By Juanita Cousins • THE TENNESSEAN • November 2, 2010
A Music Valley Drive cake supplier is making the art of crafting TV-worthy cakes available to Nashville residents with in-store classes, YouTube videos and inventions. “Everyday I would hear someone come in and say, ‘I love your store. You have so much great stuff, but I don’t know how to use it,’ ” said Kathy Wise Gentry, who operates Sweet Wise with her husband, John Gentry. Customers demanded classes because they didn’t know how to use the gum paste tools from England or the impression mats from Germany sold in the store. So Kathy began teaching customers the finer points of creating specialty cakes. This summer she began a YouTube channel, posting short videos to show customers how to use her products and offer cake-decorating advice.

“We think it is really going to set a standard for how knowledge is shared,” John said. John worked as a certified public accountant before joining his wife in the cake business. John helped Kathy build her inventory and business model, which now includes franchising, first in Memphis in 2011 and then adding three stores a year. “If you go to Sweet Wise, you know the staff is educated and can advise you. We not only are a supply store, but we can teach you how to make a successful product,” Kathy said.

Classes that start at $45 also include guest appearances by their friends: Food Network personalities Keegan Gerhard and Jacques Torres, award-winning pastry chef Andrew Shott and celebrity cake decorator Michelle Bommarito, who made their wedding cake. Former White House executive pastry chef Roland Mesnier will teach a class Dec. 4 on holiday desserts. Kathy Wise Gentry has been decorating cakes since age 6 under the direction of her mom. She majored in economics at Centre College in Kentucky before going to the Opryland Hotel Culinary Institute. In 2001, she began Sweet Wise as a bakery that focused on wedding cakes. Five years later, Velma’s Cake & Candy Supply Shop (where she purchased tools) closed. “I thought that if I didn’t know where to get my supplies, then neither did any other Nashville cake decorator,” Kathy said. “I saw it as an opportunity to fill a void.” After eight months of balancing the store and the bakery, Kathy stepped out of the kitchen to concentrate on her evolving business. That dedication led to her creating a tool dubbed THE MAT (patent pending) that makes it easier to roll and preserve fondant, a clay-like icing used to decorate cakes with complex details. THE MAT, in all capital letter for branding, sells for $15.99 that she totes as the only food-safe vinyl mat. It went on sale this fall and is manufactured by a company in the state of Washington. Kathy’s bottom line: “Cake decorating is approachable and anyone can do it. It’s not something that is scary and elite.” Contact Juanita Cousins at 615-259-8287, jcousins@tennessean.com or Twitter.com/talljournalist. http://www.tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/201011021306/DAVIDSON/101102063