by Sarah Herrera
The artist’s hands move quickly but accurately as she molds together dozens of bright blue, pink and yellow miniature sculptures, adding details into each figure. Today’s masterpiece: a topsy-turvy Tinker Bell cake for a 13-year-old’s birthday party.
Roxane Serna, 29, has been baking and creating cake sculptures for weddings, anniversaries, graduations, and birthdays in Porterville, California for over four years. Like a fine art sculptor, her bakery is layered with powder and particles from her work. Dozens of pink baskets on a shelf hold various icings, colors and sculpting tools for her creations.
Four years ago, she walked into a local grocery store to order a cake for her daughter’s pirate-themed birthday. Not only did the store not have a design for her theme, the cakes also looked like every other birthday cake. There was nothing unique or special about the cakes they had.
She thought she could try to make the cake herself. So, she got on the Internet and started researching pirate cakes that others had made and decided to give it a shot. Friends and family who were at the birthday party were so impressed they asked her if she would make cakes for their special occasions and they would pay her instead of purchasing from a store.
“At first I was making cakes for fun, then I started making cakes for 25 and 30 bucks,” said Serna. “From then on out I realized, well, hey, if I learn more stuff and expand what I do, I can make more money, and it spun out from there.”
On many occasions, Serna did not know what cartoon characters people were referring to when they requested cakes. She watched videos on You Tube or did other Internet research for information about what characters or themes people wanted her to incorporate into the cake design.
Serna set up a Facebook page to post pictures of her cakes. Because of her exposure online, Serna now receives phone calls from as far away as Nevada and Arkansas from people who want her to ship them a cake. She has delivered cakes to towns up to 75 miles from where she works in Porterville. Her Facebook following has grown to 1,700 people including an 85-year-old woman from Canada who hopes to meet Serna one day and taste one of her cakes.
“It feels good to go somewhere and get that kind of recognition and hear somebody talking about you in the grocery store line,” said Serna. “It’s fun.”
Rafael Martinez, 25, has been working as an apprentice under Serna and attributes her success to a strong sense of commitment and says she has a way of getting to know her customers so well that they eventually become friends. Serna stated that it has a lot to do with the 14 years she spent waitressing before she started baking.
A cake delivery can sometimes turn into a three-hour conversation with a stranger, especially with one customer continued Serna.
“Whenever I do her consultations it seems like we sit there for three hours because she catches me up on her whole life story and she’s really cool. She makes all her friends cheat on their cake ladies with me. It’s like cheating on your hairdresser. You can’t cheat on your cake lady. So once they have an affair with me, it’s pretty much over. You can’t go back now.”
Serna never says no. She once took cake orders for seven different detailed cakes in one weekend. Serna said it was really challenging and fun, but she may never do that again.
“No matter what crazy thing they ask me — whether it’s topsy-turvy. ‘Can you sculpt this, can you do this with the cake?’ I always do it, no matter what,” said Serna. “There’s been times when it’s fallen apart 3 or 4 times and Sergio and I were up in the middle of the night trying to structurally figure out how to make it sound, but I always end up pulling it off.”
Serna’s husband, Sergio Serna, has an artistic talent that he hid from her until that desperate weekend she took on seven cakes. On a critical deadline she asked him if he would sculpt a barrel for a Spongebob cake and she was very impressed by the detail of the end product. She jokes that he probably kept it hidden, so he didn’t have to help her.
Her husband is not the only family member helping with her cakes. She has four girls, ages three to 10, named Layla, Sophia, Breanna and Danica, who are a huge part of the business.
“Unless they are in school, they are with me,” Roxane said. “They are there when I’m baking, when I’m decorating. It’s something the girls are all interested in.”
Roxane shared that people get a kick out of seeing her deliver a cake with four little girls around her.
“When we go on delivery, I’ll let them carry my repair kit with extra icings and extra pieces. So when we set up they are like when a doctor is in surgery and they have an assistant. I’m like ‘scalpel’ and they are like ‘royal icing’.”
Roxane feels the outlook for her business is very promising regardless of the current economy. She has been so successful that she left her job as a waitress and just opened Crave Café and Bakery on Main Street in Porterville with her business partner. When she is not working on cakes, she enjoys being a stay-at-home mother in her quiet home in the mountains near California Hot Springs. “Even with the bad economy, the one thing people will always spend money on is making their kids happy. If there was ever a cake I would never run out of, it would probably be kid’s birthday cakes. I don’t think it will ever end and the themes never end. There’s always a new cartoon and a new fad.”
Martinez also credits Roxane’s success to her commitment to consistency, quality work and unique tricks that she has up her sleeve. “Never set limits for her because she can go way beyond what you are imagining. If you can think it, she can create it.”
You can find Crave Cafe and Bakery on Facebook.