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Meet LaRonda Jones-Gutierrez

Today we’d like to introduce you to LaRonda Jones-Gutierrez.

Thanks for sharing your story with us LaRonda. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Like many artist baking started as a hobby for me, something I became very passionate about and loved doing but never wanted it to become “work”. Baking was my solace and escape from my busy and hectic life in healthcare. It was my therapy. My formal education is actually in health science as a healthcare administrator, but once I completed my Master’s degree, I had some additional time on my hands and decided to pick up a new hobby. I come from a cooking family and was known for my cooking. Most of my friends call me Ljay and played around with the idea of me opening a restaurant, writing a cook book, or even teaching cooking classes. One night my daughter and I decided to watch our favorite channel, Food Network and there was a baking competition on. My daughter said, “Mom you should bake us a cake!”. There was nothing I disliked more than baking. The measuring, the science, the time you have to put into it. By nature, I am more of a little of this, little of that, cook and measuring ingredients has never been my thing, so baking would surely be a task. But I decided I was up for the challenge and got out the bed that night to bake my very first cake. Let’s just say it wasn’t my best work.

The cake was delicious but my techniques were lacking. I needed to tap more into my artistic flair. I challenged myself to do better the next time, and the next time after that, making cakes for family and friends. With no formal training and not a lot of time with my full-time job as a healthcare leader I learned various new techniques through trial and error and of course YouTube tutorials. The creativity for me was always there I loved decorating and making things beautiful, so with every cake I completed I was able to improve on my decorating skills until people started to notice and place cake orders. After a few orders and great views, Foodbyljay was birthed but I still thought it would just be a hobby. I was mistaken.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Being a self-taught, home baker is complicated. It’s a major balancing act that takes discipline and time management. Like any business dealing with customers, you’re opening yourself up to criticism. You have to please your customers and come up with a design that is perfect for them. It is always a lot of back and forth, idea changes, and working on the design until it is perfect. Even when others see your cakes as amazing, the artist in you will still pick out the few flaws or think of what you should have done or changed after the fact. It sometimes requires isolation and the occasional no, I’m not available to hang out because I have to stay on schedule. If I could go back and do it all over, I would probably take a business course. Making sure your customers understand you’re providing them a customized product, even if they provide you with a photo of another cake, you make it your own and make small changes, you put your spin on it, and pricing something like that is hard.

You have to be competitive with your pricing because as a home baker to pay yourself you cannot sell your cakes at grocery store prices, otherwise, I am spending hours, upon hours, and days on making a cake that technically I am not getting paid for. And that busy day job that can be anywhere between 8-10 hours daily, where I leave exhausted doesn’t go away, at least for now and yet I still come home and bake every day, but I do it because I love it. I do it because it is my peace, I just need to make sure there is a return on my investment of time. I think most cake artist who haven made it to celebrity cake status struggle with pricing because who doesn’t want to find a deal. I saw a meme the other day that said, “Bakers, you should do this full time”, and the Bakers responded, “if you paid the full price we could”.

Please tell us about your business.
Foodbyljay started as a food business but over the past five years, my focus has been baking, specifically customized cakes. I create custom cakes for all occasions, weddings, birthdays, baby showers, just because cakes if you’re having an event, I can make you a delicious, beautiful cake to wow your guest.

I think what sets me apart from other bakers is the taste of my cakes. As I said cooking is in my blood and I put even more attention into the taste of my cakes as I would when cooking any food dish. My cakes are homemade, from the cake itself, the buttercream frosting in various flavors, to my homemade flavored marshmallow fondant. It has to taste amazing first and foremost. While there are so many talented bakers out there who cakes have the technique and look great, they sometimes lack in the taste department. I like to make sure my cakes cover both, what you see and taste should match, the “cook” in me will never short cut on taste.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
It is my passion for caking. It comes through with all my designs. I am in a lifelong competition with myself to be the best cake artist I can be. My customers get to benefit from me always trying to outdo me.

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