when you're doing a wedding cake versus just a small cake, which is a lot more relaxed.” She also wants her income spread across multiple channels—another lesson from the pandemic: “I definitely don't want to concentrate so much of our business into weddings again.”
What does Wilson-Greene love to hear from her customers during their wedding planning? “That they're really excited about the cake that they trust me. The best clients are the ones who want to check-in, and then that's it,” she laughs. She’ll check in with clients a week before the date to make sure everything is still as they discussed.
In general, she wants clients to know that baking is hard work and that not every baker does everything. “Not every person who makes desserts does every type of desert. There are so many desserts out there, and different makers have different specialties. Don't be afraid to find somebody who fits your needs.”
The wedding cake is an important decision, and a good relationship with your wedding baker is key. Knowing more about how they work creates more trust, which is vital to bakers doing their best work. Keep all this in mind, and you’re sure to have a sweet finish to your special day.
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