There seems to be a gluttony of cake-themed reality shows on two cable networks. TLC currently feeds viewers “Cake Boss” and “D.C. Cupcakes” while Food Network serves up “Last Cake Standing,” “Cupcake Wars” and its newest offering, “Have Cake, Will Travel.”
“Have Cake, Will Travel” focuses on Ashley Vicos, a vivacious McDonough mom of three who runs a specialty cake business. She builds massively complicated, audaciously impressive cakes at prices that could buy you a brand new car: don’t call if you don’t have at least $20,000 to spare.
Now who would spend such a ridiculous amount on something that could get consumed in less time than it takes to cook a turkey?
“Big corporations, rodeos and rock concerts will spend $500,000 on a party,” she said. “What I charge for a cake is nothing to them. And oftentimes, it feeds 4,000 people. That works out to $5 or $10 per serving. It only seems crazy if you look at the final number.”
Vicos began her cake-making business in Heritage High School, charging $75 to $100 for a 30-person cake, hefty back in the day. She continued baking at Clayton State University and afterwards, started her own business, Sweet Ashley’s. She never took a cooking class, never spent a penny on marketing. She’s relied purely on word of mouth.
“People benefit from my perfectionism,” Vicos said. “They love awesome cakes. It becomes a focal point at their event.” She also takes pride that her cakes not only look cool but taste great, too. “It breaks my heart when people say their amazing looking wedding cake tasted like cornbread. If I just wanted my cakes to look pretty, I would make them with cement and plaster!”
Not surprisingly, she is drawn to TV. She’s been a contestant on “Wheel of Fortune” and “Deal or No Deal” (where she won a whopping $100.). She caught the eye of cable executives first on Food Network’s “Food Network Challenge,” then two seasons of TLC’s “Ultimate Cake Off.”
At TLC, she learned how to create cakes with moving parts and electronic components. “The cakes had to practically jump off the table and dance!” she said. But last year, she went back to Food Network.
What sold Food Network on her was her bubbly personality, which as “unpredictable as her cakes,” wrote Food Network General Manager Bob Tuschman in an email Thursday.
He defended yet another cake-related reality program: “I think there’s room for another cake show if it offers something unique. We think Ashley and her business do that.” The timing is good if Vicos clicks with the audience: Food Network’s long-standing “Ace of Cakes” was retired in February after ten seasons.
“Have Cake, Will Travel,” which debuted Sunday night in a sneak preview but begins in its regular time slot this Tuesday at 9 p.m., features her and her colleagues traveling around the country to do cakes at big events. (She said she travels two to three weeks out of the month.) Sunday’s episode featured her creating a castle cake for this past February’s Mardi Gras. Tuesday’s episode she’ll design one for the Harlem Globetrotters. In later episodes, she’ll work with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, New York Fashion Week and an anniversary event for the Marine Corp.
She said she gets her ideas by looking at everything around her. “I have cake brain,” she said. “I’ll go to the local Lowe’s or Home Depot just to get inspired. One time, I walked around Lowe’s with a naked mannequin. I was trying to find hardware and support for the internal structure. Employees gave me strange looks.”
“Have Cake, Will Travel,” Food Network, sneak preview 10 p.m. Sunday. Regular time: Tuesdays, 9 p.m.
By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog