Scott Calvert

RBA Board Member Spotlight

Board President Scott Calvert: The Cake Plate

In the RBA Board Member Spotlight series, we'll be profiling valued members of the Retail Bakers of America board.

We’re kicking off this series with our outgoing board president, Scott Calvert. He recently stepped away from wedding cakes after 30 years in the Austin, Tex. area. He’s using this huge career transition to increase his mentoring within the baking industry (which was already going strong).

“Let’s advance the baking industry.”

Scott Calvert: The reason I like RBA is because we're so education-focused. I've been around a lot of bakers for a long time, including many older, generational bakers. I repeatedly heard them say, “If I'm going to teach them this, then they're just going to leave me to work for another baker down the street and use the advice over there.”

I take the approach that if you have all this knowledge and die with it, what was the point? Instead, share what you know! Share what you know whether they leave and go somewhere else or not. Let's advance the baking industry.

When I started, I didn't have anybody to ask questions. I was insulated and pressed for time. So I always thought if I can help somebody not have to reinvent the wheel every single day like I did, I should help them do that.

It seems like the folks I've met at RBA have that same drive, which is great.

Favorite part of specialty cakes

Cakes were fun to make for 28 years, but I loved meeting with the brides and the mothers of the brides.

It was fun to make cakes for a kid’s first birthday, second birthday, and then do their wedding decades later. And then THEY had kids, and I did their birthday cakes.

The Cake Plate’s signature flavor - Mexican vanilla cake

I would have people tell me “I went to someone's party…That was your cake, right?”

It was nice to be recognized and have that consistency and people liking it.

Career transitions

I just got out of wedding cakes about 2 years ago.

Wedding cakes are a very physical job. When it takes five people to go set up a wedding cake, that's a big wedding cake. It's a lot of moving parts and logistics and all that stuff.

So now that I don’t do wedding cakes anymore, I have my Saturdays free. My wife and I are both very happy with the decision.

It was fun because we became known for doing these impressive 10-foot-tall wedding cakes that were centerpieces themselves. That was kind of the realm we lived in with the cakes.

I started the Cake Plate 28 years ago. And then about 6 years ago, I merged it with my now business partner who owned Tootie Pie. It was a good fit. He really lived in the retail world and only did pies. So it made sense that he would bring in a bigger mix and start offering cake. He had the online shipping platform, and did a lot of business gifts.

The Cake Plate had always lived in the wholesale world. We distribute through food service and some grocery stores. We just changed our model in January when we stopped doing custom orders. My lead decorator of 15 years moved out of state, which was part of why we got out of wedding cakes. It took a lot of work to find that level of expertise (for a replacement). The other reason we stopped doing custom orders is that the wholesale side had grown so much that our whole team worked the entire week. And then at the end of the week when everyone is exhausted, I’d have to say, “By the way, I need five people to help us set up a wedding.”

We do have a retail store in Boerne, which is right outside of San Antonio where they still do some custom cakes.

How the merge happened

Tootie Pie came to me originally.

They wanted me to bake their pies for them, and the available location didn't have the capacity.

So I started looking at options to build another place next door. It never really worked out.

So as we started working together, it finally came to the point where I said, why don't we just build the location? As we started that build, I realized we have the same end game, so let's have the same focus. 

So we put the companies together to create a bigger force.

Biggest business disaster? 

Cake jars! The mason jars / layered cakes from 12 or 14 years ago. We jumped all the way in.

My director of operations now was my sous-schef at the time. She said let's do it, and within 2 weeks, I had already dumped about $20,000 into the project!

Then we realized it was really difficult. I don't tend to do things simple. So when considering the flavors and fillings that we created plus the labor, she said, “This killing us.”

After about 2 months of it, we pulled the plug and I thought, “Well, $20,000 down the drain”

Speaking of trends…

We tend to move away from trends because you jump on those and they don’t last. They need to be a fit for us. But on the flip side of that, I didn't think cupcakes would stick around as long as they have. I thought they would be a flash in the pan. But we're still making tons of cupcakes.

Also, our customers watch trends sometimes and will ask if we can make something like cake pops, which we have done. And others we say no to.

We feel out what fit us best.

After the cake jars, that was the point where I started working closer with my director of operations. She ran the people / labor, so I’d discuss ideas with her since she was a planner and I was more of a “let’s just jump in and try it” person.

It worked a lot better than me making a decision and killing our production team.

Thoughts on refund policies

That conversation has been around for a long time. Some people are very structured with 5-page long contracts, but this is the way I've typically approached it: Instead of having a formal contract with wedding cakes, it was more of a payment contract with a non-refundable deposit. If something happens with the wedding, will work with you. If you spent $500 on a deposit, we'll still give you $500 worth of cake (like birthday cakes). We're not going to just take the money and run.

As far as returns, if we had a situation where somebody really had a problem, we were going to do whatever it took to make it right regardless.

This is one of those businesses where you're as good as your last cake, right?

So if there's a problem, we need to do whatever we can to fix it.

And we were always a little different because they were special orders, so we knew our customers. It was very hands-on order-taking and making sure that we have what they wanted.

Of course we've gone through things like a customer saying “I wanted magenta writing, and this color isn’t right.” But for the most part, people trusted that we were going to make it pretty. Also, we didn't do the things that other bakeries did anyway. (the way we decorated cakes) When we would write on a cake, we'd write thin, delicate script in chocolate–more French influences vs. American style. So people kind of got into our style.

Trust me, there were plenty of times where my cake went out, and we had misspelled the name or left a letter out, and I’d drive to the client's house with a piping bag and the knife to fix it. That’s just what we did.

I've been in the hospitality industry for more than 30 years and I’m always saying things are going to happen. It's how you handle that situation when it does. How do you fix it? How do you give the best customer care you can and make them feel special and that you went to the extra lengths to fix mistakes.

So I have a lot of grace when we go to restaurants and things aren't right. On the flip side, I watch how they handle the situation if a mistake happens.

I'm not cynical. It's one of those things where I determine if they’re really upset and can’t get past something, we give the money back. But we also put in our notes to watch for them next time and exercise caution with their next order (or decline to take their order in a kind way that doesn’t let them know we’re refusing to work with them.)

Economic ups and downs

I found early on that cake and desserts fall in the same category as alcohol. People drink when they're happy, they drink when they're sad. Similarly, people eat cake when they're happy, they eat cake when they're sad. So it stays fairly even despite economic hardship.

What we found with weddings through those dips is that people would still get married, but instead of having 300 people, they'd have 100 people to bring their costs down.

More on mentoring 

I've met a lot of people at IBIE, and when I give them my cell number, they’re surprised. I tell them that if I can answer a question for you, I will. If I can't, I'll send it to somebody else who might be able to.

I'll talk business with anybody because whether we're selling a cake or whether we're selling a doorstopper, business is business.

I love that I can glean things from people who have nothing to do with the baking industry. But business is the same.

Board member, Anthony DiNardo, and I just started a business roundtable. Rather than only focusing on young, up-and-coming members, we also need to take care of our members that have been in the baking industry for a long time. Perhaps they're not buying their first oven, they're buying their tenth oven, and they need advice.

For the roundtable, it’ll be once a month and go deeper into some of those topics relevant to more seasoned members.

Even though we all have different types of bakeries, we all speak the same language.

Business-focused or art-focused?

I was asked to do some wedding cakes by a coordinator I had known for a long time. Once I did a couple of cakes and got the feel for it, then I was having fun.

I feel like when you do wedding cakes, you know by the first four or five whether this is for you or not. So I made it over that hump and kept on doing it.

There were a couple of fails right at the beginning. But looking back, I got into baking because I liked baking, which is not really the way to start a business in hindsight.

So for people like me, I hope that they realize that they need to ask a lot of questions and talk to a lot of people to help them get through the business side of it.

We have the opposite also. Board member Brian Pansari is an example of someone from corporate America who bought a bakery knowing nothing about baking.

I think it’s harder to start a business doing what you love and not knowing a lot about business.

I was young when I started, and it took me a few years to start searching people out for advice. But then I realized I could ask anybody in business my questions for the most part. I didn’t have to only ask fellow bakery owners. Some things didn't match up fully. But there’s a common thread.

I grew up in a house of engineers. I had a strong science background. When I started baking, it just clicked because I realized–this is just formula. It made sense to me immediately. It was after I had the basics down when my creative side started coming out. I've always had a good balance.

But when you're really creative, it's that business side that can become difficult

Retail Bakers of America Scott Calvert

Interested in learning more about becoming a member of the Retail Bakers of America so you can have mentors like Scott and fellow members who offer solidarity, advice, and community? Click here.

Current RBA members, email Marlene O’ Connell ( to learn how you can be featured in an upcoming member spotlight.