Moments after she'd locked the front door at the close of business on Valentine's Day, which is always busy, the owner of Cakes By Brandy reflected on the advantages and challenges of working for herself.
"There are some days that I'm exhausted and tired and I need a break," Brandy Cochrane said. "But when I'm sitting there and it's nice and quiet and I'm working on a cake, I love it."
She opened the bakery, which specializes in various types and sizes of cakes but also produces cookies, brownies and other items, in the summer of 2015. She held very different jobs before becoming a full-time baker. And she believes these life experiences have made her a better businessperson. Cochrane, 30, lives in Westfield with her husband, Michael, her stepson, also named Michael, and her two daughters, Hailey and Sadie.
Photo by Charles Erickson
Brandy Cochrane, owner of Cakes By Brandy, along with her stepson, Michael, shows off some of her baked handiwork at the front counter of her Westfield shop.
About a decade ago, Cochrane was hired as a dishwasher by Heritage Village, a nursing home in Gerry. She worked her way up and across the kitchen, and began preparing food for the residents. "I really think that's when I started loving to bake," she said. Cochrane later took a job at the Cummins plant in Ashville, where she assembled engines. With overtime, she would work over 70 hours a week but lamented how she was missing much of her firstborn daughter's life. The paychecks were great, but the money could not buy back the moments from Hailey's early days that had passed into history. So Cochrane left the diesel-engine industry and moved her occupation home. She became a certified daycare provider, and operated a small facility out of the house. She enjoyed the work but growth possibilities were limited because there were only so many children she could legally care for simultaneously. Cochrane credits social media for her career as a baker, decorator and seller of cakes. Two years ago, pleased with how the cake she made for her sister's baby shower turned out, Cochrane took a photograph of it. "I posted it on Facebook, and people went crazy over it and started asking me to make cakes for them," she recalled.
Cochrane began making cakes to order in her kitchen. She did this for a few months before the cramped workspace and surging orders forced her to lease a storefront. She opened Cakes By Brandy at 29 Elm St. in the summer of 2015. The shop was there until last October, when, again, space needs Cochrane frequently used folding tables to hold her inventory prompted her to rent a larger building, at 42 East Main St. "Business has been very steady since I moved," Cochrane said.
Last year, other than Valentine's Day, her business slowed after Christmas and didn't pick up again until March. Open Mondays through Saturdays, the store has been busy every day of 2016, according to the owner. "It could be that we've had a pretty mild winter, but I've been steady all the way through," Cochrane said.
The base price for a 6-inch cake is $10, with prices increasing with size until the 16-inch cakes, which cost $40. A full sheet cake is $60, but half- and quarter-sizes are also sold.
Taste and look are the two most important cake qualities for Cochrane, and some customers place orders that require much time to complete the finishing.
"The prices all go off how intricate the designs are," she said. Typical birthday cakes run about $80, and wedding cakes usually cost around $200.
Last year, when Cochrane decided she needed a larger shop, she reached out to Mathews Jewelers, at 49 E. Main, to see if she could lease space in the former home of the Westfield Bakery. She said her offer was politely declined.
"I'm all about bringing back what was good," Cochrane said. In the future she hopes to open a contemporary version of the old bakery.
"I would have it really nostalgic and bring back the old flavors and the old styles and everything," she said, "but still have the modern twists on the cakes."
Positive reaction to a photo of a cake posted on Facebook is what pushed Cochrane to begin her business. And social media images are big indicators she's doing a good job with Cakes By Brandy.
"I think my favorite thing is when parents send me pictures of the children that receive the cake, and how happy and excited they were to get it," she said. "That's my favorite part."