Toronto pastry chefs and business partners Allyson Meredith Bobbitt and Sarah Bell love weddings. That's a good thing, because they bake and decorate hundreds of custom wedding cakes a year in their pretty Leslieville shop, Bobbette and Belle – a French twist on their own names.
When a bride-to-be arrives for a one-hour cake consultation, she meets with one of the owners and gets the kind of customer service that so far has kept bridezilla at bay.
"We invite them to sit down and have a coffee or tea on the house, then present them with a variety of cupcakes and cake flavours so they can try the full range of our products," says Ms. Bell.
Guests are then asked about their wedding plans. Ms. Bobbitt and Ms. Bell want to know how the dress hunt is going, or whether they have found a caterer.
"Growing up on Martha Stewart, it really is just part of who we are," says Ms. Bobbitt. "We really want that day to be special for people. You have to be able to put yourself in their shoes and realize that it's the focus of their life at that time."
Besides wedding cakes, which make up about 60 per cent of their two-and-a-half-year-old business, the pair make and sell artisanal pastries, from cupcakes to delicate almond meringue Parisian macarons. That includes corporate orders, such as a recent Valentine Day's request for 12,000 of those macarons, plus wholesale and retail sales to the public. Custom cake orders fill the wedding season, from the end of April to the end of October.
"The most challenging thing is dealing with all the tiny, minute details," says Ms. Bell. "Custom orders usually mean picking out fine details from a bride's dress and putting that onto a cake. That requires us to communicate not only with each other but all our staff right down to how the cake is baked, filled and iced and then exactly how those sugar decorations are placed on the cake."
Carefully detailed notes save them from mistakes that could mar someone's big day, Ms. Bobbitt says.
"We mark down every single little detail that we talk about," says Ms. Bell. "All of those details are transferred onto the invoice, which serves as the contract between us and the client. Then we ask the bride to review that invoice to make sure we've documented every single thing that we've talked about.
"From that point, everything else is done online. We transfer the data into our accounting software and database where each client has their own file, then converse via e-mail."
By streamlining the wedding cake choices, they've also made the process simpler for brides. Some elements are then customized. "About 80 to 90 per cent of our customers pick a set design and customize it," says Ms. Bell. "The other 10 to 20 per cent opt for a fully customized cake."
Ms. Bobbitt, who recently won the Canadian Wedding Industry Award for cake designer of the year, handles these customized orders. Prices are considerably higher, starting at $1,200, says Ms. Bobbitt, who's currently designing an intricate Cirque du Soleil-themed cake.
"We had to do a cake once that was five-and-a-half feet tall and weighed about 300 pounds," says Ms. Bobbitt. "We had to make a special table just to carry it and had to take it in three sections to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The sugar flowers on it were all handmade. It took about three months to do, working eight hours a day. It was a very expensive cake but a career highlight."
While the partners want to expand some day, they are conscious about not losing the quality or the personal touch they have with customers.
"We literally talk about that a lot," says Ms. Bobbitt. "How do you grow your business and keep expanding and keep that quality so the customer really feels like they're getting something unique at your shop?
"It is a slippery slope to a lesser quality product."