Walk into Becky Rink's Avon home, and you smell the most delightful aroma.
Butter, vanilla, warmth.
Rink runs her 11-year-old business, About the Cake, from her home. She turns cake, icing, molding chocolate, fondant and other goodies into everything from mermaids to chameleons. In addition to traditional cakes and cupcakes, About the Cake also sells cookies and favors, and vegan and gluten-free cakes and cupcakes.
She started the business when she earned praise for the tasty and attractive cakes she made for birthday parties for her children. From there, she has appeared on the Food Network, WE TV, and TLC. This weekend, she will have a booth at the Fabulous Food Show at the I-X Center.
About the Cake will sell cupcakes, cake truffles (think cake pops without the stick), cosmopolitan meringues, and her beer and bacon brownies, which are Guiness brownies topped with a brown sugar and bacon crumble. Cupcake and cake truffle flavors will include coconut cake with passion fruit filling, chocolate with chocolate icing, raspeberry, red velvet and mocha.
The booth will be shared with another Avon business, . Al "Bubba" Baker of will be appearing on one of the stages showing how to grill his D-Boned baby back ribs. There will also be a Bubba's Q booth at the show.
Rink is self-taught. "I was sculpting before I even knew what supports were or how they worked," she said.
She had always loved cake, both baking and eating it. Her late mom, Margaret Holden, loved to bake. The arrival of the Wilton cake decorating catalog had the children poring over it, deciding what they wanted on their next birthday cake.
Her first foray into cake decorating was 19 years ago, drawing a cactus on the birthday cake she made for Jeff Rink, then her boyfriend and now her husband.
Then, in the mid-1990s, Rink found a cake decorating book by Colette Peters, and saw a whole world beyond buttercream roses. The first page showed what was described as "easy" projects, like detailed seashell cakes.
"My first thought was, 'That's supposed to be easy?!'," Rink said. "Then I saw what was possible. And I started learning."
Over the years, she's developed an artistic eye.
"I see the world in cake," she said. "I look at something, whether it's a car or a flower or a house, and I begin thinking how to make a cake look like that."
She's used everything from fondant to Rice Krispies Treats to craft her decorations. Rink's new favorite medium is modeling chocolate -- melted chocolate mixed with corn syrup to form a pliable dough.
"It can be used to wrap a cake, you can give it texture, and it makes nice, sharp edges," Rink said. She used it in a cake she made of an office building for a business event.
Becoming a businesswoman
Rink enjoys the flexibility of working from home. She can create her own schedule that accomodates her family, and can free herself for activities involving her children, 16-year-old Shannon and 13-year-old Ethan.
The extra income from About the Cake has also helped pay for Shannon and Ethan to attend private school.
Rink says she's come a long way not just in terms of her cake skills, but her business skills. In the beginning, she didn't have contracts. Now she does, and keeps them updated to make sure communication with clients is clear.
She has gone from making a couple of cakes a month to as many as 10 in a week. Time management has become essential. Her husband helps with deliveries, which saves time and money.
Even though she has been a bookkeeper in the past and could do the business's books herself, Rink hired an accountant.
"It was the best thing I've done for the business," she said. "It frees me up for baking and family time, and saves me the headache. I can just hand everything to her."
A large portion of her business growth has been word-of-mouth, but Rink also credits developing Internet skills with building her business. She designed the About the Cake website, something she'd never done before, and updates it regularly. She sends out occasional newsletters with exclusive deals. Facebook is another way she reaches customers. Rink will often put out an open call online for taste-testers, to have them rate new flavors.
The economy has affected what her clients are ordering, especially for weddings, Rink said.
Couples are saving money on the cake-cutting fee required by many party centers and reception halls by having cupcakes.
"Cleveland is usually three to four years behind the trends in New York and L.A.," she said. "Supposedly cupcakes are going out of style there, but people just love cupcakes here. They're still going strong."
While personalization is still popular, and some couples splurge on a whimsical grooms cake, simpler cakes are coming back into favor.
Rink has become more than a baker and a businesswoman. She regularly competes in high-end cake competitions, where she has developed a network of friends, including Peters.
That got her into television. She first appeared on WE TV's Wedding Cake Wars in 2008. Then she was on TLC's Ultimate Cake-Off. In 2011, she was on Food Network's Halloween Wars.
"She's become less afraid to take on a challenge," Jeff Rink said of his wife.
She has also begun teaching her cake decorating skills. One of her specialties is creating a tattoo-look on cakes, using molding chocolate and food paint that is shaded to create the effect of a tattoo on skin.
Someday, Rink said, she may move About the Cake out of the house and into a storefront. But, while she and Jeff have scouted around the Avon area, the right place hasn't been found.
"Maybe someday," she said. "It's not my top priority right now."