Believe it or not, Sarah Ono Jones does not think of herself as a "cake person."
And while the Common Bond cake designer has established a national reputation as a venerable decorator of tiered treats, her admission makes sense considering her sophisticated creations transcend the realm of mere baked goods into edible art.
"I treat cake and sugar like an art medium," says Ono Jones. "If I want to learn how to sculpt a dog, I use polymer clay tutorials, clay sculpting tools, painter’s tools, etc."
Clay was Ono Jones' original mode of expression—when she was younger, she pursued a passion for sculpting. Years later she tried her hand at making a custom cake: a Powerpuff Girls cake for her daughter’s birthday. Ono Jones was pleasantly surprised with how well it turned out, but even more impressed was her husband, who subsequently gave her a certificate for a cake-decorating class as a Mother's Day gift.
The additional skills she acquired in the course, in combination with her natural acumen, led Ono Jones to quickly transition from amateur to aficionado. After winning numerous awards at contests and fairs in Tennessee, she competed in 2013 on the Food Network's Halloween Wars, where she and her two team members took home the $50,000 grand prize.
Ono Jones then went on to work for Knoxville’s acclaimed Magpies Bakery as lead custom cake decorator, a position in which she furthered her national reputation by designing cakes that appeared in Southern Living and in Martha Stewart Weddings.
Her work attracted the attention of leadership at Common Bond, who recruited Ono Jones in 2018 to lead the custom cake department of the bakery. She and her team have consistently wowed customers with the incredible level of detailed adornment. And although business has slowed during the Covid-19 pandemic, Ono Jones and her team have been kept busy with a steady stream of orders for "quarantine cakes," very detailed, smaller designs for intimate family celebrations. This Halloween has seen exceptional demand for Ono Jones' trademark scary confections, too, she says. Ono Jones expects to fill orders for approximately 150 cakes.
Although Ono Jones is most well known for her spooky cakes, her creations run the gamut. Among the most challenging designs was a cake replicating the University of Tennessee library, which Ono Jones describes as "like an M.C. Escher drawing." And then there have been just plain weird requests.
"For one person’s birthday, we were asked to make a giant chicken nugget sitting on a rainbow," she says, giggling.
How has her life changed with such sweet success? The joy and gratitude in Ono Jones’ response is palpable.
"I have made cakes for musicians that I love (including Incubus, Lizzo, Jane's Addiction, A Perfect Circle, and Dolly Parton); I have been able to travel and teach," she says. "I am a lucky gal!"
Though she makes a living wowing people with cakes, Ono Jones still says she's "actually not a cake person." Instead, her dessert of choice is Common Bond’s macarons.