Gingerbread Mompreneur: How a Family Tradition Became a Thriving Business for This Baker and Mother of Five
Kat Murray is a busy mother of five with a wildly successful boutique home bakery business. She does it all: cookies, cupcakes, wedding cakes—but her specialty is gingerbread. Not only does Kat create gorgeous and delicious gingerbread houses and men, she is an award-winning culinary artist who has taken home top prizes all over the city for her large-scale, imaginative, edible gingerbread display pieces.
Kat’s passion for gingerbread has grown from family traditions, and she learned everything she knows about baking from her mom. Over the past few years, Kat has slowly watched her mother’s health decline after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. But even though her mind is slipping, they still are able to maintain a solid bond, especially when they talk about memories of baking together.
During the holiday season, Kat’s home transforms into a delicious workshop, filled with the smell of molasses and spices, pounds of candy decorations, and bags of brightly coloured royal icing. It is truly a labour of love for Kat as she hustles through the holiday trying to keep up with the demand for her gingerbread creations. Kat is truly grateful that she’s been able to build a business around her mother’s legacy and she is thrilled to be able to continue family traditions of gingerbread-making with her children.
Read the rest of our interview with Kathryn here:
What was your first job?
My first job was at Chuck E. Cheese’s. I was Chuck E. Cheese and I danced around in the costume. Then I went to school to become a special ed teacher. I was really passionate about behavioural supports. I specialized in Autism, and I worked as a behaviour interventionist. Then I moved to England where I was lining up a job in behaviour intervention there and that’s where I started my family. I used to make cookies when I was in England. I would make hundreds of them at a time. My partner at that time would take them to work. Everybody would put orders in for cookies. Jokingly, his friends would call it “Kat’s Cakes.”
When I came back to Canada, I started baking. I decorated for a Christmas party one year and put up a bunch of gingerbread, and by the end of the night people were asking, “How much is this? How much is that?” Then by the time Christmas came and went, I had a business up and running.
Tell us about Kat’s Cakes. What is your business?
I specialize in buttercream cakes and gingerbread. I do birthdays, weddings, corporate events, but the most exciting part of my business is at Christmas time. Everybody knows when gingerbread season comes, the house is full of gingerbread and Mommy sleeps very little. It’s sort of all hands on deck. I do about half of my income for the whole year during gingerbread season.
What was it like, making that decision to take a passion, turning into a business and going for it?
It was a leap. I think luckily for me and my situation, it was just sort of thrust upon me. I did this decorating and made all this gingerbread for this person having a party. By the end of the night I had a little notepad full of people’s names and what they wanted. I had just over $3,000 worth of orders. I baked it all and sent it all out. Then the next week everyone who saw that stuff called me. By the time Christmas came I had sold like $7,000 in gingerbread. I was like, “I guess I’m gonna start a business. I’m on to something here.”
How long have you been doing this for?
I’ve been running Kat’s Cakes for eight years.
So many people struggle in the early days to open a business. Yours just kind of came organically. How do you feel when you reflect on that time?
I feel like I was really lucky. I had little babies. I always had a baby in my arm no matter what I was doing. I did the gingerbread and then that springtime someone called and asked if I would make a birthday cake and I said, “Sure.” They wanted a ladybug birthday cake. Through the summer, it was all word of mouth. I just sort of learned as I went along. The more and more cakes that I made, the more confident I got, then that’s when you start taking leaps, making things for people that you don’t know at all, making things that you have no idea how to make and you just have to dream up how you’re gonna put it together and cross your fingers that it’s not gonna fall.
How did you grow your business from there?
Eventually, I decided to take the plunge and do weddings, which I was really scared about— having a bridezilla or someone whose wedding cake I made totally ruined their wedding. I’ve never had that. All of the brides have been amazing. Every cake has been different and every cake has been successful. I think you just build on each little success that you have until you get to the point where you know what you’re doing. I just know what I’m doing now. Nobody really taught me that, it just came with all of the customers along the way.
My business has grown quickly and steadily over the eight years. Every year I have more customers, more exciting things that I’m willing to take on. The challenge at Christmas time is taking enough orders that I’m still growing, but not so many that I can still be a mom and a partner and take care of the things that are really important in being a parent.
What are some of the cool things you’ve done that you are proud of?
Some of the high points in my career have been winning the Hyatt Regency gingerbread contest. I entered both as an amateur and as a professional. Winning those competitions was really exciting for me. The first year I did it I had no idea what I was getting into. The second year that I won I had my youngest daughter in a baby carrier. She was just months old. They were announcing all the winners, and for third place this team of 30 people goes up, and then second place this team of 40 people from a culinary school goes up, and then first place here comes this woman with a baby on her chest. Yay! That was pretty exciting because I felt like I had taken on the world, just me and my baby in the carrier. That was super exciting.
How many orders will you have this holiday season of houses, cookies, and displays?
I’ll do 400 little personalized houses. I do hundreds and hundreds of dozens of cookies. It’s nothing for me to get a corporate order for 2,000 cookies. That’s one order. I have lots of different corporations that I work with. Every week the whole house fills up with product and then it goes out, and then the next week I fill it all up again. Every weekend there’s another whole set of thousands of cookies and gingerbread going out.
How many special commissions do you have?
It varies year by year. Every year I get a special call from someone who wants a replica done. Sometimes people are shocked at the process, that you can’t call me and I’ll have that ready next week. It’s a big process to do a replica of a building. That’ll take a good 100 hours to do a good replica. I always do my commissions for Grouse Mountain, and then my corporate clients. I see them every three months through the year for different things. I have my regulars, my traditions become their traditions.
How would you describe your process when it comes to envisioning and putting together a piece of edible art?
There was a time when the process was terrifying to me. I would take on an order, and then start to think about how I was putting it together and I would cry. “I can’t do this. What am I doing? I’m not good enough for this.” Then I would work through it. Now, I just sketch a little picture and when I roll my dough out I get a ruler and I just know. I know what I’m doing now in my process. I’m really confident in how it comes together. I’m familiar about where gingerbread needs to be supported structurally. My favourite thing is just when a client lets me run with it. “Here’s my budget. Here’s my theme. Go nuts.” Then my mind goes and keeps me up for three nights with all these great ideas and can’t wait to knock it out.
Your love of baking became a career. To get to where you are, does this feel like a natural progression?
Yeah. To get to where I am, it has been a natural progression, I think. I have a really strong desire to be at home with my children, number one. This business has allowed me to do that. As it’s grown I’m able to pick and choose now when I want to work and when I want to accept orders and who I want to accept an order with, so that it’s always a positive experience and I still have time to go on holidays with my children. I feel like it’s the greatest thing that ever could’ve happened. These traditions that my mother started turning into my livelihood is amazing to me. I can support my family, pay my mortgage, and show my girls that as women, we got this. If you love something you can do it on your own. It’s been natural and amazing, and I’m excited to see where it goes.
What is the special sauce that makes you good at your job? What’s the ingredient?
Passion. Passion is the key. Creativity, to have passion, to let your creativity be unleashed. I think the possibilities are endless. When someone calls me with an idea, I can’t rest until I’ve got that idea completed now.
How do you balance your career and family?
It’s a precarious balance. There are certain times in the year where I think there’s more business than family going on, and we all understand that as part of the process. Gingerbread season means that Mommy is busy doing gingerbread every single day, so those aren’t days that we have play dates, or we don’t have other kids come to the house. My kids know the rules not to touch the candy, not to touch the cookies.
What kind of career goals do you have with this in terms of your baking? What’s next?
Well, I have found my calling here. I see my business going, however big it grows, that I can still manage it myself. If it comes from Kat’s Cakes, it’s made by me. It’s designed by me. It’s decorated by me. It might be packaged by my kids. Where I see our blended family going is for everyone to find their passion and find their way.
I would love for Nick to find his true calling and be able to stay at home doing what he loves, making driftwood trees, and for all my kids to do that and see that you can take your passion and you can turn it into your life. Making your livelihood doesn’t have to be something that you have to do. It can be something that you love.
For what in your life are you most grateful?
I’m the most grateful for my childhood and the strong traditions that my parents instilled in me. Now I’m grateful for these amazing children that I’m growing to hopefully be amazing adults who will take on the world and make a difference. I’m grateful for my blended family that I have now. Who knew this is where we would be and that we would all come together so well and share this, share our love for life and for each other and for doing creative things?
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