By Brenlee Coates
Walking into Jenna Rae Cakes on Academy, it feels like Instagram would explode if you tried to document every thing of beauty in the space.
The bakery is chic and bright-white-walled with punches of pastels, and the handmade cake creations are out of this world.
You’d probably have to taste any of the floral touches to truly believe they are edible.
Even the photographs on the wall, of flowers, are really Jenna Illchuk’s pristine sugar flowers photographed by local shutterbug Brittany Mahood.
Jenna is on to the fact that her baking and shop decor is an Instagram dream, so she’s offering the chance to win a $10 gift certificate for photos with the hashtag jennaraecakes.
“Instagram has been huge,” she says. “Things have kind of quadrupled, or more.”
For a business that credits its start to social media, it made sense for Jenna Rae Cakes to weave it into the fabric of its business.
Jenna is a self-taught cake designer, who got her start after being inspired by the reality show “Cake Boss.”
She thought to herself, ‘I could do that’ – like many of us, often naively, think after watching such shows – but then went so far as to purchase all the supplies she’d need to mimic the process.
She instantly churned out some impressive cakes and decided to share them on Facebook.
“Then I kind of realized people liked what I was doing… it kind of just took off from there,” says Jenna.
Searching #jennaraecakes prompts photos of impeccable detailing on custom cakes like a vintage car with passengers and a road foundation; a deer head (a favourite of Jenna’s) which required fixing modeling chocolate to wires as antlers; a replica of MTS Centre’s ice surface; several sports jerseys or insignia; and intricately detailed, hand-painted heels or handbags.
For the past three years, Jenna has been running a custom cake and wedding cake business, fitting it in her spare time while working nearly full-time hours at Moxie’s Grill & Bar.
She’d work in kitchens overnight to complete the orders, “so it wasn’t something you could sustain,” she says.
Jenna’s been building up to the dream of owning her own shop, and the 580 Academy Rd. location is an ideal home.
She corralled her family to help get the renovations and finishing touches complete for her spring opening. “We did the floors, the painting, the ceiling… all the details on the wall,” she says.
The family affair has continued since Jenna Rae Cakes’ opening in late March. “My mom is doing dishes on Saturdays and my dad always pops in every day,” says Jenna.
Not only does she have her immediate family contributing behind the scenes – but she has her twin sister alongside her every day as her new partner in the business.
Ashley Illchuk is the former creative director of It’s Love magazine, Winnipeg’s authority on all things weddings.
“She’s been a big part of the business since the beginning,” says Jenna, noting Ashley’s wedding experience preceded her own.
Ashley is a talented graphic designer and still works freelance – and, obviously, she’s responsible for much of the beautiful branding for Jenna Rae Cakes.
“She was always the artistic one – and the baker,” says Jenna.
Oddly enough, Jenna favoured cooking growing up and was focused on hockey before she made her foray into baking.
The sisters have been successful involving their extensive creative network in the business, like Brittany Mahood, who shoots for It’s Love – and Jenna Rae Cakes was the host of a pop-up shop in May for some similarly decadent local brands.
Art prints and cards by One Plus One Design, flowers by Fache Floral, jewelry by Sugar Blossom Design, calligraphy by Julie Doan and photo cards by Simply Rosie Photography were all up for grabs at the pop-up along with Jenna’s treats.
Jenna Rae Cakes regularly sells Sugar Blossom Design’s hand-braided bracelets at the shop, featuring them among its display cakes.
Jenna is kept busy as the only baker for the shop with a relatively even split of custom cakes for birthdays and special occasions versus wedding cakes.
She also keeps the shop well-stocked with a daily featured cake sold by the slice, a delectable variety of French macarons, peanut butter- and chocolate-covered Oreos, mini cheesecakes, sugar cookies and Imperial cookies. A popular red velvet coffee is available, while tea will soon be added to the menu.
Business has been steady since the opening. “It was very hectic” around Easter, says Jenna. “I’ve been barely sleeping.”
Ashley is in the process of being caught up to the baking side of things, and the twins plan to add their younger sister to the staff this summer when she returns from school.
The Instagram search of #jennaraecakes prompts a beautiful Brittany Mahood photograph of the twins commemorating Ashley’s recent addition to the team. “So lucky to have such an amazing sister and to work with her every day,” writes Jenna.