Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cakes are Serious Business.

I didn't expect to be writing an opinion piece on here. I also didn't expect to be combing through Entertainment and Sports sections of the newspapers for information about a story. However, this popped up on my newsfeed on Facebook, and because it takes place in my field and in my region, my interest was sparked. After finding out all I could about this story, I have one thing to say:

Everyone involved is in the wrong.

Here is a summary: A bakery owner in Boca is asked to create a birthday cake for LeBron James at the last minute, to be compensated with publicity instead of actual money. Bakery owner jumps at the chance, hires extra people to make the cake over a busy holiday weekend... only to find that her cake was replaced by a Miami baker given the same request. Now, Boca Baker is pissed and wants compensation.

I'm actually going to leave LeBron James out of this, because I have a strong feeling that he didn't even see his birthday cake until the party. I can certainly believe that the big decision to switch the cakes happened in a closed-door meeting, while Mr. James was busying himself with whatever it is that professional athletes do.

And even if he did have a say in what cake he wanted at the party (which I can also believe, as one quote by "party handler" Jared Galbut keeps popping up: "I can't tell LeBron James what birthday cake to eat. It's LeBron James, for Christ's sake.", I honestly wouldn't blame him for passing on this particular cake. Why? Take a look at the two competing cakes in question:

(Image from Yahoo Sports)

Which one of these cakes would you want as a centerpiece at your birthday party? Now, which one of these cakes do you think Mr. James' "people" picked out?

The cake on the left came from Passion for Pastry, the shop of the aforementioned Boca Baker. The one on the right comes from Divine Delicacies in Miami, and was actually featured at the party.

As much as I hesitate to say something like this, because I know it will ruffle some already sore feathers, but Passion for Pastry's cake does not look to be worth $3,000. I realize that the ingredients and labor involved get expensive, and having the order at the last minute puts serious time constraints on your work, but for a budget like that and having a whole weekend to work on a cake, I know for a fact that people can put more into a cake. Especially if you're planning on associating yourself with a public figure.

Don't believe me? Take another look at those cakes above. Guess which one put more effort into that cake. And Passion for Pastry had to hire extra people for this cake alone? Considering the end result, I don't believe it. Don't get me wrong, it's still a lovely cake. I, personally, would be thrilled to see something like that at my own birthday party. But would I pay $3000 for it? Probably not. While the detail in the crown is impressive, the rest of the cake seems a bit lacking. There's minimal detail on the rest of the tiers. While on DD's cake, I can see the hand-piped scrollwork on some of the tiers (which is tedious and hell on the hands, but the end result is well worth it), and honestly looks like someone put a weekend into making it.

I took a look at Passion For Pastry's website and flipped through their gallery. I saw more detail and craftsmanship in those cakes, which were various commissions for "us commoners," than I do in the cake that was given to LeBron James. Oddly enough, that particular cake is noticeably absent from the gallery.

So while I appreciate that PFP put a lot of effort into their pro bono cake, it's obvious that it wasn't their best work. They really shouldn't be surprised that Mr. James' people passed on it.

Speaking of those people, they're not completely blameless. One was quoted (Likely Galbut again) as saying "That cake couldn't be worth more than $600. It's flour, eggs and water." It's amazing just how many people don't know what kind of work goes into a bakery. There are also (according to PFP) labor costs and lost business to take into account. That means that PFP had to pass on PAYING clients in order to finish this cake on time, AND pay the extra people who were hired to help with the cake. While I honestly believe that the end result doesn't quite reflect the expense that was put into it, as I said above, it's just a bit insulting to the trade to dismiss all of that work as simply "flour, eggs, and water."

They had to know that they were taking a lot from PFP when they made that last minute order. Not only did they offer PFP publicity instead of monetary compensation for that cake, at the end of the day they refused even to give them that much. The cake went missing and was replaced by DD's cake with no notification on the organizers' parts. PFP would have put in all of that work for absolutely nothing in return. It's glorified theft.

Part of us likes reading stories about Big Bad Celebrities or Corporations kicking the modest small businesses to the curb. It gives us a common enemy and a target for some frustrations. This story isn't one of them. One person made a risky business decision, and a group of people decided that she didn't try hard enough. The fact that the group of people happen to be associated with a celebrity is the only reason why you're hearing about it at all.

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