Richmond residents Shelby Bower and Robin Cates endure heat and humidity on a daily basis in Texas. Last fall, they overcame exhaustion and lack of sleep on top of that in the midst of a grueling wedding cake competition.
As a result, they’ve been thrust into the spotlight a prominent Food Network competition. But it’s old hat for the mother-daughter duo who are cake artists.
Bower and Cates are the team behind Shelby Elizabeth Cakes, an award-winning, boutique cake studio they run from their home in Richmond, specializing in one-of-a-kind outstanding cakes and confections. They were also one of six teams flown out to Los Angeles last September to film Season 2 of the Food Network’s Wedding Cake Championship, a four-episode competition currently airing every Monday at 9 p.m.
The series concludes June 24.
From a young age, Cates said her daughter was always designing.
“Ever since she was tiny, she was always making little figures – she’s always loved design. She knew what she wanted to do. She knew she loved working with art,” she said. “It blows me away how, with her talent, she can take just a normal cake a make it beautiful. I give it to her as just cake, and she just makes it gorgeous. It’s pretty amazing.”
Throughout her artistic career, Shelby has had the opportunity to attend workshops led by cake icons as well as attending the University of North Texas for Fashion Design, Animation, and Painting. Shortly after opening her own business she started to teach cake decorating classes and started a YouTube channel, The Sugar Scoop, to share her craft. She has crafted more than 100 personalized wedding cakes.
“It, it really feels like an adrenaline rush when it finally gets there,” she said.
The road to this point is (thus far) the culmination of Shelby’s vision, hatched from humble beginnings and opportune timing in her hometown. With Cates the baker and Bower the designer, they form the perfect team.
Out of the blue
While interning with a fashion label in Los Angeles in high school, it wasn’t long before Shelby became well-versed in design, and after returning home, she decided to combine her love of fashion and sculpting with the art of cake decorating.
Though Bower wanted to begin a business, she could not do so immediately due to the current Texas Food Cottage Law – which allows people to sell specific low-risk foods directly to consumers from their homes, up to $50,000 per year – had not yet come into effect. So, she looked for work elsewhere. And from an unrelated job, opportunity rang.
“Someone I was babysitting for started a bakery and asked if I wanted to work for her – so I wound up decorating cakes for her,” Bower said. “I went from being just her babysitter to being her lead wedding cake designer in the span of a few years.”
For four years, she served as the lead cake designer for a custom wedding cakery, where she specialized in sculpted cakes, sugar art, and handmade sugar flowers. From there, she decided to start Shelby Elizabeth Cakes – a play on her maiden name – in 2016. And it wouldn’t be complete without that special someone.
“I knew (my mom) was good at constructing – and I wanted to do some pretty major cakes that need good structure,” she said.
For Cates, a silversmith by trade, it was a no-brainer to dive into it headfirst.
“She walked in the door and said ‘Mom, do you want to start a business with me?’ Who wouldn’t say yes?” she said remembered.
So off the pair went, on a journey that was just getting started.
A rush like no other
The Wedding Cake Championships may be the current rage, but Bowers and Cates have been competing long before they got that call. Bower was a Finalist in Season 8 of The Food Network’s Halloween Wars just last year, World Dessert Table Champion in 2016, won the People’s Choice Award for That Takes The Cake 2018, and has previously 2nd in both Julia Usher’s Cookie Competition and the OSSAS Gingerbread Competition.
But they might not have even gotten the opportunity for several of those competitions – including the Wedding Cake Championships – if not for persistence and a stroke of fortunate timing.
“I emailed (Halloween Wars) some info about myself, and they had someone drop out right before I emailed them. It was perfect timing, because a lot of people try out for the show,” Bower said. “I know people who have been trying out for years and hadn’t made it. I just applied at the perfect time. From that, I get casting emails all the time, and I got one about the wedding cake championships.”
Blessed with opportunity to pick her own second in command for the show – which consists of six, two-person teams – there was no doubt in Bower’s mind who would be by her side for the competition after unsuccessfully trying out for the show’s first season the previous year. Through the grueling heat and humidity – as well as five-hour filming sessions complete with interviews and very little sleep – inside that competition vineyard in Palos Verdes, she knew she could trust one person the most.
“My mom helps me pull off my vision, so I knew she’d be a perfect partner as opposed to another creative designer type mind,” she said of her pursuit of the $25,000 purse for the winner. “I know how hard this competition is.”
Regardless of the show’s outcome, Bower and Cates would not trade anything, from the personal rush of meeting hosts Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski to the time management skills that they will apply to Shelby Elizabeth Cakes in Richmond.
“Nothing is impossible. We’ve had so much fun,” Cates said last week ahead of Episode 3, which airs Monday at 9 p.m.. “I’ve done some things I never thought I would do. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.”