By Glenda McCarthy
“I didn’t choose cake decorating, cake decorating chose me.” Those simple but heartfelt words from Yolande Modica sum up her journey to become known as the Cake Boss of Newfoundland.
The 37-year-old mother of two fondly recalls the first time she decorated a cake while she was a high school student working part time at a local coffee shop. During her morning breaks she would watch the cake decorators work their magic.
“I’d spend 15 minutes religiously every day watching the cake decorators and asking questions. It always intrigued me the way they could whip through the cakes. I finally convinced them to let me have a go at it.”
Her big break came during one of the shop’s busiest days of the year when a decorator called in sick and they had 80 cake orders to fill. Yolande begged her boss for a chance to help.
“I had just been introduced to it but they let me do it. I just grabbed a cake board, chocolate sponge cake, said a little prayer and went for it. I fell in love with it and after that I was hooked.” Before
she knew it she was a full time cake decorator. “That’s how it all started,” she recalls with a chuckle, “with me begging my boss.”
After leaving that job, she only considered cake decorating to be a hobby but a few years later she found herself without a job, which ended up leading her back to cake decorating with just a small nudge from her husband.
“I was in the kitchen doing my Christmas baking when my husband suggested I do the baking program,” she recalls. “I was a little hesitant going back to school at 33-years-old but when a chef with 24 years of experience looks at you and says, ‘you belong in a kitchen,’ you take them seriously.”
With that decision made, Yolande now had to choose between the Culinary Institute of Canada in PEI or College of the North Atlantic (CNA) in Stephenville.
“I was months away from my wedding and didn’t want to go to PEI. We had just purchased a house and were turning a corner in our personal lives. I weighed out all of the options and wanted to stay home so I chose CNA.”
She says the fact that CNA is government accredited and came with such good reviews was a deciding factor for her.
“I would say 80 per cent of my friends that have successful careers and well-paying jobs came out of CNA. It was kind of a no-brainer for me. You ask yourself, ‘do you want to stay home or do you want to go away?’ If you want to stay home, it has to be CNA.”
Yolande made the commute from Pasadena to Stephenville five days a week for 18 months. She graduated from both the Cook and Baker programs at Bay St. George campus and had a management job waiting for her at Western Health in Corner Brook.
Six months later she took maternity leave to have her son. She tried going back to work afterwards but arranging day care was difficult with a sporadic work schedule.
Even after giving up her job, Yolande says she didn’t wake up one day and say, “I think I’m going to start a business.” Top Tier Custom Cakes started small with just a few cakes here and there.
Once the volume of orders started to increase in 2009, a decision had to be made – she either had to keep it small, or go big and jump in head first.
“It literally took on a life of its own and before I knew it our kitchen was a full production bakery. I blinked and then one day I realized I have a little business going.”
Within six months her basement was going through a full renovation to create a work area and she hasn’t looked back since. As the owner of a successful business she considers herself lucky to do something she loves and finds extremely rewarding.
“I get people sending me photos of them revealing the cakes and I really enjoy seeing the excitement on their faces. It’s almost like you instantly become a part of that person’s history. The minute that camera flashes you’re with them forever.”
Yolande says her time at CNA provided a solid foundation to start her business.
“You can build the biggest, most beautiful house in the neighbourhood but it will just crumble if doesn’t have a solid foundation. School definitely prepared me for what I’m doing now. They provide you with a solid foundation – but what you do with it is up to you.”
Looking back at her time at CNA, it wasn’t coming out with two diplomas, a couple of awards, or a scholarship that is most important for her – it is about the friendships she forged during those 18 months.
“Some of the people I met while I was in there have become my best friends – my extended family. Sure, I have a great piece of paper on the wall, I have a business, and people are calling me the Cake Boss of Newfoundland, but to me that stuff is absolutely nothing if you have no one to share it with,” she says.
“From time-to-time I’m in my cake room decorating a cake and I will literally start to chuckle about something funny that happened in school. The memories alone are worth it to me and everything else is just a bonus – it’s the icing on the cake!”
For more information about Top Tier Custom cakes, visit www.toptiercustomcakes.com.