At the extremely young age of 14, my best friend got her first job helping out at a local bakery for the holidays. Her sister had worked there and got her the job. I’ve always loved money so as soon I heard about it, I wanted in.
My first week was right before Thanksgiving — which is quite possibly the most intense week a bakery goes through all year. Pies, cookies, people running this way and that… it was a crazy-a$$ first week. My first job was filling sandwich cookies with chocolate fudge and then sticking them in sprinkles. After an incident where I ended up with the fudge all over my arm and sprinkles spilled on the floor (yay!… not), I stuck through and survived my first week.
The rest of the year was as easy as cake (get it? LOL). I would work evenings from 4-7 and weekends. I would help take customers’ orders, stock up boxes, and make little pastries. After about two years, I started helping customers whose cakes didn’t come out *exactly* how they imagined. I would try to make a buttercream flower here and there and eventually started asking the decorators for some tips. One day, a decorator just up and quit and I got promoted to cake decorator.
This is where I learned it all, the gates to cake heaven opened up. I learned the nitty gritty – how to make famous characters like Dora, Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Blue, etc., how to decorate wedding cakes – I even learned some fondant work! (Editor’s note: I had to look up what the heck that meant, haha… it’s pretty much how you make cakes so dang fancy!)
There were CRAZY early hours (4am!) and lack of benefits such as insurance, vacation pay, sick pay, etc. It was a small mom-and-pop type place and there were literally about 10 employees. I eventually decided I needed to move on to a more “adult” job and became a teller where my career flourished into the Accounting field.
Fast-Forward 5 Years later…
I would stop by the bakery here and there to pick up a cake, but never considered working there again until my boyfriend proposed and we had wedding expenses to worry about.
I decided to try and find a part-time job and after realizing most retailers were going to be paying minimum wage, I decided to check if the bakery needed some help on the weekends. It just so happened that a cake decorator was about to have a baby and they were looking for some help. A side hustle was born!
My Summer Side Hustle
I worked the entire summer before my wedding. I would go in on Saturdays at 4am and Sundays at 6am and leave whenever the work was done. This was as early as 12pm on some days, while others I would be there until 4pm. It all depended on the amount of orders there were that weekend.
It all looks very fun and pretty on shows like Cake Boss but really, it’s hard work. You’re on your feet all day carrying heavy cakes back and forth, and trying to work as quickly as you can.
The particular bakery I worked at had no air conditioning so sometimes the heat made you miserable and you needed to rush to get your cake done and back into the fridge. The conditions were rough and the work was hard… not that the money wasn’t sweet (see what I did there?)… ;)
How Much You Can Make
Over the summer I worked most Saturdays + Sundays and a rare Friday afternoon. My pay was about $12/hr. I averaged about 20 hours during the weekend so average pay was $240 per weekend and about $1,000 per month. Not bad for a side hustle.
Things I Learned
- Working at a bakery is HARD. It’s not a mentally hard job, but it is physically exhausting. My first weekend back at the bakery, I literally came home and felt like I had ran a marathon. Everything hurt! Luckily, I had a fab fiancé who gave me foot rubs on Sunday afternoons for the whole summer… which brings me to point #2…
- It SUCKS working two jobs, especially during the summer… before your wedding! I was hitting about 55 hours at my regular job as an accountant, and then averaging about 20 on the weekends at the bakery. Luckily, I couldn’t have picked a more opposite side hustle than my regular job – it kept it fun and interesting. With that said, it really sucked seeing my family/friends heading to the beach on the weekends, but it didn’t suck seeing the extra money in my pocket! I sacrificed my weekends relaxing for some hustling.
- No matter what job you do, I really believe 90% of the enjoyment of a job depends on the coworkers. Yeah, it was definitely nice having extra income but at the end of the day, I also REALLY enjoyed spending time with some of my old co-workers, side by side, drenched in buttercream like the good old days! LOL.
- There really are SO many different shades of colors. Seriously, I had a customer flip-out because her cake was not the right shade of pink. Customers place A LOT of importance on their birthday cakes, especially after all of these cake shows blew up on TV. You had to really focus and make sure each cake came out perfect or you risked ruining someone’s birthday or wedding day.
- As hard as the work is, there are some GREAT perks! My boss was extremely generous, and always offered me a free cake when there was a birthday in the family. You could pretty much eat all of the cookies/bagels/donuts/cake slices/cupcakes your little heart desired. He even ended up gifting me my beautiful fondant wedding cake! (Which could’ve EASILY cost me $600).
How to Become a Cake Decorator
If you take a couple of Michael’s decorating courses, it’ll get you started with the basics… but in reality, it’s about who you know! If you really want to give it a go, start at a bakery as a cashier. You’ll get familiar with the products that the bakery has and the staff.
Typically things that make you successful in a corporate environment aren’t always going to work in a small mom-and-pop type place, they want to see that you are just plain working your a$$ off. I remember when I first started, my manager could not stand to see anyone just standing around. Time is money, for them and for you!
You can always practice cake decorating at home as well. Wilton makes the best sets and is what we typically used. Don’t buy those weird plastic sets you see in those home shopping magazines – you might as well commit cake decorating suicide.
Lastly, make sure you can handle the crazy hours. Most bakeries open at 6am meaning you need to be there by 5:30am. Cake decorators started even earlier – at 4am in my situation.
All in all, it was a fun & simultaneously exhausting experience. I worked there for about 4 months so it ended up paying for our honeymoon and a few other expenses! It was great working for a company that knew I was getting married because I didn’t need to stress about getting time off for my bridal shower, bachelorette, and wedding. Also, they knew it was just for the summer so I didn’t need to stress about giving my two weeks.
As soon as the wedding came (September 1st), I was done working there. SO worth it, but I am happy to be done… for now ;)
Eunice M. is a recent Hofstra University graduate and wife. She is an Accounting Supervisor by day and a domestic diva by night. ;) Follow her at on twitter at @eunified or connect via Linked-In.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I love this post for three reasons: 1) This girl was on a mission and didn’t let hard work get in her way. 2) She used every last penny from this gig to fund her goals, which is the best thing about *side* hustles! It’s all money to be used outside your normal job! And then 3) CAKE!!!!!!!
[Awesome pirate cake photo by mejane8 / All others by Eunice M. herself]