Amy DeGiulio Interview
(Sugar Flower Cake Shop)

Amy DeGiulio is the owner of the Sugar Flower Cake Shop in New York City.
She creates masterpiece cakes for wedding and other occasions by using fresh, high quality products from local farms and New York City’s Greenmarkets.
Her cakes with artistically designed flowers she custom-makes from sugar have been featured on the STYLE Network and in Martha Stewart’s Weddings magazine.
We spoke with Amy DeGiulio about her work.
Q – Amy, how did you get this good at making cakes? Its this something that came naturally for you or did you really have to work hard at it?
A – Well, I’ve grown up kind of always making cakes and doing things creatively. I can remember when I was a little girl how my father made us build elaborate ginger bread houses every holiday. He has kind of an engineering type mind so there things became quite complex. It was my introduction to royal icing at a very early age. But, I went to school and I decided to become a mathematician. My degree is in mathematics. So, I was an expert for a very long time. I’ve now kind of come back full circle towards my creative side. I kind of have a dual personality of my left brain and right brain both working simultaneously and I found this creative outlet just by taking this little class a number of years ago, probably about 10 years ago, a couple of basic cake decorating classes. Once I got to the art of making sugar flower that’s when I decided I needed to start doing more of it, from there I self-taught. I bought books and I read articles and just anything I could get my hands on involving sugar flowers and pretty much taught myself how to make a whole bunch of different designs.

Q – Is the Sugar Flower Cake Shop a commercial bakery or are your cakes strictly made to order?
A – We do everything made to order and a lot of custom work too. I get requests from brides all the time. ‘Can you make a cake but I have to have the Chilcan Bell Flower or some kind of obscure flower’. Quite honestly sometimes they come up with things that I’ve never heard of. Certainly I do my share of roses and gardenias and everyday flowers, but I’m also know for thinking outside the box and being able to come up with different decorations that are all made from sugar. In fact I just spoke to a client today. I’m gonna work on a Harry Potter theme cake. So, we’re gonna sculpt the hat in a stitch. I didn’t know what that was this morning, and his glasses and those types of things. We’re gonna put those on the cake. I’m always looking for different ways to be creative.

Q – I’m guessing with such a elaborate cake it must take hours to do that.
A – It does. With the way in which I work because I do specialize in the sugar decorations I’m fortunate that I can create the flowers and the other decorations. When I create a cake because of the flowers, the flowers last forever so I’m in a little bit of a fortunate position. I can work off cake ahead of time. So, I usually start production on a cake about a month ahead of when it’s due, but that’s to make all of the flowers and decorations and those type things which then allows me to create the actual physical cake at the earliest the day before the event. So this way people get a really fresh quality cake and then all of the decorations just have to be added almost at the last minute.

Q - Do you travel with your cakes?
A – I travel with my cakes as long as people are willing to pay for me to accompany the cakes. I won’t allow a cake to go without my supervision. I tried that once with cupcakes and it didn’t work so well. I tried to send them in the mail and you know UPS guys and conveyer belts and what not – no good. So, for what I do everything is just so delicate that I want to be the one to actually, if I have to set it up on sight and be the one to travel with it. So, I’ve driven probably as much as a 3 hour radius outside of New York, like out to the Hamptons or even to Pennsylvania. Beyond that it just becomes whether the cost makes sense to the client to fly me with the cake.

Q – How do you get the word out in such a big city like New York that you’re open for business?
A – I do a lot of different things. I talk to fellow entrepreneurs about casting a web. It’s a very multi-faceted marketing plan that I have. I actually do have a marketing plan which I think benefits me as an entrepreneur. I know when I talk to other people in other businesses whether its wedding related businesses or not. Some of them do scratch their heads when I ask them what does your marketing plan tell you to do? But, my marketing plan looks at the different pieces that I have. I am focused on the wedding industry. I do s lot of trade shows. I actually just did one last night where I get to interact with brides on a direct basis to find out their interests and schedule tastings with them and just kind of continue to interact with them on a very personal level and then I will also seek editorial exposure. For example, I’m in the current issue, I guess it’s just about not to be current, the Fall issue of Martha Stewart’s 2010 Weddings Magazine. So, I worked on a cake with them that was inspired by a piece of artwork that needed elaborate sugar flowers to go on that cake and also look for other opportunities as well and I’ve been on the STYLE Network and Crain’s Business and the New York Daily News. So, I try to still think beyond Weddings because even though my business is very wedding centric, I will get clients that don’t go to wedding shows and get clients that could almost care less about all things bridal. So, I look to find other newspapers and magazines that are interested in doing stories on me as an entrepreneur or as a wedding cake expert. The other things involved in getting my name out there: for example I sell my Sugar Flowers separately from my cakes. One of the ways in which I allow the public to kind of know about that is that I sell through Dean and DeLuca. I sell sugar flowers separately from my cakes direct to people. So, I have my name on packaging. So, it’s just out there for the public to see. Then I do a lot of Networking with people in the industry plus with other entrepreneurs as well. The more people you know, the more people you find that make cakes.

Q – Is your busy season from June to October?
A – The busy wedding season is definitely from June through October and you may be even to count May in there as well, but because the majority of my business is bridal, I’m starting to become known for birthday cakes and holiday parties and those types of things. So, it is beginning to be much more of a year round business. It’s a little more of a challenge for smaller cakes, just finding the right clientele, because not everyone is willing to pay for a small cake that’s very labor intensive where it’s more justifiable in the bridal market. But, there are certainly people who are willing to do it, who want to give their wife something special for her birthday or their parents something special for their anniversary, those types of things.

Q – Do you have a celebrity clientele?
A – I do. That’s all I’m going to say about that. (Laughs). I will say most of the more famous names I’ve worked with, they tend to be kind of people who are known in New York but, not necessarily of global fame.

Q – Would they be t.v. stars?
A – No, more like political names. I guess just more Old Money New York.

Q – I’m guessing that even when you’re not working, you’re still working on coming up with new cake designs. Would that be correct?
A – That would be correct. I wear twelve hats at any given moment in the day. I’m kind of going through the laundry list of all the things I am. In addition to being the cake designer and baker I have to be an expert in p.r. and marketing and IT and really a one woman show. It boggles some peoples minds that I can kind of go through and switch the role I’m playing at different stages of the day and still somehow at the end of the day still produce the things that I need to produce, while continuing to seek out new business, continuing to get media attention and all those different types of things. But, I am constantly coming up with new designs for cakes and always inspired by like for instance, it’s interesting what becomes inspirational. Certainly if I get pictures from other designers, all that gets filtered in through my head. I try to look outside of that so I’m not necessarily copying people’s designs. Looking at art and nature. Sometimes people just catch my daydreaming wondering is she alright? But, it kind of really is still work. Something is still going on in the brain, but it could lead to something a couple months down the road.

Q – Do you have help?
A – I do have some interns that come in and help me when I need them. I have an intern coming in tomorrow afternoon to help with some production. But, I rely on them mostly for the Sugar Flower production where most of the labor is involved. I’ve kind of come up with a few methods to be able to teach them and produce something while it’s still being my flowers ‘cause it’s important for me to look as if I’ve made it. Still have all the detail even though someone is not quite as skilled. There are certain parts of the different designs of the flowers that someone can roll out the dough and cut out some of the shapes. Then I can come along and work my magic to make it look the way I want it to.

Q – How do the interns find out about you?
A – I am the luckiest girl in the whole wide world sometimes. I get requests from people wanting to do internships with me all the time. What happens is, in pastry school, especially here in New York the kids that go to pastry school, the programs are usually more geared to them going into restaurants. It’s becoming a little more common that some of the pastry schools are offering cake specific programs which is great. There are some people with the popularity of all the cake shows, know that they just want to go into cake production and cake design, or work for a bakery or open their own bakery. So, there are starting to be cake classes and cake specific programs. Even within those however there’s not very much attention being paid to the art of creating sugar flowers. A couple of the schools do a one or two day intensive lecture on sugar flowers. So, the kids get a little bit of hands on time. But, in order to really develop the skill it’s a practice and you have to do it. After many hours of playing and figuring through you actually start to get it right. So, I get requests from kids all the time wanting to learn. So, as they’re going through pastry school, as they are finishing their program or just graduated they spend a couple of weeks, a couple of months. Just this past Summer I had a woman come from the Dublin Culinary Institute. She’s a major in the baking program and she had to do an international placement between her 3rd and 4th year. So, I had her come for the entire Summer. She wanted to come for the entire Summer. So, that was fantastic to have an assistant intern for 9 weeks, but otherwise I’m very happy to teach and get a little bit of help as I need it.

Q – Your business could probably only succeed in a bigger city couldn’t it?
A – I guess it depends on how many people and how much of a need you fill within a smaller city. I would say if I did something in a smaller city I would need to be open for everyday production. I would need to have a retail arm if you will. I would need to be selling cakes, cupcakes, brownies or have a little café and then be able to do the full style cake production on the side. That’s how the model could succeed in a smaller town. Here in New York people understand a little more about the labor that goes into creating one of these elaborate cakes and for their weddings they are willing to pay for that kind of detail and that kind of craftsmanship. So, it is a little bit easier.

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