Today's blog post features Kim Coryea with Hummingbird Bake Shop!
Hummingbird Bake Shop is a small bake shop with no retail storefront that operates from a licensed kitchen in Cleveland Heights. They specialize in custom cakes, cookies, mini pastries, cake toppers, favors, and other hand-crafted details. Hummingbird also works with their clients to style their cake stable, craft cake toppers, make decorations, and creatively present their dessert. They also use quality, responsible ingredients and source locally whenever possible.
For this week's post, Kim shared her insights about new wedding dessert trends, as well as information about ordering, and advice for choosing not only the right bake shop, but also choosing the rest of the vendors for your big day.
Photo Credit: Dovetale Photography
How did you get started?
Unofficially, making wedding cakes started ten years ago, when together a friend and I made another friend’s wedding cake. I have always enjoyed baking, entertaining and being in the kitchen. My family sat down for a home cooked meal every night. As far back as I can remember, I looked forward to holidays like Halloween or Christmas because it meant decorating cookies, which I would spend hours doing.
In 2007, I quit my corporate job in the television industry, attended the French Pastry School and started over doing something that excited me and felt purposeful. It sounds very cliché, but it’s true. I was living in Chicago and was scared out of my mind to start over, but knew I would always regret it if I didn’t try. I had tremendous respect for the craft, so it was important to me to learn to make pastry using classic methods. Chicago had one of the best French pastry schools in the country.
After school, I staged and then worked at a few different bakeries in Chicago. I realized that although I loved the camaraderie in the kitchen, I emotionally connected way too much to everything I was making to be successful at high production work like what was expected at a hotel or restaurant. My goal was to start a small, relationship-driven business specializing in custom cakes, but still keeping my hands in some of the other pastries and candy I enjoyed making.
Starting a new business presents a tremendous amount of financial realities. My husband and I researched (extensively) affordable markets where we could realistically start over. We wanted to move somewhere that made sense for my husband’s job, the type of food business I wanted run and a place where we could both see ourselves living. Once we chose Cleveland and made the decision to move to here, it was over a two-year process getting here: selling our home, continuing to work while trying to find new jobs, finding a community, creating a business plan, and continuing to hone my pastry skills.
I intentionally started gradually in Cleveland in 2010 making cakes and desserts for friends as well as friends of friends. I did events for free to get my name out there and just did a ton of baking. It was important for me to get to know the market and how much volume I could handle. I would do an event and then connect with other like-minded small business vendors who liked what I was making and would refer me. That’s really how it happened. Vendors, friends and past clients refer me and that’s mainly how I continue to get work. Hummingbird became an official business in 2011.
I honestly never anticipated how much weddings would become the core of my business. For the type of custom work I like to do, and knowing my personality, it has been a great fit. Getting to know families at this intimate moment and time in their lives, then using their story to create a cake that uses quality ingredients, tastes great, looks great and is structurally sound is something that is both an exciting challenge and a privilege. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a ton of work and can be very stressful and scary, but it’s also a lot fun. Wedding cakes can have a bad reputation when it comes to the quality and flavor, so I continue to work very hard to make something that I’m proud to serve and clients enjoy both looking at and eating.
As with any small business, there have been great peaks and valleys, growth challenges, and business plan rewrites, it seems, daily, but I’m so incredibly excited and grateful to have the opportunity to do this and proud to see how much this tiny little bake shop grows each year.
Photo Credit: Janelle Putrich Photography
What wedding trends have you noticed popping up recently?
Cakes are going more classic and simple with more of a focus on seasonal and local ingredients. Couples are definitely doing much more than cake, or finding alternatives to cake (i.e. dessert tables, smaller bites). There is definitely not as much ceremonial tradition and more personalization. I’m all for getting creative, but when it comes to trends, I encourage couples to think about what they really want at their wedding. If it happens to be trendy and you want to do it, that’s great. But if you are reading that dessert tables filled with endless options are the “it” thing, but you want a traditional cake, then have a traditional cake. If you really want donuts, then you should have donuts and go to a baker who specializes in donuts. Listen to your baker and caterer, however, to make sure whatever you choose is within the confines of the venue, weather and season.
Photo Credit: Lauren Gabrielle Photography
How far in advance should cakes and/or desserts be ordered?
Hummingbird doesn’t take consultations more than 12 months from the day. I think securing your date 8 to 12 months out with a smaller bakery is pretty typical.
The venue can often determine the type of dessert you go with. If you are getting your desserts through your caterer or venue, then you might lock into a contract earlier than 8 to 12 months.
I find that if couples do a cake tasting outside of 12 months from the day, or do too many of them, they can forget what they tasted or second guess their choice by the time the wedding gets close. Over the course of a year, menus change, ingredient prices can fluctuate and circumstances like the weather can affect the crop of some produce, which affects the overall cost of some flavors as well.
I ask that we lock into a guaranteed minimum when you reserve the day and sign the contract, have the flavors finalized within 30 days of the day, and then add on any additional cake or desserts needed at that time.
If people have general questions about cake or desserts more than 12 months from the day, I am happy to email or set up a time to talk on the phone to answer their questions.
Photo Credit: Addison Jones Photography
How do you determine how much cake or dessert to order?
It really depends on the wedding and the type of cake and/or dessert you are having, so I ask a lot of questions. How many guests are you inviting? Are most guests local or out-of-town? If most your guests are local, then the 20 percent decline rule is a good place to start. If most guests are coming from out of town then it may be more like 30 percent declines. For a 200-person invitation list, I start building a dessert plan for 150 guests. I like to start conservatively and add more cake and desserts if needed when the final count is in.
If you are ordering a tiered cake that will be the dessert for each guest, it is appropriate to have a slice for everyone with a few extra servings to give the caterer cutting the cake some leeway and account for those rare “what-if” circumstances. I am happy to go over some of those with clients. I try to educate clients about the structure of the cake as well. There are dowels and structural supports in a cake that may affect some servings.
Wedding cake servings are typically 1” x 2” and generally that’s how caterers cut them. I prefer to account for a 1.5” x 2” serving, which gives some flexibility and a little larger slice. Obviously cake is not measured with a ruler when it is cut or the caterer would be there all night doing it. I always have serving charts available for caterers who may want them, but most caterers are really experienced at cutting cake. The cake is food, the person who made the cake is rarely the one who cuts it and your wedding is an important day that can have unforeseen circumstances. To account for these things, bakeries provide a range of cake servings per tier.
In my experience, bakers and pastry chefs do not want you to run out of cake, nor do they want you to pay for a ton of cake that you aren’t going to eat. They really have the best interest of your wedding at heart. If you get the impression that your baker is trying to make you pay for cake that won’t be eaten, then he or she may not be the best person to make your cake. If you do have some extra, I typically bring a box. If the caterer does not have to cut into the smallest tier of your cake, then you can take it home and enjoy it the next day or freeze it for your anniversary.
If you are not doing a cake and just having a dessert table of mini desserts (i.e. cookies, macarons, tartlets) then I tell clients to account for four minis/petit fours per person.
If you are doing a mix of cake and dessert table minis/petit fours, but aren’t serving the cake to each guest, it can become difficult to estimate how much people will eat. Will the desserts be available to guests at the time reception begins? Will they come out later on? Will there be other late night snacks? How many different options do you want on the table?
When having both cake and dessert table options, I suggest that you have a serving of cake per person and then enough minis for three per person. Generally, the more options you have on the dessert table, the more per person you should order. If you are trying to be more economical, but want more choice, then filling in with some smaller cookies or candy bowls may make sense. Other people may do it differently; this is what I suggest from my experience.
While I love a good dessert table, mini dessert options can add up quickly and the overall price can be higher because they can be more labor intensive to make. If you are looking to save money, this is something to keep in mind.
If you are having standard cupcakes, then 1.5 per person is a good estimate. Typically, cupcakes are not served, so people graze and so you should account for more than one per person.
Photo Credit: Addison Jones Photography
Do you have any other advice for newly engaged couples?
Whatever vendor you are seeking or choosing, be honest with them about what you want and what you want to spend. It’s important to be realistic too. If you know a baker’s (or other vendor’s) prices start at a place that’s not within your budget, please do not go to that vendor and expect or demand a deal. You won’t end up being happy and neither will the vendor. Cakes and desserts take a great deal of time to recipe test, design, bake and construct. If dessert isn’t something you care too much about or want to spend your money on, it doesn’t mean the baker or pastry chef will spend any less time or effort making it.
It’s your wedding and you should feel a connection with your baker, your caterer, your florist, your photographer… Do your research and get referrals from people who you trust. This is where hiring a wedding coordinator is really helpful. They work with so many vendors and can make those recommendations and connections for you.
When it comes to bakers specifically, I recommend tasting the cake. Again, do your research prior and determine what’s important to you. Choose just a few bakeries you want to try based on those you think fit with what you want for your day versus just trying a bunch of cake, to try cake. I think you’ll be much more satisfied with the end product if this is the approach you take.
Be open to your baker’s suggestions and opinions, but be wary of someone who will do anything at any venue at any time of year. While I love to work with clients on custom designs and flavors, not all cakes and desserts are suitable for every venue or situation.
Thank you, Kim, for your thoughtful responses! We hope these answers will help point newly engaged couples in the right direction for choosing the right vendor to fit their wedding dessert needs!