The only thing in the world better than getting a sweet deal is satisfying a sweet tooth. At Art for the Cash Poor 15, Wonderland Cakes and Weckerly’s Ice Cream are just two of the food vendors you’ll find during the weekend festival. The founders of each talked to us about what it takes to turn a business dream into a food fantasy.
(update as of December 2019 Wonderland Cakes closed)
Andrew Satinsky, Weckerly’s Ice Cream
Can you give me background on how you started Weckerly’s?
My wife Jen and I started Weckerly’s Ice Cream a little less than two years ago, though we are really only coming out of our first year in business. Jen is a pastry chef who had been working in Philadelphia restaurants for over 12 years. Ice cream had always been her passion and specialty. She learned the craft working closely with small farms to source seasonal ingredients, so it was really important for us to build the company around that kind of dedication. We have started very small, using a corner of the kitchen at the Green Line Cafe, a partnership that has been hugely valuable to our growth. The shared arrangement has allowed us to focus on sourcing great ingredients and spending the time to craft memorable ice cream treats.
The impression I got from your website is that Weckerly’s evolved from a love story. Do you think the origin story plays well off the fact that you’re serving comfort food to the masses?
Not sure about the business evolving from a personal love story, but the ice cream certainly has. Jen and I had already been together for some time when we decided to launch the business. The business partnership is the result of trust and shared values. Above all else we want to produce ice cream that is crafted with respect and honesty both toward our customers and purveyors. People recognize and anticipate fresh in-season produce. The experience of enjoying a flavor when you know it is at the height of its natural goodness is very fulfilling. With each batch we want to deliver that experience. Comfort food is definitely a great way to describe it. Even with some of the more adventurous flavors, the goal isn’t to push the eater’s palate, but rather to present something new and satisfying.
How did you get involved with Green Line Café, as the place to make your ice cream?
We talked to a lot of local business (even some in NJ) about shared kitchen space for about a year before we landed at Green Line. They were one of the first businesses we approached and while they were genuinely excited about having ice cream made there, it ended up being too complicated at the time. A year later Jen decided to leave fine dining for a job that would give her a more predictable schedule so we could focus more on ice cream. Our past conversations with Green Line brought her back there to interview for the job of the soon-to-be departing kitchen manager (which she got). A few months later talk of ice cream came up again and the timing was right. The relationship has been tremendous for us. In addition to gaining the on-site mentorship of two community focused business owners, we also got connected with Equal Exchange Co-op. Their Fair Trade and organic cocoa and coffee form the base of quite a few of our favorite flavors.
What are you looking forward to most about Art for the Cash Poor?
The mission of Art for the Cash Poor is right in line with our approach to fine ice cream. Every one should have the opportunity to enjoy well crafted and thoughtful work, whether it’s ice cream or fine art. We know that we don’t have inexpensive ice cream (we couldn’t even if we tried), but we do everything we can to present it in the most accessible way possible.
Klaudia Rodzen, Wonderland Cupcakes
Can you tell me a bit about the background of Wonderland Cakes? How you came up with the idea/how you implemented it?
I began dreaming up the concept of Wonderland Cakes many years ago, during that early-20’s angst of attempting to be creatively satisfied in my employment. After accumulating staggering student loan debt from a private University, only to receive a diploma that led me to daily misery, I recognized that I was no longer living, but rather merely existing for 8 hours a day. Having been a lifelong baker for friends and family, as well as participant in all forms of creation (writing, charcoal drawing, flipping old furniture, etc), I began daydreaming about combining the things I love into a career. Without a flinch, I enrolled in Pastry School, took a big breath, and haven’t looked back since.
The concept of Wonderland Cakes is borne out of the meaning of the word Wonderland, rather than a kitschy implementation of “Alice in Wonderland” characters and motifs. To me, a “wonderland” suggests an escapism, a place to go where there is always a hidden adventure, a romanticized reality, where nothing is as it seems at first glance. Not only does that reign true for life in general, but is also the experience I wanted to provide. With everything that comes out of the Wonderland kitchen, the goal is to invoke a second glance. A dessert that you may have had your entire life, an unassuming brownie, may be interwoven in a silky, salted, Bourbon spiked caramel that takes it from a “brownie” to an “experience”.
Aesthetically, my partner Nicole and I considered wildly differing ideas, from regal to floral, and everything in between. In the end, we chose an aesthetic reminiscent of a classic pinup girl, with a little bit of a punk edge, which perfectly embodies the both of us. We’ve paved this road together, without any help, and have scratched and clawed our way into making this business a reality. We’ve had to do it with some tough skin, a little bit of an unapologetic attitude, while still maintaining our personal sense of style. We think that the aesthetic choices for Wonderland really reflect our story, personal preferences, and daily style. Most often, customers comment on our appearance as fitting in with the truck. However, the truck is just a continuation of our personal style. If we couldn’t truly be ourselves, it wouldn’t be worth it.
You describe your cakes as “approachable desserts”. How do you find the perfect balance between artistry and practicality in your cakes?
While we love creating desserts to vend on a daily basis, special occasion cakes are near and dear to our hearts, and really allow us to experiment with different styles, implementation of techniques, and showcasing a particular aesthetic. We do completely custom cakes, and pride ourselves on hand painting our cakes, choosing to avoid stenciling at all costs. While our imaginations run wild and our ideas are grandiose, we provide a completely approachable atmosphere, and welcome non-traditional requests. In fact, we encourage those. Most people who need a custom cake aren’t exactly certain of verbiage, the structural needs of a tiered cake, or what the hell fondant is! That’s where we come in, bridging the gap to execute an idea in the most practical manner that will still convey a particular feeling.
You both were students at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. Is that where you met? What were your experiences as students like?
We met during our first class at the Art Institute, where we both remained neck and neck in the running for each course’s “Best of Quarter” award. We quickly recognized each other’s drive and determination, and realized that we work extremely well together, especially under pressure. We were fortunate enough to take almost every course together, working side by side, sharing confined spaces, and generally growing together. It became good real-world experience, and provided us with a confidence that even after pulling sugar and burning our hands for 12 hours, we could still laugh together.
We were both fortunate enough to forge wonderful relationships with a few of the Chef Instructors, who provided us with opportunities to tackle independent studies, as well as internships that allowed us to focus on our chosen specialties and interests. Our scholastic success proved all of the things that we already knew to be true, and allowed us to venture forth boldly.
We both maintained stressful full-time jobs throughout our time at AI, so our schedules consisted of 9 hour work days, 30 minute commutes, 6-8 hours of class time, 30 minute commutes, 5 hours of sleep, and repeat for 2 years. We gave up our nights and weekends, our hobbies, and strained all of our interpersonal relationships to pursue a dream and hope of a future where we would be in charge of creating our own successes. We graduated at the top, complete with awards and diplomas, which are now just pieces of paper attached to a monetary value. However, what we learned this time around from formal education were lessons that allowed us the confidence to shed everything we knew, sell everything that we owned, and move steadfastly into the future.
What are some of your most popular items?
Our most popular items are our innovative, fun desserts that are a far cry from typical bakery fare. First, our “Boozy Balls” have been a huge success. Essentially a happy marriage between a truffle and a cake ball, our Boozy Balls feature an artisan cake soaked in a corresponding alcohol, mixed with Italian meringue buttercream, formed into a truffle-sized ball, and dipped in chocolate, garnished in drizzle or sugar. With flavors such as Passionfruit Margarita, Irish Car Bomb, Bourbon Cookie Dough, Mint Julep, and many others, you can literally eat your drink with us. Some of our other signature desserts include “Cakes-in-Cups”, which are essentially layered cakes served in a rocks glass for your viewing pleasure. With beautifully striped layers of cake, creme patisserie, and fresh fruit fillings, these are “Cakes-in-Cups”, not cupcakes.
What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the culinary scene?
You have to do what’s necessary, or don’t do it at all. Too many times, people have ideas and desires, but don’t follow through with them fully, choosing to only test the waters before giving up. Whether it be a lack of motivation, or being afraid of failure, people often don’t follow their dreams to their realization. You have to put in the work, you have to sacrifice, bleed, stumble, look like a fool, dream, accomplish, be inspired, look for mentors, and work your ass off until your calluses no longer feel foreign. Then, you will succeed, and ever moment spent in the kitchen will be proud, and lived.
What are looking forward to most about participating in Art for the Cash Poor 15?
The art! Our tastes are so eccentric, and we are constantly looking for beauty in everything. Nicole loves accessories, and will most likely be found perusing the artisan jewelry, whilst I’ll be searching for anything macabre for my little mess of an apartment.
Join us for Art for the Cash Poor 15, June 14 – 15, noon – 6 pm at Crane Arts.