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US lawyer trades courtroom for kitchen, TV stardom

October 20, 2005

By Joanne Morrison

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A New Year’s resolution a few years
ago drove U.S. government litigator Warren Brown to trade the
courtroom for the kitchen, reinventing his career and grabbing
attention across the United States as the guy who can really
bake cakes.

After less than two years into his legal career and armed
with credit cards, a $125,000 small business loan and no formal
culinary training, Brown, 35, founded his bakery, CakeLove, in
a trendy part of the U.S. capital with a simple concept that
everything be made with natural ingredients.

This self-taught baker’s popularity over the past few years
has since expanded well beyond Washington, with requests
nationwide for his cakes and plans to open more outlets in the
Washington area and in several cities over the next few years.

Named one of America’s most eligible bachelors by People
Magazine, the Cleveland native has appeared on U.S. network
news programs and talk shows touting confections he says are
inspired by his simple desire to create old fashioned
“scratchmade” cakes.

“Warren is somebody who we’ve had our eye on for a very
long time,” said Food Network’s Kathleen Finch, director of
prime-time programming.

Later in October, Brown will be the host of a new
13-episode Food Network program, “Sugar Rush,” spotlighting
desserts across the country. “We very much see this show as a
good star vehicle for Warren,” said Finch, whose network is
piped into 85 million homes.

AMERICAN DREAM

But While Brown’s simple style of baking has grabbed a
loyal fan base, it’s his pursuit of the American dream to own
his own business centered around his passion for baking that
has indeed given him notoriety.

After graduating in 1998 with a law degree from George
Washington University, Brown cut off his long hair and took a
job as a litigator for the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, he said.

After a year, he decided this could not be his lifelong
career path.

“I was daydreaming about food all the time, at my desk, on
my lunch break and on the way to work,” the tall, thin
dreadlocked baker said in a recent interview. “I wanted to
avoid a mid-life crisis I could predict.”

Though he claims not to have a sweet tooth, Brown says that
while he has been cooking for most of his life, the first time
he ever baked anything was in 1999, when he turned his hand to
an American classic, a chocolate cake.

His family loved it, and thereafter with months of
experimenting and testing his cakes with friends and government
co-workers, Brown decided to launch his own baking business.

“I said to myself: ‘OK I have to basically teach myself how
to bake because I don’t want to go to school again and I’m not
really even sure that I agree with everything I’m learning or
hearing about or seeing how people bake,”‘ he said.

He took what was to be a short leave of absence from his
government job and never returned.

It was a difficult start for Brown. At first, he rented
space in a carryout restaurant in a low rent district and
outfitted that shared kitchen with an oven, a mixer, and a
refrigerator.

After working out of that space for 15 months, taking
orders for cakes online or by phone, Brown opened up his
bakery, CakeLove on U street, a busy pedestrian-friendly
neighborhood about 10 blocks north of the White House.

A year later he opened a cafe, Love Cafe, directly across
the street from the bakery.

Brown has not yet paid off all of his debts, but even so
his bakery made a small profit the first year — a rarity in
the food business.

At CakeLove, a passerby can watch the bakery’s small staff
of about a dozen workers — busily mixing, slicing and
slathering confections, with fresh ingredients of the day right
out in the open.

Brown has many customers willing to wait in line and pay
$55 or more for one of his cakes. The bakery sells about 30 to
40 cakes a day, averaging about $55 each, together with dozens
of cupcakes and pastries.

“I love Brown’s cakes. They are just like my grandmother
used to make,” said Leslie Howe, of Tucson, Arizona, who
recently stopped by the Love Cafe to get an enormous slice of
Brown’s popular toffee crunch cake.

Frosted in rich caramel buttercream, the cake’s sides are
coated in chips of toffee with layers of soft chocolate cake.

The bakery’s most popular cake is made of three layers,
filled with fresh raspberries and frosted with buttercream
laced with a puree of berries.

“People come to CakeLove for very special occasions, you
only have a couple of those in the course of a year,” said
Brown, who is very health conscious and admits to going weeks
without eating any of his creations.

“There’s the calorie count. Nothing’s fat-free at
CakeLove,” he said.

Brown’s first cookbook will be released in 2007.




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