Speaking of your master's degree, you're known as the Queen of Cakes, but you started that business at age 50. Can you tell us a bit about your career path prior to cakes?
Part of my background of the era I was in, women didn't have the same opportunities they do today. They were told they could be a nurse, teacher, secretary, or get married. Those were the options and teaching appealed to me the most.
I found I really enjoyed it, I was good at it. At that time I had a bachelor's degree, and decided I need a master's. The master's was from Queen's College. In those days college was free. Hunter was free, Queen's cost money but it was affordable. Then I took courses at Columbia and NYU.
I was a homemaker and mother and I entertained at home and I loved cooking and baking. So going into cake making was an easy thing. I started off making apple pies and strudels and tarts and cheesecakes.
There was no one making beautiful and delicious party cake. I started with a small wedding cake, a birthday cake, and grew from there.
I've been in Manhattan since 1980 and started a few years before that, so it's been close to 40 years.
How has the wedding industry changed over the years?
I think radically. When I started it was much smaller. People got married but didn't have grand events. They didn't expend as much on the planning. There were always extravagant weddings, but not to the degree they are today.
Weddings have become like coronations. Very grand, occupy the bride's family for a year, maybe even two. Planning and the gowns and the shopping has really overtaken their lives. It's become such a fantasy for them.
I often wonder what happens when the ceremony's over. A lot of people can't face the fact it's over. For some of these mothers it's postpartum, it took so much energy, it's like "now what's left?"
Mothers come in with a stack of clippings they've been clipping for ten years. For some it's their wedding, not the daughter's. I have a number of daughters who have recognized that and during meeting will turn to mom and say my wedding not yours. And then there are altercations there. The mom says I'm paying for it.
I'm of two minds of this: I like people to spend money because it supports the industry, provides people with a paycheck. At the same time, they could buy a house with the money they spend on five hours.
I love a celebration, I think parties are wonderful, but I never think people should go into bankruptcy or borrow money for a wedding. Do what you can afford in the most tasteful way possible. Maybe that means a backyard barbeque. I've always liked a good hot dog or a hamburger.
Weddings are to share in the joy of the family and not to look and see what they spend. You go with a full heart because you love these people and what they can do is the best they can do.
What are your thoughts on being successful in a saturated market like the wedding industry?
My feeling is you are not the client. You are not the client. You are the servants in a sense. You are working for them. You walk in the back door and you leave the back door. You are not a guest unless it's very special. Your job is to make the client happy, you are not a guest.
I see attitude in a lot of the vendors, too. They think they're so special. They're special at what they do, but need to remember that you're working for the client and getting paid for it.
Some of the party coordinators are selling a sense of style but don't have any style themselves. They look like an absolute mess, I would never use them. I want to see what they look like before I buy their level of taste.
You have to sell yourself, not just by your talent but by what you look like, too. You're in the design business, you have to look like you have great taste. There are vendors who bring clients in my shop and the vendors are sloppy, their hair needed a job done, their nail polish was peeling. Sloppy, sloppy. I'd never use them as a party coordinator. I wouldn't take their advice because I look at them and they're a mess. I can't imagine that a sloppy looking person is going to turn out neat, precise work.
I was talking to one coordinator who has some taste. She said "I would never let my brides wear that." And I said, "Wait a minute you can advise not to, but if I were your bride I'd want to know why or dismiss you." It's a collaboration. It's not your wedding, it's the girl's wedding. You can refine it, upscale it, but it's her wedding.
I like honesty. If you're in a business, you have to be legitimate. I do not like commissions. It's a tricky subject, I get paid for what I feel the value of my product is. If someone wants to make money on it they better tell the clients.
These party coordinators say, "Okay you're going to get the cake, but I want 10%." Uh uh, it doesn't work. It's indigenous in the business and it's a bad thing. Then they say, "I'm bringing you the work." No, my work speaks for itself. I don't give you 10% of my labor. How you address that, I don't know.
The other issue is this: you cannot price a unique item. If I use Colin, Ed, Marcy, Todd, David . . . each is unique in what they do. You can't price across the board. Each person does their own thing, it's not apples to apples. Even apples that grow on the same tree are not always the same shape. It comes down to whose design comes closer to my vision and whose price point I can afford.
It's like saying I want a wedding dress. You can go down a list of names but you have to try the dress on to see what fits well, what looks good on you. You just can't compare prices on the internet. You really can't.