An Interview with CakeLove’s Warren Brown

As you saw in our post yesterday, we recently re-visited CakeLove and really enjoyed our experience. Warren Brown, former educator and lawyer, is the owner of CakeLove. He began his baking journey in 1999, with a resolution to overcome a fear of flour, and opened CakeLove, three short years later. He’s a featured chef and was the host of Sugar Rush on the Food Network. Warren has been written about numerous times, both nationwide and here in the Baltimore/DC area.

We were lucky enough to have Warren take some time for a little Q&A session!

CakeLove-WarrenBrown
Warren Brown: Baker, Chef, Author, Host, Entrepreneur, Educator, Lawyer, etc. etc. etc. (Photo found here, no harm intended)

What is your first baking memory?
I didn’t start baking at an early age. My first memories of a real adventure in the kitchen are from around age 10 when I made BBQ sauce and short ribs on the outdoor gas grill. If anything I think the first memories of baking was when my sister and her friends were baking box cakes at our neighbor’s house. I wanted to be there, but wasn’t and in some way I suppose my curiosity about cake started then.

I read that you started baking in 1999, just 1 year prior to leaving your law practice in 2000. What were the first steps you took in changing your career and opening CakeLove?
My first steps toward baking were small steps. I was determined to learn to bake and really use a lot of my research skills to find the best recipes. I found myself combing through books, websites, magazines and asking friends and relatives about their baking secrets. What surprised me was the number of people who had a special baking trick or piece of helpful info that they were willing to share. One man in the apartment building I lived in had a shelf full of books that he let me borrow for a few months. It takes a lot of time to find good recipes—there’s just so much testing involved. It took about 2 years for me to really feel comfortable writing my own recipes. And when I look back at what I wrote, I can really see that baking is a lesson in life-long learning. I’m happy to say that I use a broader array of ingredients now which keeps things interesting. It’s not that I out-and-out disagree with my early recipes, but what we’re doing now is more advanced, better balanced, and features a texture and crumb that is just more delicate.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to change their careers and start their own business?
Fluffy thoughts advice in a nutshell: Starting a business is a great opportunity to have a memorable and riveting life experience. Recognize that you’re jumping into the unknown and be prepared—at least mentally—for the unexpected. A lot of what will happen will be great so celebrate the good things when they happen. Don’t fret over the bad stuff, not everything in life will go the way you hope.

Nuts & bolts advice in a nutshell: Have a big idea. Get focused on a strategy to make it happen. Check your ego at the door, get lots of feedback and adapt.

Who/What inspired you to become a baker?
I was inspired by memories of my favorite bakery from when I was boy: Lax & Mandel on South Taylor in University Heights, Ohio. The women who worked there were always very kind, the cakes were delicious, and my memories of the goodies in the box on my kitchen counter give me peace.

What is your favorite tool in the kitchen?
My digital scale. It makes measuring fast and accurate.

Do you have a favorite cupcake flavor?
My favorite right now is our Red Velvet. I became a convert once we revamped the recipe in December ‘12 to make it more moist and delicate.

What makes CakeLove different from other bakeries and how did you come up with the name?
Well, I think there is a lot that distinguishes CakeLove from other bakeries. To me, it’s all about the balance we try to achieve in each product—and we sell a variety of items apart from just cupcakes or cake pops. Our eclairs are awesome. The caramel brownies and chocolate chip cookies get lots of nods. The lemon bars never last long.

Of course, our bread & butter are cakes and cupcakes. So we try to keep a reasonable cake to frosting ratio for the cakes and cupcakes. We like the smiles of relief that come when people sample our buttercream or cream cheese icing; they like it because it’s “not too sweet.” And we really enjoy being innovative. We began a gluten free and vegan line back in 2006 which we’ve also recently updated with a wonderful , simpler recipe. I experiment in the kitchen all of the time and am very excited about our latest new release: Cake in a Jar. It’s cake & cream cheese icing in a recyclable jar with a screw top. It gives our product portability and customers have the option to eat a little now and save the rest for later. We’re stoked about its pending release in June.

The name CakeLove has always been a great part of the business. We get a lot of positive feedback about it. I love cake and wanted a strong name and thought a compound word would be fun. I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked compound words. Anyway, “love cake” didn’t quite work so I flipped it and found myself liking CakeLove from the beginning.

If you aren’t making the desserts yourself, where are you buying them from?
I’m liking my friend Jeff’s ice cream sandwiches from Cream Cycle—ice cream sandwiches sold via (adult sized) tricycles.

You were a great host on the Food Network’s Sugar Rush, will we see you or CakeLove on TV again anytime soon?
Thanks, I had fun hosting. No plans now, but we’re always talking with producers about ideas. A lot of the time I’ve spent working on media over the past few years has been focused on research & writing. My fourth cook book, PieLove, publishes this September. (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

You recently made some changes to CakeLove, including recipes and refrigeration, what made you change things?
After ten plus years we took stock of where we were and listened closely to what people were saying. We’re thankful for all of the feedback—it’s been a gift in terms of telling us what our customers like and don’t like. After a few deep gulps, we committed to change and dove in. We just kept it simple and asked what can we do better? Display the cupcakes so they’re ready to eat—done. Revamp the recipes so they have a softer texture—done. Boost the flavor of the red velvet—done. And so on.

Since we initiated change at the bakery, I’ve noticed just how many other businesses are doing the same thing and how normal it is. For a while I think I didn’t want to embrace change out of fear of alienating our core base. But our core values of baking from scratch with only the finest ingredients remains firmly in place and with our commitment to quickly incorporate the feedback from our community via social media, focus groups, and feedback swaps we’ve adapted and have much better product because of it.

We cannot thank Warren (and Kim LaMore, CakeLove’s Corporate Sales and Service Manager) enough for taking the time to contact us and answer our questions. We really enjoyed our second visit to CakeLove and Warren inspires us to continue to pursue our dreams, just as he did. If you’re ever in the area, stop in to one of his CakeLove shops and enjoy a sweet treat!

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Elisa (Baltimore, MD)

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Guest Post: Third-Favorite Bakery in the Kansas City Suburbs | Sugar Rush | Olathe, Kansas

We are excited to share this guest post from fellow cupcake addict Kim of kimberlyloc.com. Every Tuesday for the month of November, check out Kim’s guest posts as she names her top five favorite cupcakeries the Kansas City suburbs. Visit kimberlyloc.com every Tuesday in November to see our top five picks for our favorite cupcake shops in Baltimore City.

While I live within walking distance of three cupcakeries, I do spend a lot of time a few miles down the street at my boyfriend’s (aka “the teacher man”) place. His apartment straddles the Overland Park/Olathe, Kansas, line, so it’s not uncommon for me to sometimes hungrily roam about the Olathe strip malls in search of food.

During one recent hunting and gathering session, I found Sugar Rush and was eager to see what the new shop had to offer.


(Sugar Rush is located at 138th and Black Bob in Olathe, Kansas. Photo Courtesy KimberlyLoc.com)

When I walked in, the perfectly frosted cupcakes greeted me. Each cupcake was labeled with an adorably handwritten nameplate, and I was impressed by how many flavor options were available. I chatted with the girl behind the counter and chose four cupcakes to take home and share with the teacher man.


(I ooooed and awwwed over the cupcake display at Sugar Rush. Photo Courtesy KimberlyLoc.com)

Because I’m a die-hard chocoholic, I couldn’t resist trying the Sugar Rush’s triple chocolate cupcake. Rich chocolate cake and milk chocolate frosting topped with chocolate chips made for a triple threat to my taste buds…and boy did my taste buds like it!


(Sugar Rush’s triple chocolate cupcake packs a 1-2-3 punch — in a good way! Photo Courtesy KimberlyLoc.com)

This cupcake rocked. If you’re a chocolate lover, get this cupcake! It’s not overpowering — the different layers of chocolate, from the luscious dark chocolate cake to the smooth, milky chocolate frosting and bits of chocolate chips, give your mouth different flavor sensations instead of chocolate overload. Just make sure you have a tall glass of milk to wash it down.

In between sips of milk (you know, to cleanse the palate), I tested the other cupcakes. I alternated between chocolate-heavy and other cupcakes (yes, in my world, there is “chocolate” and “other” flavors!) so I could fairly judge the chocolates and not go into sugar shock. To balance out the decadence of the triple chocolate, I moved on to the snickerdoodle cupcake, the perfect balance of cinnamon and sugar.


(Swirls of cinnamon and sugar make Sugar Rush’s snickerdoodle cupcake a delight. Photo Courtesy KimberlyLoc.com)

As you can see, this snickerdoodle cupcake is loaded with frosting — which is a bonus to me — but what I think even non-frosting fanatics could like about this cupcake is that the icing is faintly flavored. Yes, the cinnamon and sugar shine through, but it’s not so sickly sweet that you just can’t eat it. It’s a perfect match to the moist, flavorful cinnamon cake and, just to be honest, I’d like to have this for breakfast as often as possible!

If cupcakes for breakfast just aren’t an option (fine!), then how about a cupcake inspired by one of my favorite snacks? I had to get a peanut butter cup cupcake from Sugar Rush because peanut butter and chocolate goes together way better than peanut butter and jelly.


(Nothing beats a cupcake with a piece of candy on top! Photo Courtesy KimberlyLoc.com)

Chocolate cake, whipped peanut butter frosting and a Reese’s on top made this cupcake heavenly. The cake was perfect like the triple chocolate’s. I liked the fluffy consistency of this frosting — how’d they get peanut butter to seem so airy instead of sticky? If you’re a pb&c kind of gal or gent, get this cupcake.

So with three spot-on reviews so far, and no criticism about the cake or frosting, why is Sugar Rush at No. 3 on the list?

Blame the carrot cake.


(Carrot cake is a classic — but this one just didn’t do it for me. Photo Courtesy KimberlyLoc.com)

The girl behind the counter told me that the carrot cake cupcake were great and also lasted a little longer than the other cupcakes (I was taste-testing over the weekend and worried that I’d need to save a cupcake to taste for later, which I didn’t), so I decided to try it.

When I first dove in to the carrot cake cupcake, I was pleasantly surprised by the smooth cream cheese frosting and light carrot flavor. But, something was off about the cake.

Most carrot cakes I’ve had have never had an issue with dryness — and Sugar Rush even said that the carrot cake cupcakes typically last longer — so this just didn’t add up to me. I had a few more bites of cake only, and even throughout the middle of the cake, it was just not as moist as it could have been.

While there is obviously room for improvement here that could eventually catapult Sugar Rush to the top, I think that the one common thread between my No. 2 and No. 1 picks (coming in the next two weeks) is that they are both consistently delicious in all their flavors. Sugar Rush is new, small and family-run, so I think it’s a great accomplishment to begin turning heads so quickly in the competitive KC cupcake business. I’ll definitely be back to get another sampling of the 20-something flavors offered…and yes, I’ll take another test run with the carrot cake.

What classic cupcakes do you always expect consistency from? What makes or breaks it to you when it comes to choosing your favorite cupcakeries? Tell me what you think in the comments section.