Caren Sample, owner of the The Bakery At Elkmont does something that some might find interesting and unusual, even in the Bible Belt. She prays over every custom cake she bakes! It’s not that Miss Caren is asking God to intervene and prevent her from causing a train wreck in Cakeland, it’s that she wants it to be as creative, beautiful and excellent as possible, and figures the best way to make that happen is to look to her Creator. Smart girl.
Caren has always made cakes as gifts for people. It energizes her, new ideas keep her awake at night, and as she says with passion, “I
LOVE making cakes!!” She worked for the government for several years, and then the economy went sideways and the contracts vanished. Even while still working 40 hours a week she’d stay up til 3 am to bake her precious creations, and found it was both therapeutic and energizing. It wasn’t until she was all finished that she felt the least bit tired. She eventually took a Wilton Cake class, as well as a private one, and her family and friends encouraged her to “go for it,” i.e., start making custom cakes professionally and full-time as her own boss.
The problem was location and start-up costs, and literally, from the “thinking about it” stage to signing the lease, it was three weeks. A former restaurant in a small strip mall located near the RR tracks on Thach Road near the I-65 overpass opened up out of nowhere, the rent was more than reasonable, and the rest is history.
The Bakery At Elkmont is cozy, with a small old fashioned wire ice cream table and four chairs in the common area, and “wall words” which say “May all who enter as guests leave as friends.” That’s how I felt the day I first met Caren, only a few days after she had opened her doors. She desperately loves God, people, North Alabama, and… the Cake Boss!! I don’t mean that in the wrong way, but she is so impressed with his work that she’d fly to Hoboken, NJ and stand in line for three hours just to get into his bakery, meet him, and sample his baked wares.
In fact, she entered the Cake Boss contest being held in Memphis, but had to drop out due to some scheduling conflicts, but one of her dreams is to try out for the Cake Boss TV program. I do believe between her passion and her talent, she has a clear shot at the title, and the Cake Boss would be remiss if he didn’t choose her as a contestant.
Everything she does is baked fresh, never frozen, and “baked custom.” She loves “the details, and coming up with new ideas.” Just recently she made a Super Mario Brothers birthday cake that was a masterpiece. She makes cup cakes that have different themes each week, and often sells out 2 to 3x a week. She makes “cake pops” on lollipop sticks that look like dalmation puppies, and “smash cakes” for baby’s first or second birthday where doing a “face plant” is not only tolerated, but expected. But there is something more than the “sweetness of something sweet” that drives her to put in long hours and the hard work of being a sole proprietor.
“I want the Bakery At Elkmont to be a place where memories are baked,” she said. “A custom cake helps solidify the memory of an event, makes it go deeper.” Everything is special, fresh, something different. Caren wants the prices to be reasonable, and wants the custom cakes, large or small to be affordable for everyone. “I offer quality products with my own personal touch,” she says.
Business is good. She is booked into mid-July, and right now is averaging about 10 custom cakes a week. She expects to hire someone by fall, and gets help with the counter sales on the days when she has several custom cakes to do. A person more joyful about their work I have rarely seen, and you would do well to make the journey to the Bakery At Elkmont, and taste what Caren calls cakes “baked with love.”