Julie McAllister: A Charleston Cake Designer Who Is Just as Sweet as Her Confectionery Creations!
I met Julie about a year ago at a mastermind group that I host along with my friends, Carrie Peeples of Neatsmart and Dr. Laura Camacho of The Mixonian Institute. My first impression was she is poised, beautiful, and has the sweetest spirit, and then..... I saw her cakes! Oh my goodness! She is so talented! Some of her creations look so real, that you may wonder, "why is she taking a photo with that?" Until you realize it's sweet genius! I love Julie's story. Her cakes are spectacular as you will see!
Part I: About Julie
AAT: Tell us about you. What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
JM: I live in Mount Pleasant, SC (just outside of Charleston) with my husband and our dog. The Charleston area is great in so many ways—endless history, wonderful restaurants and of course, beaches! When I’m not working, you will most likely find me with my family at the beach reading a book while my husband fishes, or taking a weekend trip to one of our favorite nearby places like Asheville or Bluffton.
AAT: What is one thing that people don’t realize about you?
JM: I am a dual-career professional, so while you might know me from my custom cake business, For Heaven Bakes, I have worked in the digital marketing industry for the past 12+ years, and am still currently the Digital Marketing Manager for a Charleston/Wisconsin company.
Part II: About Julie's Business
AAT: What business do you own, and tell us what type of business is it?
JM: I own For Heaven Bakes— an order-only custom cake company, specializing in 3D, sculpted and novelty cakes. Serving the Charleston area, I make custom celebration cakes that look like anything but a traditional party treat.
AAT: When did you begin your business?
JM: My business in its current state officially started in November 2017.
AAT: Where did you begin your business? Is it still located in the same place?
JM: For Heaven Bakes began in, and still resides, in Charleston.
AAT: Why did you begin your business?
JM: I have always been a lover of all things baking. I began cake decorating as a hobby on the side, but over the years really grew to love it. It was the thing I was getting up early to do before work, and staying up late at night to finish after work, and also the work never felt like work (which I think is a sign you are doing something you really love!). While I was working for marketing agencies in DC, I knew I wanted to “test the waters” for a baking career, so I started at part-time job at a bakery I would do in the mornings before work and picked up some catering jobs for the weekends. But the cost of living is so high in DC, that it was never really an option for me to do a culinary career full-time. Then when I moved to Charleston, it all of a sudden seemed so much more attainable, so I decided to take the leap and start my own business.
AAT: How did you begin your business?
JM: I was lucky enough to find a women’s entrepreneur group that was offering an accelerated goals course. I enrolled in the course, and used it as an opportunity to help formulate my business for launch.
AAT: What has been your biggest trial?
JM: I think having a business in a smaller community is wonderful, but it can be hard, at first, to get your footing and carve out your place. In the beginning, it is important to be conscious of where you fit within the community and careful not to encroach on other businesses that are already firmly established. Word-of-mouth is such a large business-driver in small communities and can be difficult for a new business owner within the community to acquire, especially if the customers within the community already have another go-to business for a specific good or service. But I think knowing these things going in helped me to identify the local business landscape and define a business niche where I felt like I was filling a need. Also, in DC I never felt a sense of the small business community that I feel in Charleston—once you get to know some of the other local businesses and vendors, it almost takes your breath away at how amazing and wonderful they are.
AAT: What has been your biggest triumph?
JM: Several months ago, I was asked to make this year’s Reese Witherspoon birthday cake for Draper James. I don’t think I’ve ever been so honored to make a cake!
AAT: Where do you see your business in 5-10 years?
JM: I feel extremely fortunate that I have had the opportunity to make the types of cakes that I want to make, and by doing that, am able to make a product that’s fun and brings people pure joy. In 5-10 years, I still hope to be bringing people happiness through cake, but I’d also like to be seen as an industry innovator and have prominence in the local food community.
Part III: About your Relationship with Other Businesses
AAT: What is/was your collaboration?
JM: I created a birthday cake honoring Reese Witherspoon, for her clothing line, Draper James, which they featured on their Love, Reese blog and social channels for a series of celebration posts for her birthday. The cake was a cake-replica of the pink Draper James handbag that was made exclusively for Reese’s birthday.
AAT: How did you know you wanted to collaborate?
JM: Draper James has been one of my absolute favorite brands since they launched, so I would have loved to collaborate with Draper James on any project! I think if you look back at some of my original branding photos, I was wearing Draper James, or using Draper James serveware in almost every single one. When the opportunity actually presented itself, I could not have been more excited!
AAT: What have been the benefits?
JM: There’s a level of exposure that you get from collaborations that you otherwise wouldn’t have. And when you are collaborating with someone who shares similar brand values as your business, you are likely to have some similarities in your customer base. So for me, creating an awareness for my brand amongst people in my target audience was a huge benefit. Collaborations also give you an added sense of credibility, so when users see a brand they trust talking about your business, it gives a sense of “if they trust them, then I trust them”.
AAT: What is something you would do differently?
JM: Not a thing!
AAT: Name one thing you have learned from the other business?
JM: Identify your brand and then be your brand across all channels. I love how if you went to any different Draper James medium (Instagram, marketing emails, website), you would generate the exact same impression each time. And I think that brand genuineness is part of the reason that have such a dedicated client base (me included!).
AAT: Best advice for others wanting to collaborate/work with another business? What is your gracious counsel??
JM: Take the time to talk to everyone you meet. You never know who will know someone in your industry, be related to someone you’ve been trying to reach out to, or connected with a brand you admire—all things that you usually can’t assume from meeting someone at face value before you have a meaningful conversation with them. And above all, be genuine! I think collaborations work best when they are brands that truly align with each other’s audiences and values.
Here is where you can find Julie and For Heaven Bakes