Breaking the Rules: Interview with Leah Backstrom of Ink Sweets

Ink Sweets cakes are anything but cookie-cutter. We sat down with the talented designer to learn more about her unconventional take on wedding cakes.
Written by
Sara Hubbard

You won't find many lacey ivory wedding cakes at Ink Sweets bakery in Minnesota. Instead, owner and lead decorator, Leah Backstrom, wants couples to embrace their individuality. Claiming she never grew out of her teenage "emo" years, Backstrom's creations run the gamut from romantic to edgy and everything in between. And while her portfolio demonstrates an impressive range, one thing remains consistent: Ink Sweets doesn't design a typical wedding cake. We sat down with the prolific baker to learn more about her background in cake making and what inspires her to push the envelope. Take a look to see what she had to say!

How did you get started in the business?
I actually started making cakes 14 years ago when I was just a teen! I’m one of those lucky people who found something they enjoyed early on in life and was able to explore that and grow as I got older. I’ve been working in kitchens since then but didn’t launch Ink Sweets until 2017 when I moved to Minnesota. It’s been such a wild ride to see all those aspirations I had when I was young come to fruition.

Where do you find your inspiration? 
Inspiration can come from anything and everything. Some of my favorite pieces I’ve done have had nontraditional inspiration like the outdoors, trees, moss, rocks and mushrooms. I also like to pull inspiration from art. But, it also comes from the clients I am working with. I like to find something about them and their tastes that are unique and speak to me. That’s the best way to create something truly one of a kind and special.

What is the greatest challenge for you as a cake designer?
The greatest challenge has got to be staying true to myself as an artist. It’s really, really hard sometimes when a couple comes to you with a specific idea and you adore them and want to work with them so badly but your points of view don’t line up and you have to walk away for your own sanity/artistry. I will admit that sometimes I still say yes but almost always inevitably regret it. It’s tough when most of your job is just serving others and their big days, but it’s important that you don’t lose what makes you special in the process.

How do you help steer your clients in certain directions so that you can have the creative license to put forth your best work?
I am just honest and upfront about the kind of work that I do. If someone is going to book with me, they have to know from the get-go that we aren’t going to copy something from Pinterest. I have this conversation upfront and people can choose to either collaborate with me or go elsewhere. And, it doesn’t hurt my feelings either! Sometimes people know exactly what they want and that’s okay. But to me, a couple’s cake is supposed to be special and unique to them and should excite us both equally. I want my clients to come to me with inspiration but also be able to trust that I am good at my job and am going to steer you in the best possible direction!

In today’s world of Pinterest, Instagram, and other social media outlets, couples often come to the table with a set idea of what they want. How do you push them to be unique and think beyond what might be “on trend” at that point in time? 
I typically will have couples bring some sort of inspiration to the table and that usually is in the form of a Pinterest board. My biggest question that I lead with after that is simply: What do you like about these cakes? Because most of the time it’s something very specific, and I can work with that. If it’s a texture, color, vibe or shape, I can take that information to form my own interpretation of their likes and dislikes and bring those elements to the table but in a way that speaks to my brand as well.

What are some of your favorite rules to break?
I don’t like when things are traditional. I am SO over white cakes with flowers. Don’t get me wrong, they are gorgeous but weddings are so personal that they should say something too! I love breaking color “rules” of weddings. I’ve made cakes in electric yellow, moss green, black, taupe and burgundy. Being bold by using color is one of my favorite things to do!

What is the most memorable moment in your career thus far?
The most memorable moment of my career so far was probably when I got to go to Baltimore and stage (i.e. interview) at Charm City Cakes. The show Ace of Cakes is the reason I started making cakes so getting to fly out to Baltimore and work in that space for a weekend was insane to me. They even offered me a job! Sadly, I was about 21 years old and too nervous to move across the country by myself. But still, 14-year-old Leah was pretty stoked about that experience.

What are 3 interesting facts most people don’t know about you?
I am obsessed with royal history and have a very specific interest in Marie Antoinette and the wives of King Henry VIII (Justice for Anne Boleyn!). I am a podcast junkie and am currently subscribed to about 30 podcasts. My favorite movie is "The Breakfast Club."