Jane Asher Interview
(Jane Asher Party Cakes)

She’s been working professionally in film, theatre and radio since she was 5 years old-----but these days you’re more likely to find Jane Asher in the kitchen of her Party Cake Shop.

Q – Jane, I know that you started your Party Cake Shop in 1990. How did you know you could make a go of it?
A – The whole novelty cake idea started when my children were small. For their birthday’s I would do animals, fairy tale characters, and so on. I started to make them funny and personal. Cakes then were quite dull. This led to me coming up with the idea of my first decorating book. It was a real struggle to get it published and at first nobody wanted to know. An actress writing a book in those days was a ludicrous idea. The book-----Jane Asher Party Cakes sold really well and eventually I began to see replicas of my cakes in various bakery shop windows. I realized I should be capitalizing on my ideas and decided to open my own shop selling bespoke cake designs. I found an old dusty art gallery to lease quite close to where I live and I thought if I don’t do it now I well never do it. So, I put together a proposal and went to the bank. Thankfully, the Bank Manager’s wife had bought my cake book. So, he was familiar with what I wanted to do and agreed to let me go ahead. Ironically, we opened the shop practically on the day the recession began, so things were wobbly for some time. I spent night after night lying awake really frightened about having that huge loan, but, gradually the business found it’s feet and even though we never make huge profits, we manage reasonably well.

Q – Was it just you in the shop at first-----or did you have help?
A – It would have been impossible to run the business alone particularly as I had my other job as working actress to keep going. The first thing I did was to hire an experienced manager and Ruth has been with me ever since. She had previously been a patisserie at two of the top London hotels-----Grosvenor House and the Dorchester. I remember that I interviewed her for the job while doing a play at the National Theatre. She came in between performances on a matinee day and we talked while I was dressed in full 18 th Century costume. It was surreal and she knew from the start what she was in for-----a mad boss, but she didn’t seem in the least bit phased. Slowly we took on more staff. The other hugely important person in the organization is David Trumper who runs the Sugar craft side of the business and like Ruth has been there almost from the beginning.

Q – What exactly are Sugar craft goods?
A – Anything you’d ever need to make a cake basically. This side of the business has grown hugely in the past 5 years particularly since the growth of the internet. We now sell our goods by mail order worldwide via my website: www.jane-asher.co.uk I often get emails from the U.S. asking if we can ship our custom made cakes there and I wish it were possible, but, they are all individually made and too delicate to travel. We do run a small mail order cake business within the U.K. selling a limited range of quite simple cakes, but, again it just isn’t practical or economical for us to try and expand it to the U.S.

Q – What kind of skills do you have to have to be a cake decorator?
A – Our staff are all experienced patisserie with specific training in cake decorating. More than that though, to do the sort of work we do at the shop they need to have a real artistic flair. Everything we do is individually handmade and each decorator adds their own style to the cakes they work on.

Q – Is going to school to learn cake decorating -----enough?
A – A good training is important, but, not everyone would be able to cope with the sheer speed at which we have to work. So, we try to find people with the right personalities too. In the past people have come in for interview with impressive CV’s, all the right training and qualifications. They show us wonderful photos of cakes they’ve made. We ask how long it took them to make a certain cake and they’d say a day. They are shocked to learn that to work at the shop they’d need to do the same cake inside 2 hours but at the highest possible standard.

Q – How did you learn to be a cake decorator?
A – I was never trained as a cake decorator. I got a love of cooking and making cakes from my mother. As a child I’d help her in the kitchen all the time. And when my own children were growing up and I was at home looking after them I used to enjoy making fun cakes for them. I loved the reactions I got from people and I suppose the showbiz side of me came out more and more in the designs. But, I certainly couldn’t make cakes to the incredible standard my current staff do!

Q – Is making a cake harder to do than say learning your lines for a movie?
A – Two very different skills I think! Thankfully learning lines has always came fairly easily to me.

Q – When you’re in Italy or Spain shooting a movie-----who’s taking care of business at your shop?
A – Ruth and David manage the shop on a day to day basis no matter where I am. And we currently have 5 cake decorators on the full-time staff. Obviously, I keep up with what’s happening and depending on what work I’m doing at the time, I try to call in to the shop at least twice a week. We talk almost daily on the phone and I still have input into some of the designs.

Q – Do you make cakes for celebrities? Are you able to name names? What type of events are you dealing with in London?
A – Well, of course we do make cakes for a number of celebrities, royalty and so on, but our policy is one of discretion and I can’t name names. We make cakes for absolutely every occasion from the smallest birthday parties to huge corporate events. We pride ourselves on being able to create a cake in the shape of just about anything-----buildings, computers, fried eggs. Some of our cakes are truly spectacular and can cost thousands of pounds. Once we did a replica of the Albert Memorial in London which was really amazing. And, we did a virtually life-sized woman for her 40 th birthday.

Q – You’ve also developed your own line of cake mixes? Where are those sold? Online? In grocery store throughout the U.K?
A – Yes. The Jane Asher range of cake mixes has become very successful in the U.K. They are sold throughout the country in a variety of the larger supermarket groups. I also sell them at the shop and indeed they are also available on our website in the sugar craft section, so they can be ordered to be sent to the U.S. Who knows, maybe they’ll be available in supermarkets worldwide eventually. We’re working on it.!!

Official website:Jane-Asher.co.uk

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