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Leaving Law for <i>Cakelove</i> - 2002-06-27

As a high school student, Washingtonian Warren Brown chose an ambitious career path. After graduating from prestigious Brown University, he earned a Law degree as well as a masters degree in Public Health at George Washington University here in the nation's capital. Then he became an attorney for the federal government. But Mr. Brown says he has always liked baking more than litigation. So after two years on the job, he decided to change his profession. The result is Cakelove, a small shop in Washington, specializing in homemade cakes.

BROWN: "I was a lawyer for Health and Human Services. I practiced litigation, fraud and abuse cases, emergency-room regulation and secretly always wanted to work in the food business. I like everything about food, whether it's looking at and studying the ingredients or studying recipes and how different things can be worked together and used together. The history of food is something that fascinates me. I've always liked putting things together. When I was a little kid, I'd build models of military equipment, some planes, but mostly tanks and soldiers and I had lots of match-box and hot-wheels cars. I've always liked to play with lots of little things and in the kitchen, baking, it's like you are playing with a lot of things. You are just working with different stages of the cake: mixing the batter, panning it, baking it. You are going to turn it out of the pan, so you've got to split it and assemble it. Then you have to do your decoration. We do minimum decoration here because we think that the cake itself is an art form."

FEMALE CUSTOMER: "I discovered Cakelove about two weeks ago. Myself and two colleagues of mine decided to take a walk because it was a nice day. And we came down and we discovered this wonderful cake place and it's home made, it's like your mother made it."

MALE CUSTOMER: "This is the thing. This is the important thing to know about Cakelove: Nothing here is a little snack. It's the real thing. So it's not like it's calorie-free, fat-free, sugar-free. It's the real thing. So, you know when they talk about the fact that fat makes food taste good? Well, at Cakelove they've proven that."

BROWN: "We really wanted to be something that focuses just on what people want rather than what they need. People need bread, you've got to have that, staff of life, stuff like that, but cake is, it just gets you, you know, on the inside. So I'm really busy".

CAKELOVE EMPLOYEE: "We take the time to do the recipes well and we watch them, we baby-sit them."

BROWN: "We have a mix of the methods of production, but we have a pretty distinctly American-looking cake because we are in the States and we've got to make sure that people understand that we are not trying to sell them something that they did not get used to growing up with. And that's what we are really selling. My sister put it this way: she said you sell memories. You sell them what grandma made, you sell them what people have when they are in grade school."

FEMALE CUSTOMER: "I'm from the South and we "love you" with food and this reminds me so much of home."

BROWN: "I mean the cup cakes are very popular I think because people haven't had something like that since they were a little kid. I asked someone today: when's the last time you had a cupcake, often. (And the answer was) Oh, you know, grade school, when someone had a birthday and that's a lot of what we are using to make sure people, I don't know, accept, give themselves permission to have this kind of cake, you know. Because there's a lot of guilt sometimes associated with this thing. But we don't need to be guilty."

MALE CUSTOMER: "I love Cakelove.

BROWN: "We are on U-Street in Washington D.C. It's in the Northwest quad of D.C. and we are about a mile and a half or two, north of the White House. It's a very mixed population of all demographics, sexual persuasions, everything. And they don't look the same, they don't sound the same, they don't dress the same. Everyone's just different here."

MALE CUSTOMER: "I was born and raised in Brazil, but I work down the street at 18th and U streets. And this is like the best place in the world. Everybody should come and get their pastries and everything else here. Why? Because there's no place around here that provides such good service, friendly people, diverse people and also really, really yummy cakes."

FEMALE CUSTOMER: "I think that the U-Street corridor, as it is being revitalized by the mayor and the city, can really use something like this, you know, locally owned business."

BROWN: "I chose this area because I said to myself, look, you've got to get weekend sales. That's where the money really is in terms of just making sure that business can survive. It's not really about money though. It's really about me trying to find satisfaction. I am very happy doing what I'm doing. I am very happy about my choice. I've got no regrets whatsoever."