Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay cake artist building international reputation

In 2019, a Thunder Bay, Ont. cake artist expects to see her work grace the cover of an international magazine, and to travel to China to teach.

The last year has brought some sweet surprises for Jennifer Riley

Jennifer Riley, makes custom cakes and teaches decorating classes in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

Jennifer Riley has plenty of reasons to look forward to the New Year.

The Thunder Bay, Ont. cake artist has been building a reputation beyond the city and even the country.

In 2019, she expects to see her work grace the cover of an international magazine. She's also been invited to travel to China to teach her craft.

"I'm just excited, I can't wait," she said, referring to the upcoming trip, scheduled for May, when she'll spend a week teaching cake decorating to 240 students a day at an art school in Shanghai.

Unexpected path

When she started her business about five years ago, Riley could never have guessed it would take her so far, or that things could be so sweet.

Not long before, her life had been derailed by a head-on collision that left her injured and unable to continue her work as an early-childhood educator.

While recovering, she decided to take a cake decorating course in Toronto, and discovered a new passion and talent. 

Cupcakes capture the internet

Her culinary creations began to attract attention, and the real turning point came last year, when photos of her succulent cupcakes — decorated with buttercream icing cacti — caught the attention of an online publication that's all about desserts.

It was cacti-inspired cupcakes like these that led to a viral video and international attention for Jennifer Riley. (CAKE by Jennifer Riley/Facebook)

"Probably the day after I posted [the photos] on Instagram I was contacted through Insider Dessert, and they wanted me to do a video," Riley said, "and then it just went crazy."

The post went viral, to date racking up more than 10 million views.

It's built up my credibility, just being known worldwide.- Jennifer Riley

It led to interviews with the Huffington Post and Flare Magazine and a feature on a morning news show in Los Angeles.

"I had people from all over the world calling because they wanted me to ship [the cupcakes]," she said. And although actually shipping the delicate creations proved a little too tricky, the attention was a game changer.

"It's built up my credibility, just being known worldwide," she said, adding that it also led to the opportunity to teach in Shanghai, where she'll work with an interpreter and 12 assistants to teach her classes.

Teaching at home in Thunder Bay has become a bigger focus for Riley in recent years; a way that she's able to combine her passions for cake decorating and education, she said. 

This vintage tea party cake, by Thunder Bay's Jennifer Riley, will be on the cover of American Cake Decorating magazine in early 2019. (CAKE by Jennifer Riley/Facebook)

Front cover cakes

Riley will no doubt cement her international reputation even more in January, when a tea-themed cake creation she submitted to American Cake Decorating Magazine will appear on the cover of the publication.

"I jumped in excitement," she said of the day she got the news that her photo had been selected. "It was a good day."

As for what's next, Riley said she plans to continue with what she's been doing over the past few years — making custom cakes and teaching lessons in Thunder Bay — and see where else it takes her. 

"The sky is the limit," she said.