The Banbridge Ace of Cakes

ICED figures of pink fairies and princesses dominate the kitchen of Julie McCullough and Linsey Wallace as they transform magical fairytales into a delicious party cake.

Tucked away in Banbridge, the sisters, who are entirely self taught, work night and day to create cakes above and beyond the basic Madeira sponge.

Julie and Linsey have been in business together for two years, and Vanilla Cake Company is growing every day.

The sisters, who admit to being geeky and meticulous about the cake making process, researched the product for a year before breaking into the market.

They also couldn’t imagine being in business with anyone else.

Julie laughs at how her sister is organised and methodical, whereas she is a creative, free flowing spirit, adding: “Were two different people, but get on so well together, we compliment each other so well.”

Despite their success, and coming second in the Northern Ireland Magazine Awards 2011, the girls have suffered a personal setback.

Linsey was diagnosed with secondary cervical cancer and lost her hair twice through very invasive treatment.

She vividly remembers her right leg swelling up badly and joking about it to Julie, within two weeks however, secondary cervical cancer had been diagnosed.

“It knocked me for six”, she said, “But I was very matter of fact, I had no intention of ever giving up or sitting down. You have to have a positive mindset and also maintain trying to be a mummy too. The hardest part was having to tell my daughter who has just turned 10. Especially when she seen me lying on the sofa or having my head down a toilet.”

Linsey had to undergo chemotherapy once every 3 weeks for 4 months, 10 or 11 hours at a time.

“The treatment was very aggressive” she said, “Luckily my body was strong and could cope with it. Only when I had radiotherapy did I come away from work for a while to take a rest.”

Linsey found the radiotherapy extremely difficult as she suffered from bad fatigue and as a side effect of the treatment now suffers from early onset menopause.

Having long hair all of her life, Linsey speaks very matter of factly about losing it due to the chemotherapy.

“When my hair started coming out I shaved it all off. I did start to wear scarves and wigs, but it was too hot. People would stare at me with no hair, but I thought they would just stare at me anyway.”

Although Linsey has been through a hard time with the illness, she takes it all in her stride, even comparing herself to Matt Lucas and a bald new born baby.

She said: “You have to have a positive attitude and not accept anything lying down, you must go on living with your life.”

Linsey admits to the cancer being a constant psychological battle and feels as if she is often living in someone else body, she remarks, “I want my body back.”

Since the sisters are so close, Julie has such admiration for Linsey and is so glad to be a part of their great family support network.

She believes her sister is a “real fighter” adding, “She’s so organised with it and just gets on with life. As a child Linsey was always a strong physical and emotional person, you would never wish this to happen to your worst enemy, never mind my lovely sister.”

Linsey describes herself as the poster woman for attending all of her smear examinations and feels lucky that the cancer was discovered when it was.

Her advice to other women is: “You cannot miss a smear test and take the risk, I faithfully went for all my smears. A check-up is worth it for a minute of unease, embarrassment and a little discomfort.”

Due to her treatment, Linsey had to take a step back from the physical side of Vanilla Cake Company but is still very much involved with the business and is gradually getting back into it.

She describes it as “the best job ever” and the sisters laugh at remembering getting so excited over opening a pot of black glitter for the cakes,

Both being mothers, they remark on how their kids see the baking as a positive thing and are always full of praise and support for the cakes.

Creating the cakes is a complex and time consuming process, with some taking up to 2 days to complete, everything is handmade, never frozen and the girls credit their granny with the traditional recipes they use.

Julie pinpoints a zebra and beehive wedding cake as some of the wackiest they have created, adding, “We enjoy creating a vast variety of cakes, we will consult with someone, then sketch out designs separately, we then come together with our designs and decide on what to do. We love designing it and seeing the finished product.”

Clearly strong and determined business women, the sisters advise other people considering branching out to do a ton of homework and research,

Julie reinforces that, “No matter how much you feel you know your business you need to research it. Have a 5-10 year plan and get someone objective to look at your ideas.”

They also suggest to take advantage of business enterprise schemes and to follow all of the market trends for your product.

Linsey reminds people: “It is not going to happen over night for anyone, and you have to invest your time, even in this fast paced life.”

Speaking about their plans for the future, Linsey says she wants to get better and has a hospital appointment in a few weeks and scans in January to see if she needs more treatment.

In the meantime however, she laughs saying: “I want to rock a funky mohican style hair cut.”

The bubbly and vibrant sisters also discuss world domination and TV deals.

Julie remarks that, “We want to be the next Martha Stewart, get a TV contract and when the cameras follow us around we will have to start watching our P’s and Q’s.”