Meridian mom uses social media to market custom cakes
There is a large — and growing — number of at-home baking businesses in the Treasure Valley driven by social media shares and collaboration.
If you’re looking for someone to create elaborate characters sculpted from fondant for your child’s upcoming birthday cake, for instance, Taylor Durand isn’t your baker.
But Durand, who has baked cakes in the Treasure Valley for the past four years and gotten to know the local sweets scene through social media, certainly could point you to the right person.
Someone, say, like Keri Lainhart, the woman behind Oh, for Heaven Cakes!. Lainhart keeps buckets of fondant on hand in her Meridian home to keep up with her bustling cake business, especially for her favorite creations: wedding cakes.
Lainhart’s business is something Lindy’s Traveling Treats owner and “cookier” extraordinaire Lindy Settle simply can’t wrap her brain around. In her past life, she did cakes — a practice she’s all but left behind.
“There was so much anxiety for me in cakes, because a lot of people want wedding cakes,” Settle said. “They’re the showcase of the reception, and I think I might be a little bit of a perfectionist. The anxiety that came with that was overwhelming.”
But that’s the beauty of the Treasure Valley’s growing baking business scene, Settle said. What one baker doesn’t prefer, another revels in — and has probably posted about it on social media.
Durand, Lainhart and Settle are just three of the dozens of women in the Treasure Valley who have ditched traditional 9-5 jobs for at-home businesses, using social media and word of mouth to add clients and reach cake and cookie customers across the internet.
In the city of Meridian in 2016, city planners approved 15 home occupation accessory permits that allow residents like these bakers to work from their homes. In 2017, that number jumped to 42 home permits.
The growing number of bakers in the Treasure Valley is one reason Settle started a Treasure Valley cookiers Facebook group.
“I didn’t want to have that competitive edge,” Settle said. “I’m all about lifting each other up and helping each other grow, because that’s how we grow our businesses.”
Settle wanted a way to share designs, ideas, customer requests, entrepreneurial tips, best practices for social media and everything in between. The cake decorators and cookiers even meet in person to war stories and collaborate on projects. She’s happy to add any baker in the Valley who could benefit.
“Everybody should have a cookie,” Settle said. “ Even if I can’t make it, I want somebody else to make it.”
And with social media’s ability to connect customers with at-home bakers, and even connect bakers with other bakers, there’s no chance anyone in Treasure Valley will go without a sweet treat for a special occasion.
Not on these ladies’ watch, anyway.
- 19,000+ Instagram followers
- Specializes in small cakes, cupcakes and cookie cakes
- Prices: Cookie cakes starts at about $40, while cupcakes start at about $25 a dozen
Phone: (208) 830-6578
What cake baker Taylor Durand doesn’t do with fondant, she makes up for in earnest with buttercream frosting.
“For butter, I just buy in bulk,” she said. “That’s where Costco comes in, 5 pounds at a time. It’s like, who needs that much butter? But that’s me. I do. I need that much.”
Durand started her at-home baking business Treats by Tay as a hobby in 2014. She even started out by giving away her cakes for free, until that became too time consuming and expensive.
Then she got serious.
“When I first started out I would go into big bakers’ accounts with 250-plus-thousand followers to see what hashtags they’re doing, then I’d click on those hashtags and see how many followers for those there are,” she said. #Buttercream, for example, has been hashtagged over 2.7 million times on Instagram.
Being on Instagram has made all the difference. And she’s not alone.
A poll conducted by Collective Bias, an influencer marketing company featured in Adweek Magazine, sought feedback from about 600 social influencers who found that Instagram was the favorite social media platform among users — something Durand, Lainhart and Settle said they’ve all experienced in their own business.
“Almost 80 percent of influencers are using Instagram Stories, an impressive usage rate for what has become Instagram’s primary answer to Snapchat,” wrote Holly Pavlika in Adweek. Pavlika is a senior vice president of marketing and content at intelligent commerce provider Inmar and its provider, Collective Bias. “Another 50 percent indicated that they are using albums, a feature that allows users to upload and swipe through multiple pictures within the same post like a micro album. Around 20 percent are actively on Instagram Live, and we at Collective Bias anticipate that statistic to rise over time as the live video medium gains traction.”
Durand said her engagement with Instagram users skyrockets every time she posts a time-lapse video of her frosting a cake.
Durand’s husband was in the Army, and his service took them to Kansas and Hawaii before they made Meridian their home in 2016. Durand was working full time as more cake orders rolled in. She had also given birth to her first child, a son named Oliver.
It was her husband who suggested she give up her traditional job of banking for baking.
“He said, why don’t you stay home and bake all the time, and I had never thought of it like that,” she said. “Like, not work? I’ve worked my whole life. It turned out perfect.”
Now Durand averages about six or seven orders a week and adds hundreds of Instagram followers a day. She had 19,000 followers, as of this writing, and counting. That’s largely because she does two things particularly well: She makes simple, beautiful cakes with the perfect hint of flavor — her lemon cake with blueberry and strawberry filling will change your life — and she knows how to work social media to her advantage.
Adding video content to her social media pages was one way to grow engagement with her clients, she said. She’s also found that partnering with other bakers, as well as doing giveaways for her cakes, cupcakes and cookie cakes for her followers, is a way to get her work in front of the world.
“You can see where your creations take other bakers as well,” she said. “Sometimes I wake up, and I’m so excited with a new idea that my neighbors get a cake that morning.”
- 1,000+ Instagram followers
- Specializes in fondant character cakes and wedding cakes
- Prices: Smaller cakes start at $50, wedding cakes range between $300-$600
Phone: (208) 995-0601
Keri Lainhart spends every weekend playing what she affectionately calls Cake Tetris.
“It’s a pretty Tetris, but it can have a nerve-racking affect,” she said, as she lifted her latest creation and carried it into her garage.
That’s where she stores her magic; that’s where an entire fridge is holding only two things: cakes and milk.
The fridge in the garage isn’t the only part of Lainhart’s home that has been taken over, either.
Along with Samson and Delilah — Lainhart’s two KitchenAid mixers — nearly every cupboard is home to some kind of cake-making supply. And then there’s the new 200-pound Somerset fondant sheeter in the kitchen.
“She doesn’t have a name yet, but … maybe Goliath?” Lainhart said. “Yeah, Goliath. I like that. But gradually, over time, as it’s become necessary, I’ve acquired more tools.”
The fondant sheeter spits out perfectly flat and even fondant icing so Lainhart can give her wrists and arms a break from rolling it out herself. With five to 10 cake orders a week, many of them multitiered wedding cakes, who can blame her?
And with a husband who also works from home and seven children — three boys and four girls ranging from 2 to 15 years old — organization is key.
Dry-erase boards turned calendars have been erected in the kitchen, with color-coded entries for kids’ appointments, sports practice schedules and cake deliveries, with entries months in advance.
Jared, Lainhart’s husband, is quick to point out that her work ethic, focus on presentation and superior client experience — Lainhart never charges for wedding cake taste tests — is steeped in the history of their own wedding. Keri traded her clarinet for their wedding cake, and the photographer they hired forgot the film for his camera on their wedding day. No professional pictures of their cake, or the rest of their special day, exist.
“I got one bite of my wedding cake,” Keri said, “so anytime I’m hired to cut the wedding cake, the first piece goes directly to bride and groom.”
Durand, Settle and Lainhart agree that one of the first rules of at-home baking is ensuring quality time with family. Lainhart said she completely takes off every Sunday to practice her Mormon faith with her husband and children, and other boundaries are set on how and when she responds to her social media followers.
“Especially because I work from home, it feels like those boundaries need to be more reinforced,” she said. “It is my business. That was really hard at the start.”
But with the support of her husband, she’s been able to follow her dream of creating lasting connections with couples with her at-home business.
“It’s allowed Keri to express herself and see the benefit and joy it brings everybody else when she’s done,” he said.
- 2,000+ Instagram followers
- Cookier who specializes in detailed sugar cookies
- Prices: A dozen cookies begins at about $42
Phone: (208) 807-5954
Lindy Settle has a familiar visitor knocking at the door of her cozy Meridian home. The mailman has delivered a small package.
The cookie, it seems, always finds a way to make itself known in Settle’s world.
Wrapped in colorful tissue paper, Settle, 40, gently reveals its contents: an oddly shaped “Best Teacher Ever” cookie cutter.
“We call these happy meals,” she said, giggling as she sets the purple plastic cookie cutter aside. It’s back-to-school season, and Settle is flush with cookie orders for teachers as the Treasure Valley’s students get ready to stream back into the classroom.
Settle finds cookie cutters online to add to her collection, and some she finds as happy surprises at thrift stores.
But if Settle can’t find the perfect cutter, it’s no matter. She’s used to taking things into her own hands.
“I love cookiefying things,” she said, surrounded by plastic tubs in her basement that contain her collection of 1,000 cutters. “I get super geeky when it comes to cookies. I’ve been 3-D printing my own cookie cutters at the (Meridian) library. I have been designing them and printing them off.”
Baking didn’t always elicit such joy for Settle. Before she married her wife, Renee, Settle was in an unhealthy relationship. She used baking as a way to escape that hostile environment for herself and her three daughters. The memories attached to baking weren’t positive, and she abandoned the practice that brings her so much joy for a time.
Then, after a casual request, the urge to bake came back. Renee is a ghostwriter and publishing consultant with a client who wondered whether Settle could bake and decorate a batch of cookies for a tea party book launch.
“I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do that.’ I’m either brave or stupid, I don’t know,” she said with a laugh.
Since then, she’s cut back on her full-time job as a patient business associate at St. Luke’s. Now she works at the hospital only on Mondays and Tuesdays, just the right amount of time to retain her health insurance.
Having that talk with her boss was terrifying, she said. She cried through the whole conversation.
“I said, ‘I just I have to try it.’ I’ve lived my whole life doing what everybody else thought I should do. To finally take ownership in what I’m doing, and have a wife who supports me unconditionally, feels ...” she trailed off, smiling and shaking her head.
Settle has honed her craft to the point where she can usually ice the most detailed of cookie in under 10 minutes. She’s done large orders for entities and individuals alike, such as the city of Nampa, Mix 106 and even a legislative candidate.
She loves a challenge, too.
Sometimes clients come to her knowing exactly what they want, but Settle almost prefers orders that are open to interpretation. One family came to her to ask for cookies for their grandma. The only direction they gave? Grandma likes gardening, tea time and books.
Settle needn’t have worried. They turned out perfectly.
“Sometimes I get a little bit anxious, especially if I had complete creative freedom and I’m going into it intuitively,” she said. “It gives me a little tummy ache ... but when you see their smile and they open the box and they’re squealing in delight, it makes every painstaking detail worth it.”
Christina Lords is the Idaho Statesman’s Breaking News editor and can make a pretty mean chocolate chip cookie.