For Mandie Miller, starting a cake business was no small feat. She is a one-woman show who creates gorgeous, custom quality cakes out of her home in Charlotte, N.C. Mandie shared a little information with me about her busy life and how she balances family and a booming business. Got What It Cakes already has quite a portfolio of customers including several prominent magazines, celebrities, and bloggers who are singing praises for her edible masterpieces.
Mandie, how did you get your start with making cakes? Have you always loved to bake?
I was like so many other people who fell in love with cake-related shows on TV (Cake Boss, Ace of Cakes, Fabulous Cakes, etc.), and when it came time for my daughter’s first birthday, I thought, “I can make the cake!” From that point on, I asked friends if I could make them cakes as their birthday gifts. I did this (for free) for two years, and demand kept growing. When my youngest was 8 weeks old, I decided that I was sick of spending so much money to make these elaborate cakes and officially launched my business. I got my kitchen inspected, applied for a business license, formed an LLC, got my tax ID number, created a website, ordered business cards, etc. Literally, my husband came home one day from work asked me, “What did you do today honey,” and I said, “I started a company!” I sent out an email blast to friends and family saying what I had done, and boom . . . my life exploded. It’s never been the same! I haven’t always loved to bake. I had to learn how to do it! I scoured websites, books, read thousands of forums, watched every show, etc. But I credit most of my learning to YouTube. I honestly say that YouTube taught me everything I know.
You clearly state that you only do custom cakes for your clients, and they’re not what most people could find in an average bakery. What made you want to break out of the box in terms of making traditional cakes?
Basically, I saw a need in Charlotte. Everyone was in love with the carved, 3-D cakes that they were seeing on television, but they were struggling to find bakeries that were providing these cakes. So when I was offering the free cakes to my friends and family, the first two years, they were all those kinds of cakes! I got really good at them and built a bit of a demand for them, so when I launched, people would see that I had a portfolio for those cakes that they were seeing on TV. And that strategy worked . . . for them and for me! I didn’t want to do single tier, shell border cakes. I didn’t want to do sheet cakes. I wanted people who wanted a cake that they would remember their whole lives, and I continue to adapt my business. Right now I’m only doing wedding cakes, the groom’s cakes to go with them, and gender reveal cakes. I’m very lucky that I get to be picky about the kind of orders I will accept.
Working from home, owning your own business, is not nearly as simple as most people think it is. What’s the most challenging aspect for you?
Such a great question! I think that there’s a bit of a stigma for people who bake out of their home, instead of out of a storefront. People think that somehow it’s not a full time job. I can’t tell you how many times I hear, “Oh, you have a cake business out of your home? Is it your real job? Do you work a lot of hours?” Yes, it’s my very real job, and yes, I work 80-100 per week. It’s especially hard to run a cakery out of your home because my kitchen is where I pack my daughter’s lunch, eat dinner, and crank out 3-10 cakes per week. There is an unending pile of dishes, and my cabinets are full of regular kitchen stuff and then as much cake-related stuff as possible! I have taken over the garage for storage and to house an additional three fridges and another oven. I also don’t get a break from work since it’s out of my home. My office is in my dining room/consultation area, and my kitchen is constantly staring at me saying, “come back to work.” There is no separation from work/life . . . it’s all rolled into one! My utility bills are sky high, and I have to pay more for a lot of my products because many places won’t deliver in bulk to a residential address. So although there are some positives to working from home, it’s not a cake-walk.
You’re also a wife and mother. How do you find the balance?
Yes, my husband and my minis are my world! And I LOVE being with them, so I make them as much of a priority as possible! Luckily, my husband is the most patient partner, and most wonderful father, so he is my number one supporter, helper, cheerleader, etc. He understands that this is my job, just like he has a job. He, more than anyone, knows how hard I work. My minis are such fabulous little people, and they’ve grown up with me doing cakes, and working A LOT, so it’s all they know! I do try to work while they’re in school/preschool, napping/quiet time, and then after they go to bed. But of course there is a ton of time that I have to work while they’re home/awake, and they have learned how to entertain themselves with independent play! In saying that, it is by far, the HARDEST part of this job… finding a work/life balance. Most people think I have the best of both worlds because I get to stay home with my kids AND have an income, but sometimes it can feel like it’s the worst of both worlds. I never get a break. My company and my kids need me all day long. The responsibility for everything falls on my shoulders every hour of every day. But I’m a “life is about perspective” girl, and I realize that although the days are long, the years are fast. And in a few years both of my minis will be in school full-day, and I’ll be able to work then, and hopefully get my nights back to do something other than work. My husband stays up with me at night, so even if I’m working, we can chat, catch up, and have quality time without the chatter of the girls. He’s so proud of me, and I couldn’t have married a better person to be along for this crazy ride!
If you had a free day to experiment in the kitchen, what would you make, or try for the first time?
If I had a free day, I would NOT spend it in the kitchen! But to answer your question, if I had time to play in there, I’d probably practice making complex gumpaste flowers and working with blown sugar! I would also like to play around with different buttercream recipes, including Swiss Meringue Buttercream, Italian Meringue Buttercream, etc.
Of all your creations, what’s the one thing you’ve made that you were the most proud of—the one that deserved a magazine cover?
Another good question! It’s so hard to pick a favorite! I’ve had some HUGE cakes, and those are usually the ones that get the most press. I’ve done a 3-D rhinoceros cake for an American Idol winner, and I was incredibly proud of that cake because it took so many hours and I was under so much pressure (since it was going to be aired on her TV show). It was also my first 3-D animal cake, and it turned out pretty well! But I also think that a sewing machine that I did for my mom’s birthday, and a bowl of cereal that I did for a friend were pretty cool too! But magazines usually have gorgeous wedding cakes on their covers, and I have a few of those as well.