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Moms Doing It For Themselves: Tracy Desmond

One day she made a cake, the next day she started a novelty cake business. Cork-based mom, Tracy Desmond, set up traceofcakes.ie over three years ago. Art comes in many forms, and Tracy's unique artform is going from strength to strength!

Tell me a bit about your business?

I have a bespoke, couture, wedding and novelty cake business. So, I would be classed as a wedding cake/cake designer. I’m based in Ballincollig, County Cork. I work from home, in a bakery at the side of my house, so it’s all separate from my daily family life. I started out three-and-a- half years ago.

I was good at art in school, painting and drawing. But I never knew that I would be able to translate it into the food industry.

At the moment, I am booked out months in advance. The days of someone ringing me on a Tuesday looking for a cake to be ready for Friday are well gone! I don’t have time for anything at the moment, my business has taken over every minute of the day.

For instance, I’m living on four hours sleep a night. I have to drop the children to school, collect them; then there's camogie, violin lessons, guitar, football, swimming - you name it. They’re into everything, so I’m trying to be supermom, but I’m giving up on that at this stage!

It is tough, but I can actually survive on very little sleep. I'm doing something all the time. I am one of those people who can’t sit down. I've inherited that attribute from my parents who are very hard workers. I rarely get a day off.

What was your motivation to start up the business?

It all started with my first cake. I decided, one day on a whim, that I would make my fiancé, Kevin, a cake for his birthday. He works for UPS, so I made him a UPS truck cake. When I look back at it now, it was shockingly bad, but at the time everyone thought it was amazing.

It just went on from there. We still have such a laugh about that silly truck cake.  I have no idea what I would be doing if I had never met Kevin, he's been amazing.

I also got invaluable help from my parents Paul and Collette, and from my sisters Carol and Deirdre. Without my family I simply wouldn’t have my business today. With so many positive and generous people around me, my business just went from strength-to-strength really.

At the same time as starting the business, I realised that I needed to be at home with the children. I wanted to be there for them when they needed me. I just thought it would be very upsetting if I went to work and wasn’t available to them. That was my number one priority - to be there for them. Now, if there’s a gym bag forgotten or one of them is sick I am there within five minutes

Sometimes, when my business is manically busy, I get overwhelmed. And then again, I absolutely love it. I would do it constantly all day, every day, which is the case now. Some days, I feel: “Oh God! I have to go back out there now”, but 99% of the time it’s not a job to me. The pay-off happens when people come in to collect their cakes and to see the delighted looks on their faces is just so wonderful. You can’t put a price on it.

What’s your background?

When I finished my leaving certificate, I started working straight away. I tried to get into Art College at that time, but there really wasn’t much help or guidance back then. I did a little bit of window painting here and there. I painted crèches and playrooms, murals, etc.

An artistic nature was always there, within me. My dad is very good at art and my twin sister Carol is also brilliant. Mum is also so creative with her dressmaking and sewing skills, and is accredited in Interior Design.

Dad always baked when we were growing up. We have great memories of who was going to lick the spoon! My children will come in from school now and say: “Anything there mom?"

It was only shortly before I started out that I realised that there really was a business in sugar craft/novelty cakes. It was all new to me before I started.

Have you ever been asked to do a cake that you’ve found hard to conceptualise?

Every week I am challenged - mainly down to budget. Everyone wants this amazing ‘WOW’ cake, but at the end of it all, it’s down to what their budget allows.

Without a doubt, my biggest but most enjoyable challenge was to create a sugar masterpiece for Xposé presenter Lisa Cannon's wedding in Florence last September, where Kevin and I personally delivered her dream cake to Castello Di Vincigliata.

What have been the highs and lows of starting your own business?

The highs are the facts that I am proud of myself and my family is proud of me. I always knew that I was ‘meant for something’. To be known for what I do is a definite high.

It’s so nice to walk down the street and be approached by someone saying “You’re the girl who made ... ‘s cake”, or “You’re the girl who made my cousin’s 21st cake.” Everybody talks about the business to me and the cakes I’ve made.

Also, being awarded bronze for my very first entry to Blas na hEireann with my biscuit cake and additionally, I was so proud to receive the eumom Business Parent of the Year Award at the Boots Maternity and Infant Awards. It's amazing to love what you do, but to be acknowledged for it is just superb.

The lows would be the fact that I’m not able to spend as much time with the kids anymore, because I take too much on. I don’t have enough of a workspace and I am always on top of myself work wise. Other than that I love everything.

What advice would you give other mums trying to set up their own business?

Be prepared for very hard but very rewarding work. Be prepared for long hours. You have to be dedicated. I want to reach for the stars!

Find out about what’s available to you funding-wise. From a food industry perspective, I started Food Academy with Supervalu through Bord Bia and the Local Enterprise Board in Cork. I applied for it and was honoured to receive a place. It was all about designing, packaging, branding and selling the products.

It was fantastic, and I got great support from both my Local Enterprise Board and Food Academy, and I am now supplying some SuperValu stores in Cork with chocolate biscuit cake pieces.

Do you have tips for balancing your work and family life?

Prepare for days off. Try to be one step ahead. I just go with the flow; every day is different. The most important aspect of your life should be your children. You should spend as much time with them as you can. After all, it’s for them that you’re working so hard.

What is your next step for 2016 / 2017?

I suppose to expand is the next thing. Even if it wasn’t for the Supervalu aspect, I would like to expand the wedding cakes side of the business. I want to be known as the number one person to go to for your cakes. My goal is to get my name out there further. I am not there yet, because there are still people who haven’t heard of me.

My signature product for SuperValu is white and milk chocolate biscuit cake. I cut that in pieces and put them into a cup that’s packaged as if it’s a little gift. The demand is incredible. I am supposed to be in eight stores in Cork, however I’m only managing to supply two.

The product is so popular that I could deliver them into SuperValu here in Ballincollig on a Thursday and they could be completely sold out by the Saturday morning!

If you had three wishes for your business, what would they be?

  1. To expand the business.

  2. To have some dedicated employees. Even though when I work I don’t speak. If anyone comes into the cake room they are ejected with the words: “Get out!”. I suppose all artists zone out and shut off. But it would be fab having apprentices who are entirely devoted to the novelty cake business. You would need to be talented and have that artistic flair.

  3. More work/life balance! If I had someone to delegate to then I could take at least one day off a week!

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About the Author

Lucy Earley is MD of artisyn.ie, (former editor of Salon Magazine) and is a freelance writer, interviewer and editor. She's a delighted convert to the maternal side following the birth of her daughter, Lara, in August 2014

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