by Janet Davies
Meganne Belisle bakes delicious cakes from scratch, just like Grandma’s, as the saying goes. But my grandma never put in the extra hours that Meganne does to make her cakes gorgeous. Nor did she come up with a different flavour everyday for fabulous individual “cake donuts.” Meganne has been surprised at the reaction to her cakes. They are selling out because people are surprised by how damned good they are. Here’s her story.
“Yes I’m a County girl. I grew up in Picton and went to high school at PECI , then to Algonquin College in Ottawa where I studied Entrepreneurship. I’ve always had the entrepreneurial spirit. When I was a kid I liked leadership courses, and I always volunteered to make things for bake sales at school. I knew what kind of business I wanted to get into. I wanted to cook, or bake. When I was a kid and I wanted to be a chef, but then I started watching Ace of Cakes and saw those amazing fondant covered cakes. I really got into baking in my early teens, and in high school my friends would say “You should sell your cakes.” I was still in high school when Janet Doyle, who ran the Fraser House retirement home, reached out to me to ask if I’d make birthday cakes for the folks living in the home. I got a lot of experience since I got to make a cake at least once a month for a year. We did a Cake Boss challenge in high school every year to raise money for different charities. I entered a cake every year from Grade 10 – and I won every year!
LEAVING THE COUNTY – AND COMING HOME
Both my parents live in The County and my oldest sister just bought a house in Picton, so now she’s neighbours with our Dad. After high school and college I went to Newfoundland to work as a sous chef but I also started my cake business there, working out of my house. I did both for a while before I realized I loved cakes more. Then I heard my sister was coming home to The County, and I knew other friends and family were coming back, too. I could see that the food and wedding industry were growing while I was away, and people kept on reaching out to me. I’d post my cakes on my business web page and friends in the County would say Come back! We want you here! Some people didn’t know I was in Newfoundland and they’d try to order stuff, so I had to tell them, sorry I’m not in Ontario right now!
I didn’t know what to expect when I came back, but when I announced it on my business page I got 300 responses, liking the idea, right away. So I thought, Okay, that’s a good sign. At first I worked full-time in restaurants, East and Main, then County Cider Company and did my baking at home. Then, this summer, it blew up suddenly. Tourists and weekend people looking for cakes for the weekend, lots of crazy last minute orders. When Jenny offered me this place on Main Street in August, I really wanted it, but I was still working at the Cider company. She said I could take it whenever I was ready. I’ve always had a great relationship with the manager and didn’t want to just hand in my notice, so I told her my plans, then worked up to Labour Day weekend and started in the shop the very next day.
WORKING FOR MYSELF
The owners of this building are Jenny Leigh and Steve Purtelle who run the Acoustic Grill across the street as while as Purtelleigh’s Bakery & Suites which is ran out of the same building as my business. It was the Pastry House for years, but they renovated and now have a couple of vacation suites in the building. I do my own baking when the storefront is open, and afterwards, too. It’s hard to get baking done while I’m open, so sometimes I’m here until 2 am. It’s long hours, but it doesn’t really feel like work. Before I had the shop, I worked full-time and then I’d go home and bake. So it didn’t feel like real work, it was just me baking. I still feel that way!
The hardest part of coming home to The County was finding somewhere to live. I’m living in my mum’s basement right now and looking for somewhere to rent, but for the amount of time I spend at home I don’t want to pay a lot. I’m hoping to get a place with a roommate, so if I can find the right person and the right place I’ll take it. I came back in June 2017 and I’ve been looking since I got here. You don’t get much for under $1,000 and I figure I’ll get a lot more room if I share with someone. You can find affordable places from October to May, but then landlords want the summer renters, and I don’t want to have to move.
BUTTER DREAM CAKES – THE GOODS.
I make everything from scratch. And I love the design part. I put a lot of time into decorating and designing. It’s like edible art. Yes, like Grandma made but with a whole lot more because I like to make my stuff look fantastic. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and if that takes until 2 am, well so be it. I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing people’s reactions, I love pleasing them and I love surprising them. I don’t disappoint. There are some clients who have a clear idea of what they want,and for them I will do a sketch and we’ll get there together, but most clients say “Here’s my colours, you’re the designer, I trust you. Go ahead. Just “Do You.”
I have found it so much busier than I was expecting. Before I took over the shop, I was working full-time doing cakes as well as full-time in the restaurants. I thought I’d do a couple a week maybe, but it was three to five every weekend. Now it’s slowed down a bit, and I do about five cakes for the storefront every week plus custom orders, which vary. For Thanksgiving weekend I did 10 custom orders so that was 2am every night. Now it’s down to 3 or 4 for a Saturday and 3 or 4 on a Sunday, and I do cakes for the display case, too, for people who come in and say “I need a cake for tonight!” Every day I do 7 or 8 different cupcakes, 15 of each, so that’s over 100. I just decide what to make based on how I’m feeling that day, but I always have vanilla chocolate and chocolate raspberry – that’s my favourite. A big hit has been the cake donuts. I sell out of them every day. (blog editor’s note: I friggin LOVE THEM!!) Every day I do a different flavour and put it on Instagram. Yesterday was a munch-and-crunch with dulce de leche, chocolate ganache, caramel crunch and chips. It was awesome!
SOCIAL MEDIA & BUSINESS
Social media is really important to me. I feel wouldn’t even have a business if it wasn’t for Facebook and Instagram. Before I got my website up, end of September, I ran the business completely through my Facebook page. And Instagram is crucial for marketing. So many customers come in and say I found you on Instagram. I post a cake donut and, boom, they start coming in. How does it work? People who follow me will repost and share and that increases the number of people who see my stuff and if they like it, they may decide to follow me, too. I started with friends and family and now I have about 1,300 followers, and it’s like your followers do your marketing for you! If you just put in butterdreamcakes I will come up. But you have to post every day on Instagram. Working for myself I have more time to do that. I try to post something on my story every day, and now even my step mum’s co-worker says “What’s Meganne’s cake donut today?” People come to expect it, so you’ve got to be posting everyday.
LOOKING BACK AND LOOKING FORWARD
After my Algonquin College business management program, I did a two-month program for designer cakes, at Bonnie Gordon’s College of Confectionary Arts in Toronto. I got the sous chef gig in Newfoundland through a friend. It was her parents’ restaurant and their sous chef was on leave and I am so glad I did it. Otherwise I’d always think I should have done time in a restaurant! I did the Iron Chef challenge in high school and even though I did the pastry chef part of that I knew I wanted to work in a real restaurant kitchen. In Newfoundland I learned so much about cooking, and I loved the work environment. It was hard, but baking is hard, too. Working for yourself is different and I like it. It’s more relaxed, but also more work. Theoretically you can take time off whenever you want to, but you don’t.
I’m very happy with the way things are going. Just in my short time so far I have a lot of return business, I’m getting to know their names, and a lot of repeat custom orders, too. I am definitely going to need to hire somebody! Especially in summer. I’ll need someone to run the store for three or four days a week, so I can bake during the day and won’t have to stay up all night. Maybe I can get a hand in the back helping me bake cookies and things for the store. Coming home was the right thing to do. (Order or stop by at https://www.butterdreamcakes.ca/)
For startups or businesses looking to expand or re-locate to The County, you can fill out this Business Inquiry Questionnaire, and the Community Development Department will respond in 48 hours.