Today is the first post our brand new series : Bakery Tours! We’re hanging out with some of our favorite bakers and cake designers, taking an inside peek at bakery life!
Bakery Name: Jenna Rae Cakes
Location: 580 Academy Road, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Years in Business: 4 years – storefront opened in 2014
Meet The Team:
- Jenna : Founder | Co-Owner | Cake Designer | Twin Sister
- Ashley : Co-Owner | Head Baker | Graphic Designer and Photo Stylist | Twin Sister
- Chelsea : Head Baker | Sister
- Trevor: Store Manager | Ashley’s Fiancé
Jenna Illchuk of Jenna Rae Cakes has got it all. From her uniquely beautiful cake designs to her flawless presentation in both real life and online, Jenna grew her one-woman cake business into a thriving bakery and cake boutique, now jointly owned by her twin sister Ashley with sister Chelsea helping out in the kitchen. I’ve been an admirer of Jenna Rae Cakes since I fell upon their gorgeous Instagram feed – where lovingly styled and pristine white photos of perfectly frosted cakes flow daily. While brilliant macarons in every color of the rainbow dazzle me with their crumbs, drips, sparkles and sprinkles. Oh, and we can’t forget the towering wedding cake creations. Delicate ruffles and ornate flowers in designer hues by which Jenna was recently named one of the top 20 cake designers to follow by Martha Stewart Weddings. Not to mention her popular appearances here on The Cake Blog – who can forget this amazing cake from last December? A self taught cake decorator, Jenna spills the buttercream on how she fell into cake making, the business of cakes and how Jenna Rae Cakes is a family affair. Pull up the nearest plate and fork because it’s time to dig in!
I love when an unconventional path leads to the perfect career. What did you want to be when you were a child? What were you doing for work prior to discovering your love for cake designs?
I grew up baking with my mom, but truthfully, it didn’t even cross my mind to be a baker. I always wanted to be a hockey player. I received a scholarship to the University of Manitoba as goalie for their hockey team, and was working towards my science degree – the plan was to become a dentist! I started playing with cakes one day for fun, and put a few pictures on Facebook. Before I knew it, people started ordering and it blew up from there. My twin sister/business partner Ashley and I have always been artistic, so I consider myself really lucky to have fallen into a career that I love.
You are known for your gorgeous, artfully detailed cakes. You have such a great sense of design – your cakes remind me of couture dresses. Where do your design ideas come from?
Thank you! I like to use a lot of texture and sugar flowers are my absolute favorite! In my consults we look at a bride’s dress, and think of ways to add movement and texture into the design. I personally love working in metallics, and I think that gradation of coloring can add amazing dimension to a design as well.
You are a self taught cake decorator and designer – how do you see this in terms of both pros and cons? Were there moments when you thought about attending formal pastry school?
Absolutely! It can be really hard to know your own value without formal training behind you. I’ve taught myself pretty much everything I know, and I’m sure that some things would have been WAY easier to be taught to me, than to learn by trial and error. On the pro side, I’m not restricted by other people’s limitations. Because I’m self-taught, no one has ever told me that I can’t do something, which makes it a lot easier to think outside the box!
People who come across your work are awe-inspired and probably assume you are from a large metropolis such as New York City. Can you describe the city of Winnipeg to our readers? How does your location affect your cakes or your work as a cake designer?
First of all, Winnipeg has been SO incredibly supportive since we opened the bakery. We are a city of about 700,000 so by no means is it a large city, but, in the last few years, the artistic community has really created a name for itself. Winnipeg is known for having great restaurants and an amazing wedding industry. People are always walking into the bakery and saying “I can’t believe this place is in Winnipeg!” That’s such an amazing compliment to hear, but there are so many amazing companies starting up all around us. It’s a great place to be a small business owner.
Winnipeg is right in the center of the prairies. To be honest, it can be a little boring here – and we have one of the coldest, longest winters imaginable. It can be tough to stay inspired and focused on work. That does mean that our wedding season pretty much comes to a halt from November – March, so it gives us to time to re-group and come up with new ideas for design (and take a warm vacation!).
What are some of your favorite flavors from your cake and dessert menu?
Secret: I don’t actually like chocolate, so that’s definitely at the bottom of my list! I know, I know – so weird! But I LOVE our French macarons! We do at least 1 new flavor every day and my favorites are always the candy flavors – cotton candy, candy apple, lucky charms, watermelon and salted caramel are my top picks. We took a few months to test different recipes and develop our own recipe that has worked really well, and people love it. We sell over 800 macs every day!
Your recent black Chanel purse cake looked like you could put your wallet in it, place it over your shoulder and go for lunch with gal pals. What are your favorite types of cakes to design?
Definitely cake purses! They’re so much fun because of the intricate details and the beautiful details. I really just love it when someone gives me creative freedom. I love the chance my clients give me to make carved cakes – it stretches me and gives me the chance to play with different things. They’re also the coolest to figure out how to make – the challenge is always fun. We’ve done deer antlers and cruise ships; one particularly challenging design was a request to take a picture of a tattoo and make it into a 3D face cake. And, I obviously love making hockey cakes! I’ve had the chance to do a few cakes for the Winnipeg Jets, and other sports-themed birthday cakes, and they’re always a lot of fun.
You make the cake business look so flawless and glamorous. Are there days when you want to throw in the apron? How do you keep from getting burned out?
The way things look has a LOT to do with my twin, Ashley. She is the most amazing photo stylist and makes everything look SO pretty. That has been a huge factor in the success of Jenna Rae Cakes and our social media following. But of course, those minimum 12 hour days get to you pretty darn quick. Even when I have a day off, I’m already missing making cakes and being in the kitchen, so that’s a good sign!
I actually used to work overnights before I opened my bakery this spring – I was in school or waitressing during the day, and overnight (we’re talking 11 pm – 7 am) was the only time I could rent commercial kitchen space! So even though we’re working long hours, this is still a LOT better.
Your social media accounts are all well maintained. How important do you see this aspect of your business?
Instagram has been such an amazing blessing to our business and helping it grow. First, Ashley’s talent for taking and styling amazing pictures seems to inspire people to come out to the bakery on a daily basis. People are always tagging their friends and setting up JRC dates through our Instagram page. We post probably 3-5 pictures every day showing our menu, and it has totally changed how we sell product. We started off with our cupcakes being our least popular bakery item (weird, right?), and now every time we post a picture of a cupcake, we’re guaranteed to sell out that day. I think that as soon as people see a great photo that shows off the details of the treats, they’re more inclined to come and taste it. We also get a LOT of husbands who stop by on their way home from work, all saying: “my wife called and told me you have this today…”
What words of advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own cake business?
Make sure that you love it. You have to give a lot of time and put in a LOT of hard work. Stuff like this doesn’t just happen. You know that quote, “Love what you do, and do what you love”? There’s no way that we could work the hours we do and keep the quality at the level it is if we didn’t love what we do. It would be so easy to cut corners, and the business would suffer.
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