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Every event planner has a list of vendors they love, when you hire Weddings & Events by Raina we happily share this list with you. However, there are some vendors that we love so much we just can't keep our excitement about them to ourselves! For Featured Fridays, the first Friday of each month we will introduce you to someone from our "Vendors We Love" list who we believe you cannot live without.

For our first Featured Fridays blog post, we would like to introduce you to Jo West, the master cake artist and owner of Jo's Custom Cakes and Catering. Jo was blessed with a little brother when she was fourteen. Given the age difference, she really just wanted to make birthday cakes for him since they made him so happy. After taking a course from Wilton her love for cake design really took off When her cousin opened a restaurant that also did catering, she began helping with the weddings and events they booked. Soon after she attended the Opryland Hotel Culinary Institute and received an Associate of Applied Science degree with a concentration in Culinary Arts, but her learning didn't stop there. When Jo isn't baking, she is constantly reading and researching to stay on top of all the hottest food and cake design trends.

After making cakes for 40 years, and growing Jo’s Custom Cakes and Catering, Inc. (est. 2003) Jo estimates that she has made around 975 to 1,300 wedding cakes!! On average she creates 75 to 100 wedding cakes per year, so she really knows her sweet stuff! This doesn't even begin to include all of her specialty cakes, birthday cakes and groom’s cakes. If we figured all those in she has probably baked around 5000 different types of cake. The average wedding cake, not counting baking time (which is about 2 hours per cake), takes anywhere from 1 hour to 20 hours. depending on the design...that is approximately 13,000 hours Jo has put in creating incredible cake creations!

Jo's Custom Cakes and Catering has some incredibly moist and delicious signature cakes to tantalize your tongue...white chocolate, triple chocolate; and the NEW The DEVIL’s FOOD which is an incredible combination of chocolate cake with a hint of cinnamon and cayenne pepper! She also offers the NEW, a NEW funfetti!! which offers customizable colors to match your event. If these don't have your mouth watering, how about this amazing list of cake flavors...

Watermelon, Strawberry, Lemon, Vanilla, Yellow, German Chocolate, Devil's Food, Coconut Cream, Butter Pecan, Piña Colada, Red Velvet, Key Lime, Orange Dream sickle, Cappuccino, Snickerdoodle, Fresh Banana, Sour Cream Pound Cake, KW Spice (Named for one of our favorite brides- Kristin Ward), Autumn Pumpkin, Taffy Apple, Peanut Butter, Blue Ribbon Carrot Cake,Pistachio Cake, Chocolate Amaretto Cake, White Chocolate and Champagne Cake, Pink Champagne Cake, and our favorite Bacon and Maple cake (very yummy). To top off those incredible cakes, Jo's Custom Cakes & Catering offers some drool worthy icing in Buttercream, Vanilla Bean Buttercream, Chocolate, Mocha, White Chocolate Buttercream, Rolled Fondant, Buttercream Flavored Fondant, which I can attest, actually tastes good!!

Once you select your cake and icing flavors and colors, keep in mind that they specialize in delicious cakes as well as sculpted cakes. The can design a custom cake to match you theme, dress or color scheme Most of their cakes are compilations of many factors from your wedding. Jo takes inspiration from everything from invitations to lace on your wedding dress! If you provide them with a picture of what you want, in most cases they can re-create it. However, you must take into consideration that if Jo's Custom Cakes & Catering did not make the original, their style of decorating may be a bit different, but we can get amazingly close. Best part is that it doesn't even cost extra for a custom design! All of their cakes are priced by the amount of time they believe it will take to create it, and the specialty tools required to create it. Not only do they offer both buttercream and fondant icings their fondant tastes good! Some designs just have to be made of fondant to get the right look. I know some people don’t care for fondant, but it can really give you the best of both worlds. Jo tortes her cakes so that there are 4 thin layers of cake with 3 layers of buttercream in between them. That way, even if you take the fondant off the outside of the cake, there is plenty of buttercream inside the cake! But if you really don’t want fondant, if the design allows, they will be happy to do your cake in buttercream. That’s all we had 40 years ago! Remember also, that if your wedding is outside, butter starts to melt at 76 degrees!! There are other options out there, like cream cheese icing. Cream cheese is a dairy product and MUST stay in the refrigerator to keep people from getting ill. However, most event spaces do not have room in their refrigerators for a full sized wedding cake. There is also Swiss meringue buttercream, but, truth be told, it tastes like a stick of butter and is too soft and temperature sensitive might be best to avoid using that. If you really want a flavored filling, Jo likes to flavor her buttercream, so that the cake stays stable.

Sometimes brides will ask if they can use an old family cake recipe they have for their wedding cake and in some cases they can be used, however, the cakes from Jo's Custom Cakes & Catering are more dense and moist, so that they will better retain their shape during sculpting and transportation. Sometimes they will make a small version of the family recipe and they are always more than happy to incorporate it into the reception, but not necessarily in the actual wedding cake.If this is something that you are thinking of your your wedding, keep in mind, that Jo has to have your special family recipe months in advance so she and her cake team can make a trial run, or two, to ensure perfection for the big day.

Now, if your cake requires special dietary needs Jo's Custom Cakes & Catering can offer all organic and vegan options as well as traditional cake ingredients. Having said that, they have a chocolate vegan cake that is to die for! If gluten-free cake is what you are looking for, they have three fabulous flavors that are excellent!

Jo's Custom Cakes & Catering offers three-tiered (and up) cakes that start at $5 per serving. The two tiered cakes start at $4 per serving. They do have four cakes that are much more expensive to make and therefore are more expensive per serving. The amazing carrot cake, chocolate amaretto, white chocolate and champagne, and the pink champagne cakes are .50 cents more per serving, but absolutely worth every single bite! Unlike other bakers, they do not charge extra for having multiple flavors for different tiers, in fact they even recommend it. Just remember that traditionally you cut the bottom tier for your photos and you may not want strawberry pink cake for your pictures!

Jo's is an excellent choice if you are a bride on a budget. She is a master at maximizing your budget! To do this, they suggest having a smaller “presentation” cake for pictures and supplementing with “back-up” cakes. Their back-up cakes look just like the wedding cake in that there are 4 layers of cake and three layers of buttercream in both. I promise you, your guests will never know the difference! These cakes are priced at $2.50-$3 per serving and are not meant to be seen by the guests. They are base iced but NOT decorated. We take them to the kitchen, where they are cut, plated, and magically appear for your guests! Cupcakes are also a great way to lower costs. They do many weddings with a “cutting cake” and beautifully crafted cupcakes for the guests to enjoy. The only downside of cupcakes to think about is this: You can “stretch” the number of servings in a wedding cake, but you can’t stretch a cupcake. Don’t cut it too short on numbers!

Many brides worry about getting their cake to the venue. What if something happens? Jo personally delivers each and every cake so if the cake gets damaged in transit or even at the reception site she will be there to fix it! Jo and her team always carries extra icing and decorative items with so that they can repair just about anything. They even go out of their way to take extra precautions to ensure that they table legs are secure prior to delivering any of their cakes. We can't have a cake hit the floor, right ladies?! I have even seen them do everything short of jumping up and down on the cake table to make sure the legs are locked in!!

If you really want something completely unique for your cake, Jo's Custom Cakes & Catering can create edible sugar based cake toppers which are only limited to your imagination. You can have your new monograms, animals, flowers, pretty much anything you can imagine. They also offer custom clay toppers that you can keep forever! They also offer beautiful silver cake plateaus available to rent. Now, if you hire Jo's for your catering as well, they will bring cake cutting sets for the wedding cake and for the groom’s cake. Many venues charge a cake cutting fee since there is a real science to equally dividing up your cake to ensure that there is enough for everyone. However, if Jo's Custom Cakes & Catering is catering your event as well they will cut your cakes at no charge additional charge! Not only is their food amazing and their cakes out of this world, but hiring them for BOTH will actually save you money! If sugar paste, gum paste, or chocolate flowers are what you are looking for, you have come to the right cake artist! Jo's Custom Cakes & Catering makes quite a few specialty flowers. They also keep a large supply of pre-made gum paste flowers in white that they can easily custom paint to match your wedding colors. If you prefer fresh flowers, Jo's Custom Cakes & Catering always recommends having your florist supply them so that all the flowers will match. If they buy them somewhere differently, they may not match and everyone involved in your wedding wants your day to be perfect. Once provided, they prefer to put them on the cake so that they are not shoved into the cake itself compromising the integrity of the cake, icing and decorations.

If you are getting hungry reading this blog, keep in mind that you can schedule an appointment with Jo's Custom Cakes & Catering for a tasting. This is an especially good idea because no one wants to be surprised at their wedding with a flavor you might not know exactly how it tastes. It's only $25 for a tasting for up to 4 people which is well worth it! If you book Jo's Cakes & Catering within a week they will give you a $25 credit on your deposit. To secure their services, they require a $100 retainer to book your date. Until payment has been made, however, your date is not secured. Final payment isn't due until 2 weeks prior to the wedding. They wait this long because by that time you should have your final numbers. You can order “back-up” cakes the week of the wedding...even as late as Wednesday! They don’t want brides panicking if 25 extra guests suddenly decided that they are showing up. You can just order more cake in any flavor!

I am sure you are wondering about groom's cakes as well, I can assure you, Jo's Custom Cakes & Catering is quite well known for their 3D sculpted cakes. They have made everything from a 4” tall fraternity dog to stadiums, cars, and many sports related or animal related cakes. Anything a groom can think of, they have probably made! They are not priced like wedding cake, however, a very simple groom’s cake will start at $3 per serving and can serve anywhere between 15 to 200 people. It is recommend that you ¼ of the number of guests for the servings of the groom’s cake.

The best thing about Jo's Cakes & Catering is that absolutely ALL of their cakes are baked fresh, to order. There are no cakes just sitting around, waiting for a home! All of their cakes are normally baked on Wednesday night for a Saturday wedding. They are wrapped, hot out of the oven, and left to sit overnight to settle. They then “split and fill” on Thursday, re-wrap the cake and leave it overnight again to settle, then they decorate the cake on Friday (sometimes VERY late on Friday) to be ready to go on Saturday. The only time their cakes see a freezer is for about 30 minutes to set the buttercream when they are sculpting. They try to deliver their cakes about an hour before the wedding so they have time to fix a booboo, if one should occur along the way. Now, given that they always take the weather into consideration, in some cases an earlier delivery will be scheduled if bad weather is coming.

Jo's Custom Cakes & Catering will always supply a box for the top tier if the bride tells us she would like to keep it. They also offer an anniversary cake, which is an exact replica of the top tier of your wedding cake, in a box, all ready to go home with you after your wedding. However, if the idea of year old cake does not appeal to you, they will gladly make a replica of your top tier a year later if you prefer. Just remember to order it early!

Speaking of ordering early, As soon as they know for sure that you would like Jo to make your cake you will want to book her. Jo's Custom Cakes & Catering is very much in demand and some months, like May and October can book up a year in advance. It has been my experience that they will always do their very best to try to work in a cake order, but they will not sacrifice the quality of their cakes they already have booked. It is highly recommend that you order your cake six to nine months in advance if possible.

When we asked Jo what HER favorite cake was she confessed that it is always one right front of her at that moment. Having tasted her cakes, we know exactly what you mean Jo!! But, seriously, when we asked her really which was her favorite she said it was a tie between their White Chocolate and Snickerdoodle and being old school when it comes to cake, her favorite icing and filling is buttercream, of course! And Jo's Custom Cakes & Catering doesn't just offer cakes they have pies, jar pies, cookies, chocolate dipped strawberries, French macarons, caramel apples, truffles, cheesecakes, ice cream bars, cobblers, and cake shots!

Jo's love for everything they do at Jo’s Custom Cakes and Catering really comes through in everything she makes. When she opened her business 13 years ago, she wanted to make sure that always give people their money’s worth, have a great product, and treat people the way we want to be treated.Jo is always so proud of all her staff, from my Mom, who helps her every day, her sister, Susan Harmon, who helps with the bookkeeping and is an awesome server/cook, Brittany in the office, Mary, who helps, a lot, with the cakes, to all of their great serving staff, (whom I happen to think are the BEST around). They truly all love what they do and it shows in their products. They love that we can be a one-stop shop when it comes to hosting any type of event, but especially weddings, in that they can supply not only great cakes, but all your food, staffing, rentals, and just about anything else you can need to make your event easy. They stay up all night so you don’t have to! And, most importantly, you should be sure to hire a great planner, like Weddings & Events by Raina, to make sure your event goes off without a hitch!!

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