Making the Cake
December 4, 2007
By Jane Ayer
Geraldine Randlesome's Creative Cutters keeps the emphasis on making beautiful cakes (and creating tools for doing so).
As soon as you step through the doors of Geraldine Randlesome’s Creative Cutters, it’s pretty obvious what the focus is. A small retail store (the business is located in an industrial area and can only allocate 10 per cent of its space to retail) carries cutters, supplies, boards, icing and just about anything you might need for making a cake. A display case beneath the front counter features miniature wedding cakes.
Another case closer to the front door features more wedding cakes. A peek inside the office to the right of the front door reveals – what else – wedding cakes. Walk through the doors to the left of the front door and you’ll find a kitchen and classroom for making wedding cakes. Climb the steps and you’ll find a wedding cake gallery and stack after stack of cake boards. The wedding cake is the star here. And that’s the way owner and master cake maker and decorator Geraldine Randlesome likes it. The author of numerous books on the subject of cake decorating, the inventor of a large collection of cake decorating supplies (her impression mats are particularly popular), the teacher of a multitude of classes on the subject (Randlesome frequently travels overseas or south of the border to teach), one might expect a diva, someone with an oversized ego to match her many accomplishments. But that’s not Geraldine Randlesome. She’s happy to let the cakes take the spotlight.
Randlesome started dabbling in cake making and decorating over 25 years ago while raising her children in Oakville, Ontario. She enjoyed the creative outlet and decided to take courses to hone her skills. In 1982, Creative Cutters was born and in 1989, the business set up shop in its current location north of Toronto in Richmond Hill.
It was while making her cakes that Randlesome came up with the many cake-decorating tools that her business has become known for in the industry.
“I couldn’t find supplies,” she says.
Not to be deterred, Randlesome found a tool and die maker to make cake cutters and pans of her own design, and so Creative Cutters came into being. That same tool and die maker is still making supplies for the company, although much of Creative Cutters’ products are sourced from out-of-country companies.
“We’re an ideas house, we’re not really a house for baking.”
But baking (and decorating, of course) is definitely what the business is known for in Toronto and area. Randlesome says the majority of her wedding cake customers are Italian. She doesn’t keep track of the number of cakes she makes every year, but averages a few a week, she says. Also in demand are her corporate cakes. The Toronto office of Disney Attractions ordered a Creative Cutters cake when Disney celebrated its 25th anniversary. Randlesome has also worked with the likes of Toro magazine (creating a gigantic cake that represented all things Canadian), the Bank of America, the Toronto Transit Commission – the list is long. And just recently, Creative Cutters was commissioned to make 25 cakes for a new Bruce Willis and Mos Def movie called 16 Blocks. Def’s character dabbles in cake decorating and, in one of the many alternate endings, he sets up a cake shop.
Creative Cutters’ sugar paste and cake decorating courses are also well known, not only in the area, but also in the U.S. The courses are regularly completely booked months ahead of time (the class size is limited to 10), with classes that often are filled with more Americans than Canadians, says Randlesome. Just how do Americans know about Creative Cutters? The company has a regular ad on the back cover of American Cake Decorating magazine and every year attends the International Cake Exploration Societé annual convention (Creative Cutters is the longest attending exhibitor at 22 years). And in ’96, Creative Cutters set up a distribution office in Buffalo to make shipping to the U.S. easier and cheaper.
Other than the American Cake Decorating ad, the company doesn’t advertise, and only attends a select handful of tradeshows. Otherwise, Randlesome says the company relies on word of mouth and repeat business. She says many wedding cake customers will come back for baptism cakes or bar mitzvah cakes or other such specialty treats.
“Quality and service, that’s the biggest thing,” says Randlesome.
It’s something she says was hammered into her when she worked as a bank manager before immigrating to Canada years ago.
“There’s one thing that was drilled into me: service, service, service.”
New product development is also crucial, says Randlesome.
“You have to, that’s how you survive. I watch staff working and think, ‘oh we can do it faster than that,’” she says. “You have to come up with new ideas.”
A lot of those ideas come from listening to what customers want and finding a way to satisfy the customer while at the same time always doing things more efficiently.
“One customer wanted a picket fence on her cake, so we came out with the picket fence cutter.”
And when the topsy-turvy cake trend set in, Creative Cutters started making Styrofoam dummies in the required angled shape.
What other trends does Randlesome spy in the world of wedding cakes? She says cake flavours and designs definitely have a shelf life, and certain trends come and go in waves. Anything chocolate is always popular. Currently, seashells and fresh fruit are customer favourites for decorations, and rolled fondant (sugar paste) is the icing of choice – only a few of Creative Cutters’ customers ask for buttercream. As for using the fondant properly (the fondant recipe is Geraldine’s husband Alan’s specialty), Randlesome says it must be rolled as thinly as possible. The trick for doing that is a few seconds in the microwave before working with it. Her suggested guideline is six oz. of fondant per six-inch cake. Her secret for moist cakes? Liquid invert sugar.
What’s next for the Creative Cutters? Randlesome says she doesn’t want to see too much growth – she says the company is busy enough as it is with its current staff (which includes Randlesome’s daughter), and knows finding qualified and trustworthy staff can be tricky. But she muses about seeing bigger companies adopt some of her techniques and improve the efficiency of their cake-making business. Randlesome says she can decorate a three-tier wedding cake in 45 minutes – something she thinks would appeal to larger businesses. She also talks about a frozen wedding cake business for in-store
But for now, Randlesome is happy with the current state of affairs. She and Alan travel much for her teaching. Just last year they found themselves in Australia to teach for a week. She has no plans to retire anytime soon, despite bad knees that slow her down (although much improved since a knee replacement surgery in the fall). Randlesome says she loves what she does too much to retire. Her father used to work as a baker, and she says he often told her, “you have to feel what you do.”
And she does.
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