Retail report: Cake decorating hobby grows into home-based Domestic Arts Custom Cakes of Ann Arbor
Laura Blodgett | For AnnArbor.com
“I had been playing around with baking and just gave it a shot,” she explains. “A mom at the party ordered one and then another mom and now it’s gone gangbusters.”
Calling her business Domestic Arts Custom Cakes & Sweet Things, she started by finding a recipe online for handmade fondant. She soon learned she could “do really cool stuff” like zombie cakes with “blood” coming out the eyes and create different cake shapes using Rice Krispie treats as the foundation.
Since then, it seems like the requests are getting more and more elaborate.
“I’ve learned not to ask why and just do it,” Luz says with a laugh. Luz enjoys the challenge of figuring out how to make what a customer wants.
Her business really took off last June when the Cottage Food bill was passed in the state that allows individuals to manufacture certain types of food in a home kitchen.
“Jennifer Granholm basically removed the barrier for people who wanted to start a food business in Michigan, and as a direct result of that, I was able to go from baking occasionally for friends and family to starting my own kitchen and advertising,” says Luz. “My business easily tripled within a month.”
Luz soon decided to convert her Scio Township home's sunroom into a commercial grade kitchen to meet demand.
“It started getting too difficult to bake in my regular kitchen with the children coming in and out. Plus the airbrush was making too big a mess.”
She designed the kitchen herself purchasing much of it at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, where she used to volunteer, including equipment tables and a $400 sink that she picked up for $20.
She also hit up a restaurant resale store in Detroit for restaurant grade mixers and nabbed a set of “scratch and dent" double convection ovens for a steal at Lowe’s, allowing her to bake twice as much in a third of the time. She even has a printer that prints in food dye on edible rice paper.
Now she makes 10-15 specialty cakes a week, in addition to custom cupcakes and cookies that she delivers for clients. She also holds classes, one-on-one teaching sessions and parties for kids and adults.
“I spend a lot of sleepless nights,” says Luz, who puts in 40-50 hours a week. “I wait until my kids go to bed and bake and decorate right up until the order is due. The bad news is I don’t sleep; the good news is that my cakes are always really fresh.”
Working in her sunroom kitchen allows her to keep an eye on her latest venture — the hens she is raising for eggs to use in her baked goods.
“I call them the girls. I have been hand raising them for four months, and they just started laying eggs. I was so excited when that first egg came out you would have thought I had laid it myself.” Luz is now considering beekeeping to harvest honey.
Luz uses fresh organic ingredients such as fruit and buttermilk whenever possible and uses half the usual sugar so the cake is not “sickeningly sweet.” Cake choices include such as exotic flavors as chai latte, almond amaretto cream and the top seller, lemon zest with fresh raspberries.
She uses unexpected ingredients such as a Turkish pepper from Zingerman’s in her chocolate batter for extra punch. She can even make allergen-free cakes, including one that had to be free of egg, wheat, nut and dairy.
Luz attributes her success to the fact that as a mom herself, she knows how to help other moms throwing parties. She hand delivers all her cakes, along with napkins, candles and cake plate if necessary, and even offers to stay and cut the cake.
“Most hosts are always running around and don’t even have time to eat the cake,” Luz explains. “I even started designing cakes with a smaller topper cake that they can set aside and take home for later.”
For Luz, a former head hunter turned stay-at-home mom, this new business is a dream come true.
“I knew I didn’t want to go back to sales, and then this just happened for me. I wish I figured it out 20 years ago. Cake makes people happy. It hasn’t been without some strain, honestly, but I’ve had the best time of my life. It has helped me lay roots down in Ann Arbor, and I’ve met so many people. I’m just so honored that it took off.”