By Brian Hartz
Lisa Bugeja has a sense of humour – and not just because she opened her
new business, Flour Confections in Pickering, Ont., on April Fool’s Day
| Lisa Bugeja at her new shop, Flour Confections, in Pickering, Ont.|
Lisa Bugeja has a sense of humour – and not just because she opened her new business, Flour Confections in Pickering, Ont., on April Fool’s Day this year.
The George Brown College-trained cake designer has to keep things light to successfully manage her multifaceted enterprise, which on any given day can see her baking, designing, decorating and delivering cakes; teaching classes; selling sugar-craft and cake-decorating supplies; entertaining celebrity guests from the world of cake design; or working on her next entry for international cake and pastry competitions.
|“Cascading Roses,” a wedding cake by Lisa Bugeja.|
|Lisa Bugeja’s prize-winning sugar mask from the 2009 Oklahoma Sugar Arts Show.|
She completed George Brown’s baking and pastry arts program with intentions of a career in the industry, but after a couple of years in the workplace she became pregnant and then a full-time, stay-at-home mother.
“But I always wanted to do something like this,” she says. “In 2004 a cousin asked me to do her wedding cake, and it kind of snowballed from there.”
She went on to create a kitchen for her work in the basement of her Ajax, Ont., residence, but eventually she needed more space to meet demand. So she set up shop in a nondescript light industrial park at the end of Plummer Street in Pickering, conveniently located just south of the 401.
Doing so has not only been convenient for Bugeja, her husband Scott and their daughter Isabella, 7, but it has also allowed the business to flourish. In just a few short months, Flour Confections has become a way for its proprietor to give back to amateurs and home-based businesses, to give support to the people who are coming into the industry from the ground up, like she did.
“It seemed like all of the cake-supply shops were located in [Toronto’s] west end. As someone who started with a home-based business, believe me, it can be very frustrating if you’re based out here or in Scarborough,” Bugeja says. “We’ve already exceeded our business plan in six months, and it seems like we have a new customer every day. I’m supposed to have Mondays off, but I haven’t taken one in quite a while.”
It’s no wonder she stays busy: From the most basic, unassuming cookie to ornate, multi-tiered wedding cakes, every Flour Confections product is strategically hand-designed. The popularity of her products can certainly be attributed to Bugeja’s artistic talent and work ethic, but the array of flavours she uses is also impressive. These include Vanilla Orchid, Midnight Chocolate and Calypso Coconut, and customers also have the option of choosing butter-cream fillings and fresh fruit.
“We’re retail-only at this point, and everything is made to order,” Bugeja says. “Our primary clients are people who want to have a highly customized and personalized cake – something they can’t find at the grocery store. We offer full consultation on the design in person, over the phone, or via e-mail.”
Bugeja’s creations, as well as her tireless dedication to nurturing the industry, have caught the attention of cake decorating stars such as Bronwen Weber, who taught a standing-figure class at Flour Confections earlier this year; Toba Garrett; and the Food Network’s Elisa Strauss. Brides magazine also took notice, selecting her entry in the 2008 Oklahoma Sugar Arts Show, titled “The Language of Flowers,” for its March/April 2009 issue. Her cake was one of only 10 chosen for the spread and was featured quite prominently.
The Oklahoma Sugar Arts Show, now in its 17th year, takes place every October in Tulsa and is one of the largest in North America. Bugeja has been competing in it for years. When we spoke with her in late September, she was getting ready to make the 20-hour trek once again. She returned with two first-place ribbons, for her baby cake and cookies, as well as a second place for her sugar mask. In the event’s Grand National Wedding Cake Competition, she was a silver finalist.
“I wanted these other avenues of income so I could still focus on the competitions,” she says, adding that she also competes in Canadian Society of Sugar Artistry events.
Their daughter Isabella is also into cake decorating, and won second place in the children’s division (age 6 and under) at the 2008 Oklahoma show. This year she’ll be competing in the event’s 7- to 12-year-old division.
On the rare occasion when Bugeja is away, someone has to mind the store, and that duty falls to her husband. Plus, with so many aspects to the business, she needs the help.
“Scott has a background as a sales consultant, and he’s the IT guy and my right-hand man,” she says, adding that he was essential to getting Flour Confections’ online presence off and running.
“We ship our merchandise all over North America, including Mexico, and as far away as Saudi Arabia,” she says. “Locally, orders can be placed online for pickup, as well, if you know you’ll be in the area and want to save money on shipping.”
Now that the busy summer wedding-cake season is over – Bugeja says she had to hire an intern to cope with the demand – Flour Confections can get back to hosting classes. From the basics of Flour Power to the enticing education of Cake Couture, her students come away with a newfound knowledge and appreciation of what really goes into the fabulous treats they indulge in at parties, weddings and other social occasions.
“The classes are open to people of all skill levels, and I like to keep them small, so everyone can have the proper hands-on experience and personal attention,” she says. “For the classes with a celebrity guest, we’ll host up to 20 students, but I like to keep the normal classes small – about eight to 10 people.”
Flour Confections provides all utensils and other materials to class participants. “It can be a real headache if someone forgets something or can’t afford something,” Bugeja says.
Being an educator alongside her myriad other roles has its benefits in that it allows her stay on top of all the trends in the industry.
“We’re doing lots of custom cookies for favours at weddings and baby/bridal showers,” she says. “And of course we’re doing a lot of cupcakes and cupcake wedding cakes. In the past I’ve sometimes done more cupcake cakes than normal cakes.”
When asked about how she’s been able to transition so smoothly from a home-based operation to a full-fledged retail storefront, Bugeja says she’s “developed a brand. Having a good web presence helps, but I’ve been doing custom cakes for about five years now and worked with a lot of wedding planners, so that’s helped me develop referrals through good word-of-mouth.”
On the web: To shop Flour Confections’ online store, sign up for its courses, or read Bugeja’s blog, Sweet Talk, visit www.flourconfections.ca .