The saying goes, "Let them eat cake." And that’s exactly what they are doing in NYC’s Flatiron District, with the help of Adjua Francis-Styles and her cake company, Couture Sweets.
The custom cake and desserts company whips up cakes in a variety of designs--from shoes to purses to a cupcake tree.
"My business started because I was on a quest for an artistic birthday cake (Spiderman) for my youngest child at the time," says Francis-Styles, who studied at New York Restaurant School. "I couldn't find anything creative enough so I created my own Spiderman and hand- piped all the decorations. Not only was it fulfilling but the children and parents were in awe. My business took off from there."
Overall, the dessert business market has been doing well. According to data obtained from the Perishables GroupFreshFacts, the bakery department grew 1.7 percent for the 52 weeks ending February 27, 2010. And of that, according to Information Resources Inc., the total pies and cake segment grew 4% (52 weeks ending Jan. 24) to $950.7 million in food, drug and mass merchandise outlets (excluding Walmart). Private labels gained 60% of the market, with dollar sales rising 5.2%. Decorated cakes and dessert cakes combined represented 51% of cake sales. Cupcakes represented 9.9%.
Francis-Styles specializes in affordable baked creations. "Couture Sweets was created because there was a need for reasonably-priced edible art," she says. "I was asked by clients to open up business due to notoriety. Prices for cakes are based off of design. A basic round is $60 or an intricately designed Faberge Egg for $500. It depends on scale of the design and labor. Some designs take weeks to develop."
And her designs have reached celebrity status. Her work was recently applauded by fashion icon Manolo Blahnik, whose show brand is a Hollywood staple. "One of the highlights for me thus far has been doing a cake for Neiman Marcus Department Store for Manolo Blahnik," says Francis-Styles. "And meeting him was inspiring and motivating. He was floored by my design for him."
And, when Francis-Styles says her designs are custom, she means it. "I don't duplicate designs. That's a policy I have. I want every client to feel special with an exclusive design," she says. Her most popular flavors are the Butter cake and the Red Velvet cake.
As with many small business owners, Francis-Styles finds herself being too much of a perfectionist at times. "As far as obstacles go, there's always something to learn, to explore,” she explains. "But the only real obstacle I have is to learn to ‘step away from the cake’. I am a perfectionist at heart and genuinely will put every last minute and second and sometimes money on a cake to produce best design."
As obstacles arise, Francis-Styles says she tries to find a solution. "Delivery, for example, is always painstaking due to delicateness of the cake. It can be torture with NYC streets," she offers. "And, as a small business owner, promotion is always a struggle. However, if you have a diligent work ethic, word of mouth will pay your bills. It is rough in the beginning, but I have found that faith and hard work will prevail."
With her business growing steadily, Francis-Styles will be moving into a larger space. "I plan on moving the business to an actual studio instead of the suite I currently have so I can have more of a meet- and-greet with clients," she says. She adds, "Also, I have been approached about a possible reality TV show as well. Other than that, I am focusing on perfecting my craft."