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The Cakabakery Goes to War

Jason Kakabaker wants to tempt you with sweets.

Jason Kakabaker will be opening his bakery in East Town in mid June.

Jason Kakabaker wants to tempt you with sweets.

Jason Kakabaker wants to tempt you with sweets.

Jason Kakabaker wants to tempt you with sweets.

Cupcakes from Cakabakery.

Jason and friends gather to watch his appearance on Cupcake Wars.

If you're a fan of the Food Network, you might have seen Jason Kakabaker on television recently. The dessert aficionado and proprietor of custom bakery The Cakabakery recently appeared on an episode of Cupcake Wars with his assistant, Michelle Baker. 

That's not Kakabaker's only big announcement, however. Kakabaker, who has been working out of his home since 2010, just landed a new retail space on Wealthy St. in Eastown. He and his partner will live on the top floor of the cakery, and Kakabaker will bake and sell his desserts on the main floor. 

Originally form Kalamazoo, Kakabaker studied marketing at Western Michigan University. He spent 15 years working for Meijer corporate in a variety of departments, always doing desserts on the side. His passion for desserts was something he'd picked up in high school working at an ice cream shop where he learned how to decorate ice cream cakes.

In the summer of 2010, he turned his dessert operation into his primary gig, and says sales have been crazy ever since. "In order to keep up with the orders," he says, "I honestly had to get a space. I can't say no to an order, and I'd been doing it out of a regular-sized oven."

The Cakabakery will take over the iconic windmill building at 1436 Wealthy St. SE as soon as organic pasta shop The Local Epicurean moves into their new space in the historic Harris Building on S. Division (see related article here). The Cakabakery will still be a custom bakery and dessert caterer, but will also feature cakes, tarts, cakepops, caramel corn, and other treats for the walk-in customer. "There's also a really cute courtyard in between us and the next venue over (we can use) for small receptions," Kakabaker says. 

The Cakabakery can do full-on dessert spreads with a little bit of everything, as well as design custom-made desserts. Kakabaker rattles off a few projects, including making a cake that looked like a burger and an upcoming project where he'll be making a cake in the shape of downtown's Ledyard Building. 

A brief glance through photos of former projects reveals an elegant aesthetic. "I think our style is really unique as far as what we produce, and it's got its own feel," he says.  "I don't want to say it's masculine, because we can get kind of girly if we need to, but our designs are truly one of a kind."

Kakabaker also makes everything from scratch -- "you'll never see a bag or a mix in my shop," he assures. His unique list of cupcake flavors include maple bacon, dark chocolate merlot, vanilla chardonnay, cherry wheat lager, peanut butter and jelly, and banana peanut butter. One interesting gift idea is a 'cake-a-long,' a cake baked into a mason jar, topped with chocolate ganache. Kakabaker attaches a vintage spoon to the jar for a complete package that makes for a unique item that can be easily shipped. He also makes vegan and gluten-free desserts. 

A vegan cupcake was how he made his way onto Cupcake Wars. The Tender Palate, a foodie blog devoted to finding great allergen-free food options, taste-tested numerous vegan and gluten-free desserts around Grand Rapids. The Cakabakery's Raspberry Lemonade cupcake was declared the unanimous favorite among testers searching for the best vegan cupcake in the city. The blog entry made its way to Los Angeles, where Cupcake Wars staff decided to reach out to Kakabaker and invite him to appear on the show. 

The phone call came in November. "I had to keep it top secret," Kakabaker says. "We had a huge confidentiality contract."

Kakabaker was flown out to Los Angeles to shoot at Sony Studios. "We had The Voice right next door to us, and Wheel of Fortune on the other side," he laughs. "It was so exciting and very fun -- they treat you really well."

Cupcake Wars consists of three rounds. It begins with four bakers and their assistants, and after each round, one baker is eliminated. The first round involves developing a recipe using an odd ingredient of the show's choice -- in this case, buckwheat. The second round requires the baker to create three cupcakes centering around the theme of the episode. In Kakabaker's episode, the theme was 'outer space.' The final round charges the two finalists to bake 1000 cupcakes in two hours and "decorate them all to the hilt," Kakabaker explains. 

Kakabaker's friends and supporters packed the upstairs portion of Peppino's for the May 19 showing of his TV appearance, and the crowd was as boisterous as the audience for any sports game. Ultimately, Kakabaker finished second, but not before receiving gushing praise from the judges for his "dark chocolate merlot" cupcake. 

"Sometimes, they ask people to come back," Kakabaker says, including contestants who did not take first place, "so you never know."

The Cakabakery is tentatively scheduled to open to the public in late June. 

Photography by Adam Bird

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