By Velvet Wahl
Standing behind a closed curtain with your mask on; squeezing the hand of your life partner; feeling the adrenaline build up in your body as you get ready to step onto the set of a TV show that you don’t even know the name of.
Once the curtain finally opens, you take off your mask in front of cameras and learn that you’ll be creating a life-size Flavor Flav for the cake competition show you signed up for; correct shoe size and all.
This is what the owners of Geek Desserts, a Phoenix-based bakery, experienced on Food Network’s new show, “Cakealikes”. Co-owners Rebecca Hauger and Mara Hodge were the first team to start the challenge and had 14 hours to create their Flavor Flav cake.
Despite losing five and a half hours at the beginning of the competition due to mistakes on Flav’s legs, the couple successfully put together the 5 foot, 7-inch tall cake. They even met the man of the hour himself when he showed up as a judge to pick a winner for the episode airing April 19 and 20.
Although they ultimately didn’t win the competition, both women see the show as a learning experience to bring to the business they co-own.
“When you watch it, you'll see that we don't work as well together as the winning team,” Hauger said. “There's a lot of arguing and such, which they make jokes about the whole way through - it's very fantastically cut together - but we learned a lot about working together in that experience.”
They have been creating custom cakes for years and began running a business together over a year ago. The couple landed a spot on “Cakealikes” after auditioning for three other shows over the past year or two.
This is the first time they have been on TV together, but neither of them are strangers to the Food Network. Hodge has previously appeared on an episode of “Cake Wars” and Hauger on “Halloween Cake-Off.”
“There's a lot of sweat and tears involved in doing custom cakes and to get to that point where you're standing there thinking, ‘Wow, I've actually accomplished something huge in this industry.’ It's pretty great, it's a great feeling,” Hauger said.
How sugar and cake brought them together
Hodge always knew she wanted to be a cake decorator ever since she was little. She began making desserts when she opened a chocolate business with her mom on the Navajo reservation.
“It was created with intention to help the Native American youth learn business skills and just have something constructive to do because there was a really high rate of alcohol and drug use on the reservation from teens,” Hodge said. “We saw that as an opportunity to give back to my tribe.”
She convinced her mom to add cake making to the business and eventually, it became dedicated to making cakes.
“All of a sudden the cakes took over and the chocolate fell by the wayside. I would say I was kind of born and led into it by family,” she said.
A different path led Hauger toward her passion for baking. Hauger, who has been a software engineer for almost 30 years, became interested in baking about 10 years ago.
“I fell into it completely on accident,” she said. “I had a girlfriend at the time that wanted to become a cake decorator, so I bought all the tools for her and sent her to classes at Michaels. She made a go of it for about four to six months and then walked away from it. After we separated, I kept all the equipment.”
Hauger stumbled upon the equipment while cleaning her garage and decided to make her own haunted house cake for work since it was around Halloween. She fell in love with baking and decided to learn how to bake and decorate cakes on her own.
“Eventually, one of my bosses asked me to make a cake for his daughter's birthday. He loved it so much he said ‘you should start a business.’ And I'm like, ‘seriously, I'm not that good’ and he goes, ‘you will be, trust me.’ So I bought some business cards and on my way I went,” she said.
Both women had their own independent baking businesses before meeting each other through cake groups on Facebook. After flirting here and there for years, they were finally able to meet in person.
“We met and things went well for us,” Hauger said. “We decided to start a life together and also merge our two companies, and that's when we rebranded as Geek Desserts.”
They merged their companies and are currently running Geek Desserts out of their home in North Phoenix.
“We like to say sugar and cake kind of united us,” Hodge said. “It's our passion.”
Behind the scenes at Geek Desserts
While it may be easy to create cakes with rainbows and unicorns, the behind the scenes of running a small business is not always the same.
“It's been challenging. Every time you rebrand or every time you move to a different location, trying to get people to know that you're there is super challenging, so it's slow to get orders,” Hauger said. “We're finally seeing that improve, especially since COVID slowed it down as well. We definitely don't have the amount of business that we need or want. It's a little disheartening, but it is steadily improving.”
Both women have persevered through the pandemic and are hopeful for the future of their business. They are searching for “that perfect spot” to call home for a Geek Desserts storefront in Phoenix.
“The fact that we were able to ride out the pandemic, I think, has made us a lot stronger,” Hodge said. “Knowing that, if we can kind of thrive even in the worst time in our recent history, I feel very confident in the future.”
Giving back to the community
The couple tries to give back to the community in any way they can. They donate cakes to Icing Smiles, a nonprofit that provides custom cakes to children with terminal illnesses.
They also don’t discriminate against anyone who wants to order from Geek Desserts, as long the custom cakes don’t promote hate or intolerance. They bring their unique perspective on tolerance and love to their business.
“I think that comes from being part of this (LGBTQ) community in a big way because we see some people that won't do certain types of cakes based on their belief systems. We don't care. We're not going to judge you, just don't judge us,” Hauger said.
Hodge, who came out as a lesbian at 36, is also a big advocate for the LGBTQ community, especially teenagers. She struggled with her own identity and feelings towards women as a teenager and now wants to be a role model for teenagers experiencing the same struggles.