Tomato Soup Cake


A line in a podcast caught my attention recently: “I’m working hard to create a business that is simple and scale-able”.
That is such an important concept and it doesn’t get a lot of airtime.
Mcdonalds, Subway, a housecleaning service, an oil change business, Girl Guide troops selling boxed cookies. These are simple – not easy, I’m sure, but simple in concept – and thus they’ve been scaled up numerous times.
Michelin star level restaurants, a professional service like law or therapy, handcrafted wood furniture designed for a specific home – the level of minute, ever-changing details and the personal nature and customization prevent these business ventures from being truly scale-able. Celebrity chefs try to create a proliferation of namesake Michelin star places and mammoth law firms strive for scale but when all is said and done, it’s hard to perfectly recreate detailed service cultures time and again.
At PGB, there is a spectrum from simple/scale-able to complex/not-scaleable.
On the simple side, the creation and use of custom bags and boxes, uniforms, a consistent service standard and HR policies….these all take work to build but then can be rolled out across one, three, twenty-five stores.
On the more complex side, a good example is the fondant covered wedding cake business we had from 2015-2017. Cakes like that are very detailed and complex, requiring specially trained cake designers; they are more akin to works of art than the cupcakes and cakes we bake day in and day out. Ultimately we realized that they weren’t a fit for a growing business like ours.
Whether an idea fits with our desire to expand is now something we think about consciously but unconsciously when I was deciding on the original cupcake menu, I chose cupcakes that I knew could be made in large quantities and would appeal to a broad spectrum of palates…like chocolate, vanilla and Red Velvet.
One recipe that I really loved but didn’t make the cut is Tomato Soup Spice Cake with Caramel Icing.  Don’t judge me until you taste it!  You don’t know there is tomato soup in it – it is just this delicious moist cake with nuts and raisins topped with a caramel icing that requires butter and brown sugar to be boiled together and then cooled slightly before adding in icing sugar.
Even back in 2010 I knew that this fave recipe of mine would not be warmly embraced in downtown Toronto, where no one seems to like nuts and raisins in cake. (Why?!) And canned soup? Not so much.
Plus, the idea of a vat of boiling sugar and butter in a commercial kitchen to make vast buckets of caramel icing also seemed unlikely, even to my inexperienced mind.
But let me say, although it is not a scaleable recipe and will never be part of PGB’s growth plans, it is a very good cake that I might just make this weekend. Meanwhile, if you’re thinking of starting a business,  ask yourself: will your ideas work if you want to scale it some day?

About the author

Jean Blacklock

Jean opened the popular Prairie Girl Bakery in the financial district of Toronto in 2011. She owned and operated the business until it closed in 2021 as a result of the pandemic’s impact on downtown Toronto. Read more about her background in commerce, law, and entrepreneurship here.

By Jean Blacklock


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