Butter Dream Cakes bakes e-commerce into her unconventional storefront strategy
On weekdays Butter Dream Cakes owner Meganne Belisle tirelessly bakes a near-unending lineup of custom cake orders and cupcake batches out of the kitchen in her Picton shop. The storefront is closed so it’s mostly a time of solitude devoted to sweet concoctions of mathematically precise baking magic punctuated with a little podcast bingeing while she’s at it.
But Saturday is different – the closed sign gets flipped to open and excited tourists file in or locals stand and chat as Butter Dream Cakes turns into a bustling bakery and tea room. “(It’s) my favorite day of the week,” says Belisle. “Even if I wanted to be a hundred percent custom orders like wedding cakes and custom cakes and catering and wholesale to supply, I still would always want to have that one day a week where I get to talk to my customers face to face.”
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, in fact, the storefront was a happy accident. Belisle, who was born and raised in Prince Edward County, left at a time when she felt like not much was happening from a foodie’s perspective. She’d just graduated from college and moved out east to sous chef, a brief stopover on her way to becoming the pastry chef she’d dreamt of becoming since grade eight. Within a year, Prince Edward County had become a tourist hot spot, partially spurred by the freshly-minted Drake Devonshire in nearby Wellington. “With the Drake opening up and all the weddings, people were messaging me about wedding cakes when I didn't even live there, so I moved back home in 2017 in the summer.” Belisle began taking custom orders and running her business out of her mum’s basement and in 2018 lucked-out when space became available in a former pastry house on Main Street.
“I actually never pictured myself opening up the storefront, it kind of just happened,” says Belisle. “But now I’m happy I did that because I’ve met so many amazing customers and I feel like it's really helped me feel more established in The County.”
At the start, Belisle was open for five days of the week, serving all day and then baking in the evenings but it felt like too much. “And then with COVID-19, I decided to focus on the custom orders and deliveries.”
In 2021, Belisle heard about Digital Main Street, a program that combines grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario alongside partners like Google, Shopify and Mastercard among others to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities and plan for the digital future. She applied for a $2,500 Digital Transformation Grant and, after receiving the grant, launched an e-commerce component to her website. “During the pandemic I did treat boxes, Canada-wide shipping, which was really busy,” she says. “On my e-commerce, I put all my items that I make available for Friday pickup.”
The pre-order treat boxes – usually centred around an event like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day – also work well with her e-commerce site. “To me, it’s a way more efficient way to keep my online orders organized as well.”
It allows her to find balance between custom orders for events or catering, casual weekly pick-ups and in-store shopping on Saturdays. It’s unconventional but feels right to Belisle. Just having e-commerce has been a gamechanger. “It’s nice to have that option to kind of push the bake goods for people to order that way,” she says. “If I can really push out over social media, I find that the sales pop and I've been doing the email marketing as well for when I post stuff on my e-commerce shop.”
When summer comes, Butter Dream Cakes will ramp-up custom orders. Belisle knows the days will be long and the orders will stack up. But she’ll still look forward to Saturday. “I'm in such a good mood all day… I feel so happy after working 14 hours straight because it's just such good energy coming into the shop.”