Amanda Schenk is the owner and creator of Sugar Plum Cakes and Desserts, a local cakery with loads of style and personality. Amanda started out with a lovingly restored 1950’s caravan called Myrtle, which she would use for mobile catering …
Hi Amanda. Tell us about how you came to be on the Coffs Coast?
My parents moved to Coffs Harbour from the USA when I was two years old, and I’ve been here ever since! I’ve done a lot of travel, but love to come back to the Coffs Coast – such a pleasure to call home.
How long have you been in the hospitality industry, and where did it all begin?
I started work as soon as I could – 14 years 9 months, at McDonald’s. It is honestly the best place to get a great workplace foundation, not only for hospitality, but also for any field. I’ve been in the hospitality industry for 16 years! I love the fast paced work environment, and I love the happiness that good food can bring to people – the memories and sensations!
Where does your inspiration come from when first creating a new cake or dessert?
I like to get an idea on WHO I’m designing the cake for. I ask questions like age/personality/favourite colours or flavours, to custom create something for that particular person – no two cakes are the same! I love that I can be such an important part of people’s memories. It’s such an honour!
What is your personal favourite dessert you like to make and why?
It would have to be Parisian Apple Tarte Tatin. My Godmother introduced this to me when I was young, and I just fell in love. I love the tart apple, crisp pastry, sticky caramel … it’s delicious! I have been known to crave it at 10pm and whip one up! When I was travelling around France, I would hunt them down … Pretty much my main sustenance on my Europe adventure.
Where did your passion for cakes, desserts and everything sweet come from?
I always have memories of everything sweet from a young age. In primary school, when I would get off the bus with my brother and sister you could smell what fresh sweet delight my mother had cooked up from the third step up to our house. Brownies, choc chip cookies… they were all lined out with glasses of milk for us for afternoon tea.
My Godmother is also a great lover of food, so we are always discovering new delicious tastes and recipes together; she is a great supporter of my food obsession. So, my life has always been surrounded by “foodies”.
What dessert would you say is a favourite among the people of the Coffs Coast?
I would have to say dessert-wise, Belgian chocolate molten lava cakes. They are rich, gooey, silky, decedent and gluten free! I sell these at my market stalls, and they are always the first to sell out. Otherwise, macarons are also super popular. I make about 100 on a Tuesday, and they are usually gone by Thursday, so pre-order is always advised.
You have some interesting additions to the business in the form of vehicles. Can you tell us who Myrtle and Pearl are?
Sure! Myrtle is our 1950’s home built bondwood caravan. She was our first big investment in taking Sugar Plum to the next level. We found her on Gumtree, and she was in tatters! The owner wouldn’t sell her to me unless we kept her name; I wouldn’t change it anyway – she just looks like a Myrtle! My husband and father-in-law got to work straight away, restoring her to the beauty she is today!
She allows us to be mobile to cater for weddings/festivals/markets. We also use her as a bar and cater festival style weddings with her; she’s not just a dessert van! We get so many nostalgic comments from people, how they lived in one just like her with a family of eight and so on! Not sure HOW they all fit; I can’t even fit three staff in there! And I just love the vibe she brings anywhere we go!
Pearl is our 1961 EK Holden. I’ve dreamt of owning a vintage car since I was about 15 and used to spend hours online dreaming. Then Pearl was brought to us by a special lady my husband was tattooing. She was so kind to us and as soon as we saw Pearl, we just knew she was meant to be ours. My husband and some of his mates did her up, and we now use her to drive brides around in style; she is a REAL head turner. Plus, we just love to drive her around to vintage car meets and festivals – it’s a real scene, and we love it!
We have added a 1950s Austin Loadstar to our fleet also – “Austin”. Originally we purchased him to do up for our savoury catering side, and we now have some BIG plans for him – but I’ll have to keep the details a secret (for now!)
What have some of the challenges been when starting your own business, and how have you overcome them?
In the beginning, being so young and being taken seriously was a real challenge. I didn’t feel worthy or experienced enough. Persistence and hard work really pays off, in that respect. Being self-employed is a hard gig, and it really takes full focus and commitment to make it work.
The Coffs Community are so embracing of local businesses, so having that support has made a huge impact on not only having Sugar Plum survive, but thrive.
Having a level head and having to make tough decisions that aren’t always easy but are right is important. It’s easy to get caught up in glamorous, generous offers, but in the end it’s assessing whether it’s the right move for your business.
Where do you see Sugar Plum Cakes and Desserts heading in the future?
At the moment I’m focusing on building up the shopfront to have a regular trade and hoping in the next 6 -12 months to be able to employ someone full-time, so I can spend more time with my fast growing two year old girl. In the future I would love to secure a bigger space and have one side as the functioning cakery and one side as a high tea room.
You have the cakery shop, but also do mobile catering with Myrtle. Where can people find you?
In the past, we have been at the Twilight Food Markets on a Friday night, and various festivals around Coffs Harbour. We are taking this season off the Twilight Markets to focus on building up the shopfront and our weddings and events side, but I will still be offering my famous desserts from the cakery Fridays and Saturday mornings over summer.