Baking waves: Cake shop success forces move to bigger digs

Jason Scott and Stephanie Kalina-Metzger//May 21, 2019

Baking waves: Cake shop success forces move to bigger digs

Jason Scott and Stephanie Kalina-Metzger//May 21, 2019

Darmayne Robertson (Photo: Markell Deloatch) –

The cake baker is rarely seen or celebrated at the wedding.

But this spring, Darmayne and Will Robertson, owners of longtime Dauphin County bakery Sweet Confections Cakes, had their moment of recognition.

Together with local business leaders and government officials, the Robertsons unveiled their bakery’s newest location at 4702 Fritchey St. in Lower Paxton Township.

The new bakery is just two blocks away from their old location on Queen Avenue, but it’s about three times the size, said Darmayne Robertson.

“Now we’re not falling over each other,” she said of the new 3,500-square-foot space, which sits behind Stephenson’s Flowers on Route 22.

Robertson started Sweet Confections as a home-based business in 1993. After about a decade, the wedding and specialty-cake bakery moved to Queen Avenue, where she continued to build a loyal following. Sweet Confections makes cakes for about 300 weddings per year, and regularly serves clients from as far away as New York and Philadelphia

“We had outgrown that space in about three years, but financially we couldn’t afford to move,” she said. “We had to save up and look for a suitable location. And I didn’t want to go far.”

The well-known Colonial Park cake decorator turned to the Kutztown University Small Business Development Center, which helped the couple develop a business plan and secure a $322,200 loan and $25,000 line of credit through the Small Business Administration to purchase the new location. Centric Bank financed the SBA deal.

With the larger bakery, Robertson said she expects the business will be able to take on more orders and add staff. The Robertsons have two employees currently and are in need of more decorators.

“We’re trying not to turn away orders,” she said, noting that she hopes to hire at least two more people.

Darmayne Robertson, a retired Blue Cross employee, recently discussed her experience as a woman entrepreneur.

CPBJ: Was there something in your early experiences that gave you the confidence to run your own business?

Darmayne Robertson: In order to earn an allowance, my mother expected that we would each have our own little business. I made taffy apples, cookies, pies and other baked goods and sold them in school.

Will and Darmayne Robertson are the couple behind Sweet Confections Cakes at 4702 Fritchey St. The award-winning specialty cake bakery is located in Lower Paxton Township. (Photo/Markell Deloatch)

CPBJ: Was there a catalyst to jump-starting your own business after you retired?

Robertson: I was in the midst of making a wedding gown for a friend and she asked if I could make her a wedding cake. I told her that I’d prefer that she ask her grandmother to do it, but she thought it would be too stressful for someone who was getting up there in years. I wasn’t certain that I was up for it, but she assured me that decorating it would be simple using a basket-weave technique. I was taking a class on cake decorating at Boscov’s at the time and asked the instructor. She showed me how to do it and it was rather simple. The cake had nine tiers and ended up being a hit. She had about 300 guests and six asked me if I could make one for their upcoming weddings.

CPBJ: It appears that you have had no trouble reinventing yourself, from working for a private corporation, to making wedding gowns, to designing cakes. What made you choose cakes?

Robertson: I enjoyed sewing, but I realized that I couldn’t do both. Sewing puts a lot of stress on the eyes and the fingers. I get more joy seeing the expressions on kids’ and adults’ faces and being able to create something edible.

CPBJ: Your cake designs seem to run the gamut, from designer purses, to cell phones, race cars, princess castles and even a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. What is your most popular design, how long does it take to make and what do you charge?

Robertson: Most popular right now is the unicorn cake, which takes about four hours to make. Prices can run from $75 to $450, depending on the serving size.

Darmayne Robertson decorates cupcakes Tuesday, May 7, 2019 at Sweet Confections Cakes, 4702 Fritchey Street, Harrisburg. The award winning specialty cake bakery is located in Lower Paxton. (Photo/Markell Deloatch)

CPBJ: You operated out of a smaller shop in Colonial Park and stayed there for 14 years until you moved just down the road. What attracted you to the new address?

Robertson: Space — we grew from a square footage of 1,800, to a square footage of 4,000. The new space is not only more visible to passersby, but it also gives us the ability to host small events ranging from birthday parties, to micro-weddings. In our other space, we would host children’s birthday parties, but the space was so small that we would have to remove everything from the showroom and then flip it back. The most we could entertain would be 15. Now we can host up to 30 people in each of the two rooms. Having parties during business hours gives us and the customer more flexibility. We also have four ovens now, as opposed to two.

CPBJ: How many employees did you have in the beginning and how many do you have now? What is your leadership style?

Robertson: In the beginning it was just me and my husband. At one time, we had a total of six, but I eventually decided that I didn’t want to work the long hours typical of some area bakeries, so we scaled back to two. As for my leadership style, I like to keep the lines of communication open. Both my husband and I can take constructive criticism if something needs to be changed on the cake, like the color being a bit “off” for instance. We all feel free to look to one another for assistance and to critique each other’s work.

CPBJ: What do you find challenging in this business?

Robertson: Educating the customer on the budget process. For instance, they might ask for a cake that feeds 50-100 and we have to let them know that the range is too broad. It’s also difficult when their budget doesn’t quite fit their expectations. Pinterest is an additional challenge. When they bring in pictures of a cake that they’ve spotted on the site and they want it replicated, it’s often hard to put a price on that. Sometimes we have to practice new techniques quickly in order to offer the customer a specific price.

CPBJ: The food business is tough. To what do you attribute your staying power?

Robertson: We stay on the cutting edge, offer great customer service and use quality ingredients.

CPBJ: What challenge have you met that makes you most proud?

Robertson: Not only have we been referred by (Food Network Star) Duff Goldman on several occasions, but we also filled an order for the Volvo Corporation in Shippensburg. The cake was in the shape of one of their trucks and was created to feed 4,000. It was a massive undertaking. People in attendance thought it came from Cake Boss, or Ace of Cakes, but they were told no, that we were the ones who created it and that we are also local.