Photos by Nolan P. Schmidt
The notion of starting a custom cake decorating business had never once occurred to Jamie Duray. Like most people, she grew up frosting Christmas cookies with her family and helping out in the kitchen when needed. However, basing her whole life and livelihood on custom cakes and baked goods was never in the realm of possibility. It was not until baking and custom cakes began booming thanks to various television shows did Duray think this could be an industry for her.
“I actually fell into it because of the craze with all the TV shows, and I was just getting ready to get married at the time. I was like ‘I think I could make our wedding cake,’ but I couldn’t, it was horrible. I’ve always been a very creative, artsy person so I learned that I was not going to do our wedding cake, but I’m not going to let that stop me. I kept trying. All of a sudden, my friends and family started asking for cakes. It became just kind of a side hobby for a long time,” Duray said of her foray into the cake world. “Then, I got my first request to do a wedding. You have to be licensed and all this kind of stuff to do weddings. That is when I hooked up with Square One and it just kind of snowballed from there. As soon as I was licensed and had a commercial kitchen, it just grew and grew and grew. Then I quit my job and decided to do this full-time. I was turning down more orders than I was able to take. So it was just the right time to take the leap.”
That leap turned into the best decision Duray could have ever made. Not only did she do wedding cakes, but she was also tasked with children’s birthday cakes, baptisms and other important life events. The influence from cooking television shows also allowed Duray to hone her baking skills. While it may not come through in her finished products, Duray is almost entirely self-taught.
“I learned a lot from watching cooking shows and just watching YouTube videos. If somebody wants a specific design, I usually have no idea how to do that. I also have a huge community of cake and cookie decorators via Facebook,” Duray said of her baking education. “That’s kind of what the whole community is about, just teaching each other because most of us are just stay-at-home moms that want to have a hobby.”
For Duray, becoming a stay-at-home mom was an important piece to her becoming a full-time cake decorator. That coupled with creating her own schedule has been a revelation for the mother of three. “One of the main reasons that I decided to even do this and quit my day job is that we have three kids. One is an adult and grown and she is 21. Then we have two younger kids and both have autism. Being able to revolve my life and my schedule around them has really made this the right choice for us,” Duray said.
With solid name recognition, Duray and 457Cake have become one of the most reputable names in the Fargo-Moorhead area. From corporate cakes to a children’s birthday party, Duray recalls her most rewarding moment throughout the 457Cake’s existence. It involved a nine-tier cake, but there have also been other instances of last-minute changes. “I’ve shown up at delivery and they tell me, ‘Oh, by the way, this five-tier cake is going to be hanging from the ceiling.’ I look at them and say you are crazy,” Duray said.
The baking world has begun to shift toward cookies too. Duray has added that to her repertoire on top of building and customizing cakes. Much of her corporate work comes in the form of custom cookies. It’s following baking trends that have helped Duray gain more business over time.
“Businesses love to be able to hand something out that isn’t a key chain, so that’s been fun to build those relationships through cookies. We just did a big cake for Chick-Fil-A that was fun where they wanted realistic looking food on the cake, but it’s dessert, right? I do enjoy the 3-D cakes even though I say that I hate them. I love them when I’m done with them,” Duray said about trends. “That’s the thing with custom work, you can kind of do whatever you want to. I always have a disclaimer and it’s just because you sent me a picture, does not mean it will look identical. I don’t love to copy. A lot of people feel like they want something identical to what they have already seen. I always ask, ‘What can we do differently? It is a texture on the cake? Or can we do different color?’ You know, whatever. We try as a community not to copy too much but cakes can get so trendy.”
Whether it’s cookies or cakes, the fact that Duray works in a creative field is enough for her. It allows her the freedom to take risks and have fun with her work through baked goods.
“For me, it’s just about the art. I love seeing kids’ faces when you hand them the cake, that just gives me chills. I just love that,” Duray said. “I love being able to just play with my work. Even if it is making little characters. I mean, it’s just fun. I’m sure there are lots of people out there that have fun jobs, but I get to be a mom and have a fun job.”