By Alison Gowans The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In May of 2014, Tara McMorris set up a Facebook page to showcase her baking skilss. She would work full time at her day job, sometimes 60 hours a week, come home, care for her kids and then bake at night. These days she bakes when she wants! The business has been so successful that in May McMorris was able to leave her full-time job to pursue her baking full-time.
The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Tara McMorris didn't set out to start a successful home baking business.
The journey from her life working for a law firm to baking elaborate cakes as the owner of Late Night Cake Company includes the birth of her daughter, roller derby, insomnia and "Cake Boss."
Eight years ago, she was dealing with postpartum depression after her daughter was born. With three kids, she took up roller derby to work out stress, but after an injury put the brakes on her skates, she needed a new activity to help her cope.
"I couldn't sleep, and I would spend all night roaming the house," she said.
One night, she started watching the TLC show "Cake Boss" at 2 a.m. and was hooked. Soon after, when her son turned 4, she decided to bake his cake, feeling inspired by the show. He wanted a Batman-Spiderman-SpongeBob-Thomas the Tank Engine cake, and she suspected finding such a conglomeration at the store might be difficult.
Soon she was making cakes for all three of her kids. Photos she posted on Facebook led to requests from friends to make their cakes as well. She started sharpening her frosting and decorating techniques, studying up on the internet.
"I kind of joke that I went to the college of Pinterest and the university of YouTube," she said. "I would put the kids to bed and come in here and bake and bake and bake, with 'Cake Boss' going on Netflix in the background."
She has been baking ever since; her kids are 8, 9 and 12 years old now. In May of 2014, she set up a Facebook page and later registered as a small business, run entirely from her home's kitchen in North Liberty.
She would work full time at her day job, sometimes 60 hours a week, come home, care for her kids and then bake at night.
"I was getting burned out," she said. "I was so unhappy."
A former boss asked why she didn't give up her day job. She worried about the financial risk, but she and her husband sat down and crunched the numbers, and she decided to give it a shot.
In May, she became a baker full-time. The transition has been a good one.
"There are still nights where I lay in bed and think about bills and things," she said. "But what I lost in money, I made up for in not being stressed."
That doesn't means she needs to change the name of her company. Friday and Saturdays still sometimes come with all-night baking and frosting sessions to get ready for weekend parties and weddings.
She said people don't always realize just how much work her small business is.
"The other day my son said, 'My mom's stay-at-home,' and I admit, I got kind of offended," she said. "I'm very protective of that working mom title."
She said the age of social media helps make her business possible. Her marketing has been exclusively via word-of-mouth and Facebook, with a few of her cake photos going viral after getting shared by popular baking bloggers.
Her cakes are elaborate, complete with carefully sculpted fondant figures and rainbows of colored buttercream.
Sometimes she bakes round "bistro" cakes or simpler sheet cakes, but many of her creations are carved and transformed into specific objects. She has baked cakes shaped like Nintendo controllers, tennis shoes and a Cookie Monster complete with shaggy blue frosting fur, to name just a few.
The tools of her trade include not just stand mixers and spatulas but also paint brushes and small instruments for carving details into fondant faces and flowers.
"I like art in general, but I found no real reason to sit down and do it before," she said. "The baking part is not my favorite. The decorating part is my absolute favorite -- trying to figure out all the tips and techniques."
Her advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs?
"It's super cliche, but it's the whole, 'Do what you love' thing, because I love it," she said. "I put in the hours to make it work. You have to love what you're doing if you're going to put this many hours into it. You have to."