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Clash with Reality

Brenda Chapman has put her own spin on the fake-it-until-you-make-it saying with salt dough, rubber, foam, and resin props, food, products and drinks that look good enough to eat and drink.

Donna Leahey
Valerie Grant
September 29, 2017

When you walk into entrepreneur Brenda Chapman’s studio, you’d think you walked into a busy bakery. One table holds a dozen beautiful strawberry tarts, glistening with glaze and topped with ripe red berries. Another table holds cupcakes in pastel paper liners, topped with a generous swirl of creamy white frosting and colorful sprinkles. Cardboard bakers’ boxes filled with every type of cookie you can imagine cover tables against the back wall.

But then you notice the table covered with spilled coffee cups, evenly spaced with coffee stirrers placed at the exact angle in each, and you begin to wonder just what you’ve walked into.

“I got started in 1996 when I went on vacation and saw a potpourri pie, which was a thing in the ‘90s,” says Chapman, owner of Just Dough It Fake Foods. “They wanted so much money for it, I decided I could just figure out how to make my own. I found a salt dough recipe and figured it out. I made 40 of them and sold them at a big neighborhood garage sale and I made $400. After that, I started teaching myself and then I started doing local craft shows and PTA events.”

At the beginning, turning her passion for crafting into a career allowed her to stay at home with her children and travel to craft shows on the weekends. Now she has two part-time employees and attends some of the biggest trade shows in the country. She sends out thousands of creations made from salt dough, rubber, foam, and resin.

Sometimes the fake food isn’t entirely fake. Things like M&M’s, jelly beans, Skittles, and popcorn are often the actual products, preserved inside resin. Other times, Chapman creates a mold from the real food, like her good-looking-enough-to-eat cheesecake slices. “That’s a Sam’s cheesecake,” she says. “I made a mold from it, and it works great.”

The doughnuts are salt dough covered in a glaze of melted rubber. Even the wedges of creamy Gouda, with its red wax coating, and the crackers sitting on the tray beside them, are Chapman’s resin creations.

Chapman’s fake food is amazing, but her fake beverages are so real, you’d swear the glass was sweating. A perfect, sparkling clear mojito with bits of muddled mint and full of ice, garnished with a lime slice begs to be sipped, while a hot chocolate piled high with whipped cream sits ready to warm you up. Chapman has frozen margaritas in salt-rimmed glasses and decanters half-full of golden scotch. And all of it is fake and will look just as delicious forever.

Brenda Chapman's fake foods have been in movies like The Santa Clause 3 and The Muppets Take Manhattan and TV shows like House, One Life to Live, and Glee. (Photo: Valerie Grant)
Brenda Chapman's fake foods have been in movies like The Santa Clause 3 and The Muppets Take Manhattan and TV shows like HouseOne Life to Live, and Glee. (Photo: Valerie Grant)

You can find Chapman’s creations at furniture stores, interior designer’s displays, and homes for sale that have been prepped for an open house.

“You might see a pretty display with a holiday cake plate, and they decorate it with one of my cakes so it looks nice,” she says. “Then you get it home, and it’s an empty plate you’ll use once or twice a year. So, a lot of times, people will buy my cake with it.”

Her fake foods have been in movies like The Santa Clause 3 and The Muppets Take Manhattan and TV shows like House, One Life to Live, and Glee. You can also spot them, or even buy them for yourself, at Lifetouch Photography, Pizza Hut, Ralph Lauren, Pottery Barn, Vera Bradley, Fuddruckers, IKEA, The Container Store, and Longaberger Baskets. The Wal- Mart Museum in Bentonville, Ark., features a custom-made 5-foot tall fake ice cream tower made by Chapman.

In 2006, Chapman wrote to the Rachael Ray Show to let them know what she did for a living. Producers called and flew her out the next day.

Over the years, Chapman has learned some crafty tricks. The curls of white and dark chocolate that garnish her chocolate martini? Glue sticks shaved with a vegetable peeler. The melting ice cream cone is a resin cone, and the ice cream itself is a generous scoop of resin with cornstarch mixed in. The chocolate chunks in the chocolate chunk cookies are resin chips pushed into the fake cookie dough and baked in a regular commercial oven.

“If I can’t make it look real enough, I won’t do it,” she says. And she’s set a pretty high bar for herself for real enough.

“The spilled coffee is our No. 1 best-seller,” she says. “The spill is made of resin, but looks just as shiny and wet as real coffee. Sometimes they’ll just set them by the register, or people use them for pranks, but they’re often used in displays for fabric treatment. They’ll use these, or the Coke spills, or even nail polish spills.”

Chapman’s passion for her craft and business shows in her excitement and energy for the subject. She’s successful because she loves what she does.

What advice does she have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “What is your passion? What do you enjoy doing? I enjoy cooking and crafting, so I did this,” she says. “If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll burn out. Find out if the world really needs what you want to provide. Make a few and see if there’s an interest. Is someone going to be willing to pay you enough for you to make it? Count the real cost as well as the time. Look at it as a business, not just a hobby. And get some financial advice. Think it through.

“I had no training. No one ever told me I couldn’t do it. So, I did it.

Just Dough It
P.O. Box 140414 | Broken Arrow