Introduced to baking by his grandmother at the age of 12, Desmond Pringle tapped into his love of culinary arts and entrepreneurial spirit to create a luxury wedding cake business in his home state of South Carolina. His journey from retail employee to Executive Chef and Owner of Gardenia's Custom Cakes & Catering LLC is inspiring, informative, and delicious! Here are 7 Questions with Desmond Pringle!
1. Tell us about yourself, Desmond!
I was born and raised in Sumter, SC by way of Alcolu, SC. I graduated from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC (c/o 2001 cum laude Moore School of Business; BS in Business Administration, Marketing/Human Resources). I also earned degrees from Colorado State University (M.S. Merchandising) and the Art Institute of Atlanta, GA (Associates in Culinary Arts). My career started with Villa Christina in Atlanta as a pastry assistant. I later move back to South Carolina in 2008 and established Gardenia’s Custom Cakes & Catering, LLC. Before attending culinary arts school, I worked in retail management for Kohl’s and Belk Department Stores for 10 years while developing my business.
2. What made you to start Gardenia's Custom Cakes?
While working in retail, I always wanted to pursue my own business ventures. I never had a desire to work for anyone else my entire life. During that time, the Food Network started becoming a driving force for all things food. I took a great interest in watching the network particularly cake competitions and I knew from constantly watching these shows that I wanted to pursue pastry arts. As a child I spend summers with my grandmother and we spent a lot of time baking and cooking and this is where I learned how to cook at the age of 12 or 13. We would bake everything from cakes, to breads and biscuits. Every Christmas we'd make a Santa Claus face cake. I left retail in 2006 to pursue a culinary arts degree. I completed the entire program earning certifications as a Certified Culinarian (CC) and Certified Pastry Culinarian (CPC) at the same time.
Once I completed the program I decided to move back to SC and got back into retail while I began establishing Gardenia’s Custom Cakes. I chose the name Gardenia’s as I didn’t want to have a generic name such as Desmond’s Cakes. I wanted to name to evoke feelings of being in the South and I wanted it to feel old as if the company has been around forever. The name Gardenia’s means “Grace” but in the south it evokes feelings of southern hospitality, our tagline/motto is "Where Grace Meets Southern Hospitality.” It’s our aim to provide clients with great tasting dessert offerings, coupled with superior customer service. We want customers to know that when you select Gardenia’s we’ll provide you with the best experience and it’s our goal to make their event thoroughly unforgettable.
3. What has been your biggest challenge since starting this business?
The biggest challenge has been finding access to capital to grow my business. In the beginning, it was not a concern of mine as I worked full time so much of my excess funds were funneled into my business. But when I decided to leave my career in retail in 2012, I soon found out that finding access to capital when you don’t possess a ton of collateral was challenging. I did work some odd jobs and even took a position as a High School Culinary instructor, but it was short lived as my business continued to grow and I needed to dedicate time to its growth. I would also have to say that learning all the different rules and regulations and taxation that comes with starting a new business was somewhat overwhelming at times, but I’ve been able to navigate this river, but I'm still learning.
4. What is it like being a wedding vendor, especially with a growing clientele?
Being a wedding vendor is great! Weddings are big business and if you are effectively able to break into the market, you can experience considerable revenue growth. You can grow while also allowing your business to be presented to many different individuals from many walks of life who may need your services for a wedding, birthday, graduation etc. It opens you up to more clientele without paid advertising. I’ve gain so much business through the wedding market and through word-of-mouth. At [wedding showcase] events I’ve gained new avenues for business.
5. What should couples know when looking for a wedding cake vendor?
When looking for a cake vendor, couples should look for a baker who can show them pictures of his/her actual work. When starting out many in the industry use stock photos to gain clients, but this can be good if you have the skill necessary to execute the design shown in a stock photo, but very bad if you are not truly ready to handle the designs you claim you can make. Also, your cake vendor should have a schedule for you to taste their cakes. A vendor can have very pretty cakes and sadly, the taste is lacking. The tasting will serve two purposes; first, it will allow the client to see if the taste is there. Second, is the vendor truly knowledgeable about their business and can build the client’s trust and confidence in the vendor’s ability to execute their vision for their wedding. Lastly, couples should come prepared with a list of questions for their wedding vendors to answer. It’s very important that clients minimize the number of vendors they visit to their top three (visiting them all on the same day or over the course of 2 days). Try to limit the number of guests they bring with them to a tasting as too many opinions can confuse the client. I personally only allow for the bride, groom and event planner at my tastings. Be prepared to book a vendor on site if thoroughly impressed, because like good parking spaces, a quality vendor will only be available for a short period of time.
6. What are you most proud of since starting Gardenia's Custom Cakes?
I’m most proud of the fact that I set a goal to start my own business and now I’m moving into the next phase of my business which is my very first store front operation (currently located at the Palmetto Place Event Center - Columbia, SC). I’m also proud that I moved back to South Carolina and am still able to offer the types of cakes that I love to create and I’ve actually been able to carve out a niche market here in Columbia, SC and surrounding areas for luxury wedding cakes. I’ve been afforded the opportunity to do cakes locally, in Atlanta, Charlotte, Charleston, Hilton Head, Savannah and some many other places as well. I’m sure in my next phase of business I go to places I’ve only imagined.
7. Do you have any advice to those wanting to start their own business?
Yes! When starting a business ask yourself one important question; is this industry something that I love and can do for the rest of my life? That’s the first step. Next, seek additional education in your chosen industry and research the market. Start small, the business will come. Use each client interaction as an opportunity to improve your skills and your business. Never be so quick to jump to the front of the line knowing fully well you can’t handle the needs of the event; the money may look attractive, but logistically are you able to handle what the client needs? It’s ok to turn down large business until you’re ready, because the last thing you want to do is damage your credibility.
Lastly, I would also say when it comes to leaving your job, there’s never the perfect time to do it. I personally stepped out on faith, but I put in the work because this is now my own entity and whether it rises or falls is totally up to me. I had to put in work. You can make a faith move but be prepared to work because in the beginning you are full of promise and ideas, but reality can kick you when you least expect it so don’t give up, stay the course and the rewards will come.