Inside Track: Baking up a new career
Spelling error serves as constant reminder for former teacher who purchased aunt’s cake shop.
Mary Scheidel remembers driving to a bakery on the West Side of Grand Rapids 21 years ago to pick up a cake for her son, Ian’s, baptism. When she returned home with it, the flub was as obvious as the frosting that adorned it.
“Instead of it saying ‘God Bless Ian,’ they spelled it ‘God Bless Dan,’” Scheidel said. “I said ‘Ian’ over the phone and when (the bakery employee) wrote it down in cursive, it looked like Dan instead of Ian. I had to bring it back so they could fix it.”
The bakery’s error serves as a constant reminder to Scheidel when it comes to making confections for weddings, birthdays, baptisms and other special occasions, the devil truly is in the details.
Scheidel became proprietor of Connie’s Cakes in 2010 after her aunt, Connie Hennip, and Wanda Faber decided to sell the business they launched in 1995 in Cutlerville when it was known as Connie’s Cakes -n- Crafts.
But buying the pre-order bakery almost didn’t happen.
“At the time, (Hennip) had a buyer lined up, and they backed out on the day of closing and she was going to close the shop,” Scheidel said. “I called her around Thanksgiving in 2009, and we got together and talked, and by March 2010, I had all my financing arranged and I bought the shop.”
One of Scheidel’s biggest decisions was to rename the cake shop with the shorter moniker Connie’s Cakes and pull up stakes in Cutlerville and relocate the business in 2013 to a 2,000-square foot facility in the Eastown neighborhood of Grand Rapids at 1416 Robinson Road SE. Scheidel has expanded its pre-order sales by adding a bakery counter. Her product line includes wedding cakes, birthday cakes, baby shower cakes, ice cream cakes, cupcakes and gluten-free chocolates. She also is considering adding pies.
Moving Connie’s Cakes to Eastown has proven to be a hand-in-glove fit with her business, Scheidel said.
“When I bought the shop, I knew within five years I’d want to move someplace else, and it was really three years I made the move,” Scheidel said. “The location we were in previously was surrounded by used car lots, gas stations and mechanics — more male-based businesses. My clientele is more female-based. It’s the moms and the brides who come in and get cakes. I knew I needed a location more suitable for that.
“I like the location; we’re in Eastown,” she added. “It’s not in the busy part by the bars but a more quiet section. We have shoe stores, we have a hair salon, gift shops, and we have good restaurants. It’s a good fit. We’ve got a lot of drive-by traffic; we’ve got beautiful display windows that can catch people’s eye.”
Going into business for herself caught Scheidel’s eye after she decided to no longer earn a living as an elementary teacher following a 20-year career as an educator at Charlotte Public Schools, Holy Spirit School and National Heritage Academies, respectively.
“It just got to be too much politics, too much testing,” Scheidel said. “I got tired of the pressure that was put on teachers and the pressure put on the kids. It just wasn’t right for me anymore. It was time to go.”
Following her resignation, Scheidel worked for a year in her husband’s media and production company, The Scheidel Group, and then for three years with Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, until her full-time job was reduced to part time.
It was then that Scheidel’s husband, Tom, floated the idea of purchasing the bakery. The idea struck a chord with her, though she would have backed-off from the idea if it meant launching her own business from the ground up.
“I was ready to do something different,” Scheidel said. “I wanted to own my own business, to be my own boss. I would have not started a cake shop from scratch. (Hennip) already had a good clientele and things were already in place. It was easier to move into that position (as the owner).”
Owning and operating a cake shop has required Scheidel to decide on where her skill set lies and where it doesn’t. Decorating cakes, wedding cakes in particular, which represents half her business’s revenue, isn’t one of them. For that, she leaves it up to two creative, capable employees who work throughout the year and a third during the busy wedding season, which typically starts in April.
“When I first bought the shop, I thought maybe I would be a decorator,” Scheidel said. “It’s got to be perfect for a wedding, even a birthday. It was too stressful for me to try and learn decorating and learn all the baking and make all the icing and do all the business end of it, too. I’m still learning organization, workflow and management, that sort of thing. I do have an accountant who helps me, and my husband helps with the PR and marketing.”
Apparently, Scheidel’s method of deciding who does what at Connie’s Cakes is working.
Earlier this year, Connie’s Cakes won a WeddingWire Couples’ Choice Award for 2016. WeddingWire is the largest online marketplace for connecting engaged couples with wedding vendors.
The award recognizes the top 5 percent of local wedding professionals from the WeddingWire Network throughout the United States and abroad that demonstrate excellence in quality, service, responsiveness and professionalism.
The award is based solely on the reviews from over 1.2 million newlyweds and are determined by a combination of excellence in four factors: overall rating (quality); total number of reviews (quantity); review performance from 2015 (recent); and consistency of reviews from year to year (consistency).
“When people come in for tastings, I’ll ask, ‘How did you hear about us?’” Scheidel said. “I bet you 80 percent of the time they say, ‘We Googled wedding cakes in Grand Rapids and your name came up at the top of the list. We saw a lot of great reviews at The Knot or WeddingWire or Yahoo reviews,’ So, those reviews are very important. Word of mouth advertising is the best kind of advertising.”
Communication is key when making sure a wedding cake a couple has in mind is spot-on, not only in its design and the number of flowers they want on it (if any at all), but the correct hue of color, Scheidel said. Photo sharing websites, such as Pinterest, are immensely helpful.
“Sometimes, we’ll draw it out,” Scheidel said. “We’ve done so many different kinds of wedding cakes. Some people like a beach theme, and another one are really into their trucks and wanted one with ‘mud’ (chocolate frosting) splattered on the cake. They want to do something really personal.”
And as Scheidel knows from personal experience, you can’t make assumptions even with names that supposedly have a conventional spelling.
“People have ordered a cake that wanted Allison on the top. I’ll ask how is it spelled and they’ll say it’s spelled the usual way,” Scheidel said. “And what is the usual way? Allison? Alison? Alyson? We want everything spelled out. We’ve called people back to clarify the way it’s spelled. You don’t want to misspell a name on a birthday cake.”