In high school, her classmates' parents hired her to make cakes — but it wasn't until last semester that Kelly Schryver '11 created TillieCakes, her own cake-baking company.
"Kids on campus cannot get custom cakes from scratch very easily," Schryver said. "Either you go to Coldstone's or trek all the way out somewhere."
After developing a business proposal in ENGN 0090: "Management of Industrial and Nonprofit Organizations," Schryver started her own company to make cakes for birthdays, baby showers, holidays and other occasions.
Schryver named TillieCakes after the cook in the movie "Pollyanna."
"There was this scene I loved as a kid," she said. "She has a cake booth where she gives out giant slabs of cake."
Though her roommates sometimes pitch in, Schryver bakes and decorates all of the company's orders herself. Her creations — including vanilla "pupcakes" with confectionary canines and a bold blue Obama cake — have earned rave reviews from her customers, helping her business spread through word of mouth, she said.
"I really like how she can customize it," said Jessica Fadale '10, recalling a brightly hued cake that she ordered for a friend's birthday.
Schryver has about one cake order a week, she said, and students on campus often recognize her as the "cake girl." Schryver has even seen one of her cakes as the background image of another student's cell phone, she said.
Despite the growing popularity of her baked goods, Schryver is hesitant to call TillieCakes a full-fledged business.
"The reason why I don't entirely call it a business is because the profit margin is really slim. But I'm not doing it for the money," Schryver said.
Schryver calls herself a self-taught baker. "I watched a lot of Martha Stewart as a kid," she said. "Food Network's my favorite."
Schryver said she often improvises decorative techniques to make her unique cake stylings. One of her favorites was a cake adorned with President Obama's face.
To create the Obama image, Schryver said she experimented with a variety of methods before hitting on the innovative technique she used to make the large decoration. She first created the design in royal icing on top of wax paper. After she allowed the decoration to set, she transferred the image — based on Shepard Fairey's iconic posters — to the cake.
Schryver bakes all of her cakes from scratch, without any shortcuts. "The homemade aspect is very important to me," she said.
She adds special ingredients, like almond extract to her vanilla buttercream frosting, to make the cakes extra flavorful.
"In the end you're eating a cake, so it has got to taste good too," Schryver said.
Though her company has been getting more recognition on campus, Schryver said she is not sure how much she wants to expand. She juggles other activities like being a tour guide and playing on the club lacrosse team with baking for TillieCakes.
But Schryver is experimenting with other avenues to pursue her culinary passion.
She has started filming a cooking show for Brown Television and is considering working at a pastry shop this summer, she said.
Last Tuesday, Schryver could be found in the Minden Hall ground-floor kitchen, putting the final touches on two cake orders. After she spread buttercream frosting on each cake and added piped borders and other decorations, Schryver's unique culinary creations began to take shape.
She plans to take TillieCakes "one step at a time, testing out the ropes and then taking it one step further," she said, as she carefully fashioned a rose from pink buttercream frosting. "It's right where it needs to be right now."