When it comes to satisfying a sweet tooth, Jenna Rae Cakes has all the answers. Inside this crisp white Winnipeg bakeshop, display cases are filled with rows of macarons, cookie sandwiches, chocolate-covered Oreos, truffles, and cakes of all shapes and sizes—from classic cupcakes and cheesecakes, to golf ball-sized cake “gems”, to tiered towers four layers tall.
These days, Saturday mornings see queues out the door, but Jenna Rae Cakes began humbly, with founder Jenna Illchuk baking a birthday cake for a friend in November 2010 in the kitchen of the apartment she shared with her twin sister Ashley. Posting the final product’s image to Facebook, Illchuk soon had friends and family filing requests of their own confections. Soon, even strangers wanted a slice of the action, and Jenna moved her operations to a rented kitchen. An overflowing schedule of school, waitressing, and midnight baking prompted an all-or-nothing decision. And so, in March 2014, the then 26-year-old opened up Jenna Rae Cakes on Winnipeg’s Academy Road.
“Within a few weeks, the shop was so busy that there was no way Jenna could run it on her own,” says Ashley. “That’s where I came in.” Ashley brought her design and marketing background to the business, her clean and cute aesthetic a perfect match for Jenna’s adorable baked goods.
“Within a few weeks, the shop was so busy that there was no way Jenna could run it on her own,” says Ashley. “That’s where I came in.”
Indeed, the bakery truly delights with its extensive list of fun flavours. The twins, now 28, have compiled quite the collection since opening: Earl Grey crème brûlée, lavender lemon, and rose pistachio macarons offer a sophisticated nibble, while tummy-busting childhood dreams are fulfilled with corner store bin selects like Fuzzy Peach, Kit Kat, and Brownie Rolo. The recipes—over 200 for macarons and 100-plus for cookie sandwiches—are all kept to standard by hundreds of flavour guides organized by head baker Aelea Semenowich.
“At the beginning it was Jenna and I who came up with the recipes,” says Ashley. “Neither Jenna nor I are professionally trained bakers, we just baked a lot growing up, so we had to make a lot of mistakes in order to learn from them—but we learned quickly.” While both twins put in time baking cupcakes and Jenna remains the sole decorator of wedding and custom cake orders, the business has since grown to a close-knit staff of 11, becoming something of a family affair as the Illchuks’ father often lends a hand in the shop, which is managed by Ashley’s husband. Their younger sister, Chelsea, even deferred graduate school for a year to help out, inventing the shop’s popular cookie sandwich, as well as lending her sweet tooth to the perfection process of flavours like birthday cake batter, cotton candy, and cookie dough, for the top-selling macarons and cupcakes.
The Illchuks show no sign of slowing down: the latest offerings to grace the menu are Jenna’s “uniCORN” invention (glittery cotton candied popcorn), with tarts and cream puffs soon to come, and this Valentine’s Day marks the limited release of heart-shaped macarons. Non-Winnipegians drooling over Jenna Rae Cakes’ Instagram feed, fear not: macarons will soon be available for delivery across the country.
Jenna Rae Cakes, 580-E Academy Road Winnipeg, Manitoba R3N 0E3.
This article has been updated to reflect Jenna and Ashley’s age as of December 2017.
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