Deborah Lauren Interview
(City Sweets )
Deborah Lauren is one of the top wedding cake designers in New York City.
Her business, City Sweets has been open since 2000.
Debra Lawrence cakes are a work of art. There is simply no other way to describe them.
Q - What were you doing before you started City Sweets?
A - I was an art decorator in the music industry.
Q - Working for a record company?
A - Yes, designing album covers and CD covers and advertising. Things like that.
Q - What record company were you working for?
A - All of them. I had my own business and actually worked for Sony for two years.
Q - Would you have designed an album cover for someone I might have heard of?
A - Yeah hundreds of them. I did a lot of heavy metal fora label called Roadrunner. It was a long time ago. They got absorbed by I think it was in Atlantic Records. I think they’re kind of no longer. Sad.
Q - That was a good job wasn’t it?
A - Heck, no. It wasn’t. I left. For many reasons it wasn’t. I was not happy anymore so I went to culinary school at night and learned that I probably would rather work on my own and then just started to do cakes for friends and it just took off from there.
Q - Before you were working at these record companies did you have any idea that you would enjoy baking cakes?
A - Never. If you would have ever told me I would be designing wedding cakes I would’ve had told you that you were smoking something. I had no clue this was ever going to come about, but out of necessity you have to pay bills and I did it.
Q - You almost have to have a natural ability to design and make the cakes you’re making don’t you?
A - Probably. I’m an artist. This is my medium now. It works well and people appreciate it. I guess I’m very lucky.
Q - Hard work goes into it as well.
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - Was anyone close to you involved in this type of work?
A - No.
Q - Your mother?
A - No. My mother was an FBI agent. (Laughs). I had relatives in Russia that supposedly baked for the Romanovs back in the 1800s. Everybody in the family likes to bake for sure. There foodies!
Q - Was it expensive to launch “City Sweets”?
.A - Yes, it was very expensive. Rent eats up a lot of money. Landlords are crazy. The cost of goods, ingredients and help, transportation, delivering, it’s all very expensive.
Q - So, where then did the money come from to launch the business?
A - I just led a very frugal lifestyle. I had not been on vacation for 12 years. I don’t buy expensive things. I put most everything extra back into the business. And you know, it’s kind of worked. It’s kind of work.
Q - And, the competition in your line of work!
A - It’s not much.
Q - That’s surprising.
A - I’m at a certain level that probably only are in New York City. I do a very specific style that no one else can figure out and I won’t tell anybody. People try and copy it but it’s never the same. There are a lot of people that are just beginning out and this is a very tough business where when people get six, seven, eight years into it, they just get tired of it. It takes up a lot. It takes up your weekends. People get sick of it and they go. As I’ve gotten older and developed my skills, I have a friend who owns a magazine and he says there are only four people that people talk about and winning cakes in New York City and you’re one of them. I would say, Steve, you’re such a flatterer. You’ve got people working out of their homes that are doing it that are just starting out and then you’ve got the top tier which is Sylvia Weinstock and Ron Ben Israel and I with a couple of people who are right below them. They’re very expensive. They start out at about $17 a slice.
Q - Is it just you making these cakes or do you have help?
A - I definitely have help. I’d lose my mind. (Laughs). I have a dedicated driver who used to be a New York City taxi driver and he can drive on the side of a building if he needs to. He’s phenomenal. He’s just perfect. He’s never screwed up once. Then I have a couple assistants. Some of them are part-time. You don’t always need them 24/7 because I don’t have a lot of corporate accounts. I have two. You just really never know whats coming. This year (2016) has been a really weird year for weddings. People say, oh, it’s because of the election. I don’t see what that has to do with anything but, it is what it is.
Q - You’re saying there wasn’t as many weddings in 2016?
A - There wasn’t overall. I’ve done the same amount of weddings that I did last year, but most of it is because of these two corporate clients that I have.
Q - When you say corporate clients, what does that mean?
A - They're venues. They produce weddings at their places. I do all their cakes.
Q - Do you bake anything else besides wedding cakes?
A - No, I don’t. I do couture wedding cake only. There’s not a lot of high profit margin in either things and I don’t like repetition. So, just doing couture wedding cake is really perfect for me because rarely are two cakes exactly alike. Even if I re-do a cake that I did last year and someone sees it on my website and says, oh, my God, I got to have that, it’s always a little different in a weird way even though I try to make it exact. I’m better suited to do what I do. Some people like advertising. It makes me insane.
Q - Have you had any famous people come through your door?
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - Are you able to name any?
A - Yeah. I did Alec Baldwin’s wedding cake. I did Cynthia Nixon’s wedding cake.
Q - Any music personalities?
A – Not that I can name. There have been. They make you sign a non-disclosure.
Official website: citysweets.com
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