Warren Brown: CakeLove Founder Nibbles on a New Market

Airline travelers passing through Reagan National need go no further than the CakeLove kiosk for a taste of Warren Brown’s success story. The founder and owner of four cake bakeries in the Washington, D.C. area formed a partnership to make some of his baked goods available at the airport. One of Brown’s newest creations, Cake Bites, is a featured item. It is a 4-ounce jar of cream cheese icing layered with cake and other goodies.

“The jar is, for me, what I’m aiming to make the future of the business about because that is a product that can grow in scale,” says Brown. “It can be a much larger business and it really gives me the ability to demonstrate my passion for food.”

When the former attorney ditched his law career and opened the first CakeLove bakery in 2002, he envisioned a brand that would expand beyond the original location on U Street in the District. What started with early mornings and long nights of learning the art and science of baking has grown into a multi-layered business that includes bakeries, cookbooks, cooking classes and now, Cake Bites in Chocolate Downfall, Pumpkin, and other flavors.

Brown plans to extend his reach beyond the Washington region by placing CakeLove’s dessert jars and cream cheese icings in gourmet markets. “This is really my dream, to be able to play in the kitchen, make something and be able to serve it to someone and have them enjoy it. That’s what I get to do, I think, and I hope with the jars.”

Cake Bites launched at the airport kiosk a few weeks before the October 1 release of Brown’s new cookbook, Pie Love. The entrepreneur’s experiments with cake in a jar and new pie recipes refocused his attention on what he has always loved most about his business — the creative process of figuring out the right combination of ingredients, flavors and techniques to produce exceptional baked goods.

“I wanted to take a lot of what I’ve learned in baking and working with ingredients and apply it to pies,” says Brown. The homemade pies his sister Lenora Brown made as a teenager inspired him to perfect his favorite sweet and savory pies. He applied what he learned about using different combinations of ingredients, such as butter and vegetable shortening, to his cake recipes. “Balance and blend, something that is not mono, can usually be a little bit better because there is more depth to it. That’s what I was able to carry through to the baking.”

That understanding of balancing and blending resulted in a complete remix of CakeLove’s recipes last year. Brown took suggestions from his employees and customers to improve the flavor and texture of his cakes, cupcakes and icings. He also restructured his approach to serving fresh baked goods at multiple locations. Brown moved the baking to a central kitchen and then trained staff to assemble and decorate the cake products at each shop. He responded to requests for ready to eat sweets by serving his cakes and cupcakes at room temperature instead of from refrigerated cases. “Change is good. Change is difficult. Change takes work. Change takes time, but you’ve got to be willing to be open to change,” says CakeLove’s founder.

Brown makes many references to “we” when he talks about growing his CakeLove brand. Advice and ideas from employees, customers and supporters have helped him rewrite his vision for the future. The new business model favors a stronger presence in the dessert and snack industry over bakery openings, a plan designed to give Brown more time to teach, bake and enjoy the life his passion has built. “I’m very happy to be exploring a new chapter in the life of the business, in the life of CakeLove and in my life,” says Brown.

The husband and father of two will participate in the Epcot Food & Wine Festival’s “Party for the Senses” and “Sweet Sundays” on October 5 and 6 in Orlando. Brown is also teaching a Mini Pie Baking Class for Living Social in Washington, D.C.

If you are in the Washington, D.C. area, stop by a CakeLove bakery. Go to www.cakelove.com for the locations and more information. If you love pies, try out this Mom’s (Traditional) Apple Pie recipe from Brown’s new cookbook, Pie Love.

Follow Brown on Twitter and join the thousands of CakeLove enthusiasts on Facebook.

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The joy of cooking became a part of her life when Phyllis was a child learning her way around the kitchen with her mother and grandmother. Her retirement from a demanding career in broadcast news has given her time to write about African-American chefs and restaurant owners as well as other black professionals succeeding in the travel and wine industries. Phyllis still loves to cook and try out new recipes.