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WhirLocal Salem

(112 reviews)

222 Commercial St NE PMB 2303
Salem, Oregon 97301

Michelle’s Ashley’s journey to becoming known as “The Cake Lady” behind Michelle Ashley Custom Cakes is a tale of resilience, talent discovery, and sweet success. Her story is proof that a fresh start can lead to delicious destinations.

Starting Over

In 2010, Michelle decided to begin a fresh start in Oregon following a difficult divorce. Despite knowing only two people in the area, she was drawn to the beauty of the Happy Valley area. So much so, that Michelle decided to move from Texas and make Happy Valley her new home. Shortly after her move, however, she “hardly saw those two people anymore, and ended up feeling truly alone.”

Michelle’s journey improved when she met her future husband through online dating. Love blossomed, and she relocated to Salem, marking the beginning of a new chapter in her life.

Career Twists and Turns

Before diving into the world of cakes, Michelle had a unique career path. She started by working on government contracts for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). Later, she became a project manager, supporting the British Army over in Afghanistan locally from McMinnville. Life seemed to be heading in a promising direction.

However, unexpected tragedy struck when Michelle’s mother passed away in 2013, shortly after New Years. Grief and heartache led her down a difficult path, and she found herself battling addiction to drugs and alcohol. The year that followed was a blur, with Michelle unable to recall many memories.

A Journey to Recovery

In July 2014, Michelle made a courageous decision—she sought treatment and embarked on a journey to recovery. The path was challenging, but her determination prevailed. She focused on healing through implementing the 12-Step approach and, in the process, rediscovering herself.

During her recovery, Michelle needed a way to occupy her time. She found herself enrolling in a cake decorating class at a craft store. Little did she know that this decision would lead to her true calling.

Becoming a Cake Artist

As Michelle delved into cake decorating, she discovered an innate talent for transforming cakes into works of art. Her passion for the craft led her to take more classes, obtain certificates, and continue to work to hone her skills.

To gain experience, Michelle joined Fred Meyer as a beginner cake decorator. She soaked up knowledge and grew in confidence, but her entrepreneurial spirit yearned for something more.

The Birth of Michelle Ashley Custom Cakes

After six months at Fred Meyer, Michelle decided it was time to spread her wings. She took a bold step and launched her very own cake decorating business. Initially, she rented a commercial kitchen, but the costs and time constraints were challenging.

Undeterred, Michelle obtained the necessary license and began operating her business from her apartment. Her talent spoke for itself, and in 2018, she was honored with the “Best of Mid Valley” award. This unexpected recognition was a game-changer, increasing her visibility and opening doors to new opportunities.

A Sweet Location Discovery

Michelle’s journey took another exciting turn when she and her husband stumbled upon a vacant space in July 2018 while exploring Salem. The space was affordable and aligned with her budget, leading to the opening of her first bake shop.

Continued Growth Through Marketing and Support from Local Business Community

Michelle’s commitment to her business was unwavering. She knew that success required more than just baking cakes; it demanded a strong online presence. So, she turned to social media and ran some Google ads. Her goal was to ensure that anyone in Salem looking for a cake would find their way to Michelle Ashley Custom Cakes.

Michelle’s marketing didn’t stop at social media and Google ads. She shared her success story of advertising on buses, a bold move that significantly increased her business’s visibility. It was expensive, but Michelle has no regrets. Being on the back of 12 buses became another game-changer, and people often mentioned that they saw her ad there.

Salem Eats, a local Facebook group, has also played a pivotal role in boosting her visibility. Additionally, Michelle became involved with the local business community through joining the Salem Chamber of Commerce, a network of support that has proved to be invaluable in her entrepreneurial journey.

Furthermore, her consecutive wins of “Best of Mid Valley” and “Best of Willamette Valley” awards are a testament to the strong support and loyal following she has built in the community.

Adapting to Challenges: A Pandemic Pivot

When the unexpected challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic came, and businesses shuttered, Michelle faced uncertainty. But, true to her tenacious spirit, she quickly adapted. She set up a drive-through service, a novel approach that would soon become a sensation. People flocked to her drive-through, forming long lines that extended all the way down 22nd Street NE to the DHS Building.

The community rallied around Michelle. Volunteers stepped up to help make her drive-through events a resounding success. It was a heartwarming display of the unity that defines the local Salem community and the relationships she had built with her customers and supporters.

This unexpected success story was the lifeline she needed. Michelle made a substantial amount of money through the drive-through model, ultimately securing the funds she would need to move to her current retail location.

Making Her Dad Proud

Michelle’s ability to adapt and innovate during challenging times showcases her determination and courage. It was during these moments of adversity that she found her strength.

Later in 2020, Michelle’s father expressed profound pride in her accomplishments as he had witnessed her transformation from a troubled past to a successful business owner. Shortly before he passed away unexpectedly, she recounts him telling her, “I am so proud of you and all of this amazing stuff you’ve done with your life.”

Knowing that she was able to turn her life around and her dad was able to see the change is a continuing comfort to Michelle.

Diversification and Niche Market

Michelle didn’t stop at cakes. She expanded her business offerings to include cake decorating and baking classes, enriching her community with opportunities to learn and explore their creativity.

Michelle’s ideas continue to flourish. She’s more recently tapped into niche markets, catering to those seeking keto, gluten-free, and vegan options. Her keen market awareness has allowed her to adapt and thrive in a competitive landscape.

Along her journey, Michelle enjoys drawing inspiration from bake shop owners in other areas, learning from their experiences. During a vacation in Canada, a chance encounter led her to implement the ability for customers to conveniently place cake orders online. Now customers can order cakes and cupcakes for pick-up from, as well as order items for delivery through Doordash.

Importance of Building a Loyal Following and Asking for Support from the Local Community

Michelle attributes her success in part to her active presence on social media, where she actively engages with her audience and promotes her business. The local community’s support has been a driving force, with people responding to her social media posts and calls for help during slow times.

Michelle highlights the importance of small businesses being transparent and willing to speak out and ask for help when necessary. She describes the Salem community as “tight knit, loving, and very supportive.” And the community’s willingness to rally around local businesses in times of need resonates with her deeply.

Not Seeing Competitors, But Collaborators

Michelle has an inclusive perspective on not viewing other local businesses as competitors, but as fellow entrepreneurs with unique offerings and followings. She firmly believes there is room for everyone to succeed in the community, actively supporting other businesses and championing collaboration over competition.

High Employee Retention and Family-Like Environment

Michelle’s exceptional journey doesn’t stop with her business acumen; it extends to her role as an employer. She proudly shared that her business boasts a high employee retention rate, with new individuals frequently inquiring about job openings. Her approach to managing her team is founded on giving employees chances and support before considering termination, fostering a positive and harmonious work environment—akin to a family.

Within her team, Michelle has nurtured a close-knit atmosphere where camaraderie flourishes, which is evidence to her leadership style and her commitment to creating an environment where everyone thrives.

Fundraising, Community Involvement and an Endearing Nickname

Michelle’s dedication to her employees and local community is vividly apparent through her different fundraising endeavors. She recounted one successful fundraiser that raised a remarkable sum of money, all directed towards helping an employee who needed assistance to pay her rent. It’s a shining example of Michelle’s unwavering commitment to the well-being of her team, transcending the boundaries of the workplace.

Beyond her business, Michelle has also made a profound impact through her involvement with Salem for Refugees, a local non-profit which spearheads a community-led effort to “bring people and resources together to make Salem a welcoming place for refugees” (Salem For Refugees). Even though she only needed one new team member at the time, she welcomed two Afghan refugee women into her team—despite the language barrier and challenges that came with it. She illuminated the women’s unwavering gratitude, hard work, and resilience.

One of the women refers to Michelle as “Michelle-jan,” which is a term of endearment that means “dear” or “darling.” This heartwarming gesture of respect and affection illustrates the profound impact Michelle has made on the lives of those she works with.

From Recovery to Giving Back

Michelle never forgets her recovery journey, which laid the foundation for her transformation. Because of how important that journey has been in her own life, she pays it forward by mentoring, sponsoring, and offering hope and guidance to other women in recovery.

She frequently gives talks at treatment centers to help inspire those who walk the path she once did. Michelle firmly believes that without her recovery, none of her accomplishments would have been possible.

Michelle’s Bucket List

When asked if she has anything on her bucket list, Michelle shared a personal aspiration—visiting Iceland. She cited its beauty and intrigue as the reasons behind this dream. Having traveled extensively, Iceland remains the one destination on her bucket list that is waiting to be explored.

In the ever-evolving world of entrepreneurship, Michelle Ashley Custom Cakes shines as a symbol of determination, innovation, and unwavering community support. Beyond its mouthwatering cakes and delectable treats, the bakery represents the heart and soul of a dedicated businesswoman who has transformed challenges into opportunities and fostered a spirit of unity and collaboration within her community. Michelle’s journey is a testament to the remarkable transformations possible when passion, courage, and a profound sense of community converge.

Michelle Ashley Custom Cakes is located in the 45th Parallel building at 2195 Hyacinth St. NE, Suite 101, Salem, Oregon 97301.

Hours of Operation:
Closed Monday
Tuesday-Friday 11am-6pm
Saturday 10am-4pm
Sunday 11am-3pm

Phone number: 971-304-7737

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