Life for Wrenshall resident is looking pretty sweetEileen Brown may have one of the sweetest careers ever, but her job isn’t always a piece of cake. Cake does, however, play a significant role. As owner of How Sweet It Is Cakes and Deli in Duluth, the rural Wrenshall resident is many things: pastry chef, artist, business woman, cashier, baker, server and all-things-wedding-cake.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Eileen Brown may have one of the sweetest careers ever, but her job isn’t always a piece of cake.
Cake does, however, play a significant role.
As owner of How Sweet It Is Cakes and Deli in Duluth, the rural Wrenshall resident is many things: pastry chef, artist, business woman, cashier, baker, server and all-things-wedding-cake.
She’s also very busy.
Last Friday afternoon, Brown had been awake for 48 hours straight, working during the day at her downtown Duluth deli and at night baking all sorts of cakes, from elaborate wedding cakes to simple (or not so simple) cheesecakes.
“This week we have 49 [cake orders] on top of breads and pies, cookies and bars to bake for the deli,” Brown said, taking a breather after the lunch rush at “How Sweet It Is” deli in the Medical Arts Building on the 300 block of West Superior Street. “And next week, we have at least 30 cakes to make.”
Brown makes cakes for all occasions. They come in various shapes and sizes – try a hippopotamus on for size, or perhaps the Starship Enterprise – along with towering wedding cakes, many of them with as many flavors as they have layers. She even made one tiered cake for an Oct. 31 wedding decorated with chocolate frosting covered in tombstones, dismembered arms, pumpkins, ghouls and a witch’s hat.
Always artistic, Brown didn’t find her medium until she started creating cakes. Now sugar is both her paint and her clay.
“I love the creativity of wedding cakes,” Brown said. “I love getting to know the couple and incorporating that into the cake. … It’s my belief that a cake should actually embody who that couple is at their wedding.”
Brown described a cake she did for a wedding three weeks ago for a couple who wanted the design of their rings on the cake, plus waves to signify sound (he was a musician) as well as the moon rising. Brown made three-dimensional waves coming up the side of the cake, rising higher than the top; on the next tier, she drew the design of the rings, complete with edible sapphires. On the topper, she created a scene where the moon was rising out of the waves.
Simply deciding what cake flavor and fillings to choose is a test in compatibility for any prospective couple. In addition to all the usual flavors, Brown offers cakes in flavors like chocolate banana, double espresso, spiced pear and cardamom and mojito (normally a Cuban cocktail made with sugar, rum, lime juice, sparkling water and mint). Her brochure lists a total of 57 cake flavors on one page and 51 cake fillings on the next.
“I’m not a Sam’s Club or Super One,” Brown said, explaining that anyone asking to see a book of stock cakes to choose from will be disappointed. “We definitely do custom, hand-crafted work. We use the best ingredients and we don’t skimp on anything.”
Her insistence on using only fresh ingredients and making everything from scratch is a major reason recently married Danika and Jacob Oetterer decided they wanted Brown to make their wedding cake (and the cake for Danika’s bridal shower).
Married in Moose Lake Dec. 11, the newly married couple treated friends and family to honey-lavender cake with orange whipped cream filling.
It wasn’t what they thought they would choose in the beginning.
“When Jake and I first met with her, we wanted to either have a marble or red velvet cake for the wedding,” Danika explained. “So, when it came time to chose three samples for testing, of course we wanted to try the marble and red velvet … I told her to pick the third sample. She suggested honey lavender. Neither Jake nor I have ever heard of that flavor for a cake ... so I said, sure.”
Brown suggested orange whipped cream filling for the first layer and regular whipped cream filling for the second layer.
“When Jake and I first received the cakes, I had a slice of the red velvet while he had the marble. We both loved the cake. We wondered how we’d choose between the two... but then we decided to have a piece of the honey lavender. We both took a bite at the same time and had the same reaction. Pure amazement! This cake was so moist, so full of flavor and looked so pretty! How could a cake taste so amazing?”
In the case of wedding cakes, Brown is part of the package. Wedding cakes are, after all, a high-maintenance culinary art form and Brown insists on assembling her wedding cakes on site. If a couple absolutely doesn’t desire her services at the reception, she will acquiesce only if they sign a release form.
“I never deliver a cake stacked,” she said, horror in her voice at the very thought of the disasters that could occur. “About the only time I allow a cake to leave for a wedding [without being delivered and often served by Brown] is if it’s not stacked.”
As noted above, cake figures largely in Brown’s day-to-day life. The license plate on her Toyota – and her husband’s T-shirt at a recent wedding where he helped serve – reads “Got Cake?” Her photos on Flickr are listed under cake battr (cake “batter” was already taken). She likes to experiment with cake and filling flavors in her spare time.
But if cake is her creative outlet, husband (aka “hubbalicious”) Bob Brown is her rock.
It is thanks to Bob – a former college roommate – that Eileen moved back to the Northland after living in Oregon for 14 years.
“He waited 20 years for me,” she said.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple. In the two decades since they’d dated in college, Brown had gotten married, had children and kept in touch with Bob sporadically. Then, when her marriage ended she called him, to apologize, she said.
Bob came to Oregon, not to sweep her off her feet but to end it once and for all.
“He told me, ‘I’ve always been in love with you and I can’t do this anymore. It hurts too much.’”
They started dating immediately and were engaged five months later. Another
five months – Aug. 5, 2007 – and they were married.
“I should have married him a long time ago,” the Duluth native said.
They found a house near Wrenshall and Brown and her two children moved here, leaving her cake business behind in Oregon. Brown got an office job, which she enjoyed, but cakes kept calling her.
Just like before – her initiation into the cake-making business in Oregon started after a joke with a friend backfired – Brown didn’t set out to start a business. She started making cupcakes for a realtor, then word got out.
“And here I am,” she said, gesturing around her as she sat at a table in her deli, while loyal customers and staff members walked in and out of the conversation. “I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Oddly enough, Brown’s mother-in-law, Evie Brown of Duluth, actually made her wedding cake.
“That’s OK,” Eileen said, adding that Evie makes excellent cakes, although she has a different style than Eileen. “I got Bob.”
He’s the icing on her cake.