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Yello Interviews: Antiguan Entrepreneur Danielle George-John, Founder of Sweet Dreams

by Karen Rollins Sep 6, 2021

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Danielle George-John, Sweet Dreams

When she was younger, Danielle George-John knew that she had gifted hands, but for a long time she didn’t really know what to do with them.

After developing an interest in baking from watching cake competitions on the Food Network, Danielle decided to enrol at Le Cordon Bleu College in Miami in 2008. She also completed an internship with a cake shop which sealed her fascination with the art of cake decorating.

Danielle returned to Antigua and taught herself additional techniques before opening her custom cake business, ‘Sweet Dreams’, in January 2010.

Over the past decade, Danielle has developed a reputation for creating some spectacular realistic cakes, which are one-of-a-kind centrepieces for all types of celebrations.

Yello chatted with Danielle about her life as an entrepreneur in Antigua.

Describe yourself using three words. 

Professional. Gifted. Detailed.

Tell us a bit about your background.

I was born in Antigua in February 1983.  I spent the first two and a half years of my life in Crosbies with my parents, older brother and sister. Then we moved to Coolidge, and my younger brother came along. 

I had a pretty good childhood in that we are a close family. My parents cooked a lot, and my mom baked a lot, and I just always found myself in the kitchen with them.

I went to Montessori, then St. Nicholas Primary School, and onto Christ the King High School. I was always into art and craft classes in school. Anything to do with colours and using my hands. In fact, anything I ever thought of doing as a career involved my hands. There was interest in glass blowing, jewellery making, woodwork, pottery, and even massage therapy.

When I finished at Christ the King, my parents were encouraging me to go to college right away, but I hadn’t even given my career plans much thought. I was sent to Miami Dade Community College without a specific career in mind, so I just pursued an associate of arts in general studies. But I really had no direction.

I don’t think I was exposed to many career choices or possibilities. Everyone was studying to be a doctor, lawyer, or an accountant but the thought of that didn’t sit well with me. That’s why I did general studies but really, I couldn’t wait to come back to Antigua.

When I came back, my brother was working within the offshore sports book industry, so my sister and I ended up there. But eventually, I left and went to work with my dad in his restaurant for a while, before going back to the sports book thing, but I realised then that it wasn’t for me.

Sweet Dreams in Antigua

When did you develop a love for cooking and baking? 

When I was younger, there was a show called ‘Death by Chocolate’. I just remember watching someone on it making a sugar bow, and I was so fascinated by it. It was just one of those things that always stuck in my mind.

When I got older, we got the Food Network, and I started watching cake competitions. I knew that I wanted to do something artistic, so the artistic side of baking really captivated me.

I went to England with my mum (who is British) to check out Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in London, but decided that it wasn’t for me. I saw an advert for Le Cordon Bleu in Mirimar, Miami and chose that one because I’d already lived in Miami, it was closer, and I felt comfortable there.

What was it like at Le Cordon Bleu, Miami?

Well, I came to realise that they focused more on pastries, breads, and plated desserts but didn’t focus much on cakes.

From the beginning though, we had to choose an internship in order to complete the course. So, I found a custom design cake place and contacted them, and that’s where I really learned the basics of crumb coating, icing, and covering in fondant. I was an intern though, so I didn’t do a lot of decorating, just some cut out flowers, nothing realistic.

I came home to Antigua when my student visa expired. But then I went back to the same place to learn a bit more. I ended up still doing the same stuff, but I paid very close attention to the guy who worked there, who was like an artistic magician, and I just watched what he did.

When I came home to Antigua again, I knew that I had to learn more. YouTube became my friend. I learned how to do all my flowers, and after working at it for a while, you start to get an idea of what you can and can’t do. I learned different techniques along the way.

I’ve also purchased a couple of classes, like a cake workshop that I went to in New York. It wasn’t worth the money, but at the end of the day, it was some kind of experience and insight into something new, and that did trigger my new love for wafer paper flowers.

I basically ended up teaching myself how to do everything else.

Danielle George-John, Sweet Dreams

Tell us about your custom cake business ‘Sweet Dreams’.

I started Sweet Dreams in January 2010. I just wanted to make the cool cakes that you would see on TV but that weren’t really being made in Antigua. I wanted to bring something completely different that we are not accustomed to seeing.

At the moment, the industry here is becoming a little saturated, but it is still nice to see people opening up to doing different things because we’ve been closed off for so long. I think there is more appreciation for the art compared to when I started.

Where do you get your cake recipes from?

I use my mum’s recipes that we grew up on. I’ve tweaked one or two to create different flavour options. The flavours that I offer are simple, to everybody’s liking, tweakable, and adjustable. They taste and look good, which is important.

How has your business evolved over the years? 

I think I’ve been able to keep a steady thing going. There are a lot of trends but most of them don’t fit into the style that I offer. But I have incorporated new aspects and techniques, like the wafer paper flowers and rice paper work, into my own unique style.

Danielle George-John, Sweet Dreams

Where do you get inspiration from for your designs? 

I always like to talk to a potential client to see what they’re looking for. I ask what theme they want to go with, and if they have a few pictures that can be used as reference, so I can imagine how the cake will look.

I ask the client what is most important to them; like the colours, the flowers or the flavour of the cake, so that we can work within the budget.

The most inspiring cakes are ones that I don’t get to do often. My enjoyment comes from the decorating part, and I like to do different stuff or things where you even wonder if it is cake!

I like doing wedding cakes with different flowers. But what I really love is when a client says that they have a general idea, but they ask me to come up with something.

When I am given full trust, free reign, and full artistic license, and then they’re so pleased at the end. I like to create something completely different!

What has been your proudest career achievement so far?

I would say the Clarence House cake (see image below), along with the last few cakes that I’ve created.

The Clarence House cake was the most challenging and intense. I was even tempted to give up, but in the end, I finished it right on time. I still remember the moment it was completed, it looked amazing, and I had such a feeling of euphoria.

Clarence House cake by Danielle George-John

What is the unique selling point for Sweet Dreams

I think my cakes are identifiable and stand out, to the point where people will say ‘Danielle did that cake’.

I have a clean, sharp, and distinguishable, signature style and what I have developed so far is unique because no one else on the island is offering it. My realistic-looking cakes in particular, like Clarence House, really stand out from the rest.

Everything I make is edible and handcrafted from either gumpaste, wafer paper or rice paper, and of course, cake. 

I don’t try to dabble in every single aspect of the cake business. I do what I do, and I do it well. I don’t try to do something that everybody else is doing.

Who are the regional and international bakers you admire? 

Regionally, I would say Esther James from Barbados. I really like her work, it’s so beautiful, and I love speaking to her.

Internationally, Liz Merrick. Her artistic cakes are absolutely amazing. I also follow quite a few cake artists on Instagram and their work is clean, crisp, and elegant.

What are your plans for Sweet Dreams over the next 12-18 months? 

I actually don’t know how much longer I’ll be doing this. I am currently studying functional health and wellness coaching at an online school. But I have to see where that goes and how it develops.

I don’t think I want to give up the cake business altogether, but I’ll probably have to become more selective with the cake work that I take on. It would have to be consistent enough to make sense for me and be worth my while, but right now, I’m just focusing on school.

I have flirted with the thought of offering virtual lessons. But I don’t think I’ll offer workshops it’ll probably be more like a one-on-one class.

Danielle George-John, Sweet Dreams

What do you love about Antigua and Barbuda? 

Antigua is beautiful. I feel like we’re all privileged to live in the Caribbean. There’s a sense of freedom here and even opening a business is easier than if I wanted to move to the UK or the States.

We also have the breeze, palm trees, and beaches. My family is here. Here is home, and it’s the place where you can finally take your shoes off and relax.

Where do you go to eat on the island? 

La Bistro which has been here for as long as I can remember. It’s French cuisine with a mix of island style. It’s so good and consistent, and you’re guaranteed to have an awesome meal there.

Garden Grill is newer, but they seem to be pretty consistent so far. When I’ve been there, it’s nice. The food is different to other places on the island, and all of it tastes good.

Danielle George-John, Sweet Dreams

What advice do you have for aspiring Caribbean entrepreneurs? 

Go with something that you’re good at and where you have a natural talent.

Be professional and have a good work ethic.

I’d also recommend setting boundaries. So, create a schedule or routine, and try to only answer messages and emails between specific times.

If you don’t set boundaries, you’ll never get anything done.

If you could talk to your younger self 15-20 years ago, what would you say?

You are awesome! I kind of always had low self-esteem when I was younger, and if I’d been able to hear those words of encouragement, I would probably be in an even better place than I am now.

Also, keep up with the times! And that’s more for me now because I’m kind of completely lost with technology, and it’s always changing so fast. So, again, I would be in a better position if someone had told me that earlier.

Finally, be true to yourself. Don’t compare yourself, and never dumb yourself down to please others.

Danielle can be contacted via these channels:

Sweet Dreams website – https://danzsweetdreams.com/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/SweetDreamsanu/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/danzsweetdreams/