A decade ago, Courtney Hopkins decided to leave her office job and take a plunge into the wedding cake industry with C’est La Vie.
Without culinary school or business school experience, she opened shop — if one considers shop to be a home office and a restaurant’s leased kitchen.
Now, 10 years later, she has decided to take another plunge. On July 9, she hosted the grand opening for C’est La Vie’s storefront at 1724 N. Ironwood Dr. in South Bend.
The opening has been both a source of great pride and of great challenge.
“We were just moving. It was going to be so easy,” she says she thought before the transition. “Just being a manager with staff and getting stuff ready for the store and my wedding cakes, it’s exciting, and I’m so happy that we did it, but we got to get into a groove.
“Each week is better.”
Before opening her brick and mortar, Courtney only sold wedding cakes. Now, her storefront sells a variety of cupcakes, muffins, croissants and other pastries that anyone — engaged, married, or single — can buy as a morning breakfast, after-work treat, or for a party’s scrumptious centerpiece.
This fall, the storefront will also act as home base for Courtney’s student services. She plans to begin a cupcake delivery service to South Bend’s college base.
C’est La Vie’s storefront itself is a mix of the rustic and the chic.
Vintage display shelves and furniture are decorated with quirky-colored cakes. A vintage Coca Cola fridge stocked with drinks is next to a display window of freshly made cupcakes of peach, berry, almond and mint chocolate varieties. Next to white tables and chairs fit for an elegant garden are speakers playing ‘80s music.
The storefront’s opening is a long-time dream of Courtney’s.
“Where I was working before was perfectly fine, but we knew we were wanting to get our own shop,” she says.
When Courtney left her job 10 years ago, she says a business like C’est La Vie in the Michiana area was hard to come by. At that time, she was engaged to her husband, and the two had trouble finding a baker that fit their wants.
The lack of cake bakeries was one reason why Courtney entered the business. She had made cakes on many occasions for friends and coworkers, but wedding cakes were entirely new.
“There was a lot of really ugly cakes at first,” she says.
She persisted, however, and eventually opened for business.
Now she has six Bride’s Choice Awards from national magazine, “The Wedding Wire” and three Best of Weddings awards from national magazine “The Knot.”
Aside from occasional help baking, she still makes all her cake orders.
“I’m probably giving myself grey hairs, but at least I have happy clients,” she says.
Courtney keeps baking because it is one her favorite parts of C’est La Vie.
Wedding season is April to October, and Courtney often bakes for multiple weddings each weekend.
“It’s a several-day process,” she says. “So, I bake them all one day and then I fill them all one day. Literally, the cleanup is probably nine-tenths of what we do.”
Most clients order traditional cakes, she says. Every so often, though, specialty cakes are requested. Recent requests include a wedding cake with a golden dome and a cake in the shape of a suitcase.
The storefront’s small baked good offerings allow for some creativity, too. Courtney says creating new flavors is one of her favorite parts about working from her first permanent location, even if some of the flavors are what she considers tacky, like funfetti.
“I was almost embarrassed to make it, but I was like, ‘I have this extra batter.’ Now they’re flying out of here,” she says.
Even with two hired staff, Courtney says managing a storefront was more difficult than she had imagined. Despite the long, hard hours, she says her clients are what keep her excited about her job.
“When I hear back from one of my brides or the mother of the bride about how much they enjoyed the cake or the compliments [they hear], I think that’s the part that really makes it worth it,” she says. “You meet these people and you’re part of the biggest day of their lives. It is hard for us, but it means the world to them.”
She is also appreciative of her parents and her in-laws, whom she says help her with deliveries and storefront upkeep that would normally keep her working after store hours.
“My father-in-law was so cute,” she says. “He was looking for stuff to do while there was down time, and I saw him dead-heading the petunias. My mother-in-law was cleaning and doing dishes. It helped so much. … The petunias were cracking me up. Who thought to that?”
The storefront upkeep may be especially helpful because Courtney has no plans to move C’est La Vie. She likes where she is located.
If business success were a wedding cake, Courtney started at its bottom tier as a new entrepreneur. Today, her shop is the icing on the cake. χ