Caren Sample, owner of the The Bakery At Elkmont, takes her role as a bakery owner as well as “Cake Boss-ette” very seriously, and prays over every custom cake she bakes! It must be working, because business is brisk, and al.com has voted hers the “best cupcake in the Huntsville area.”
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!!” Prior to opening the shop, and while still working 40 hours a week, she’d stay up til 3am to bake, and found it was both therapeutic and energizing.
I met her this past spring when the shop, (which is located on Thach Road right near the I-65 overpass and the RR tracks,) had just opened. I am so pleased to report that this woman’s hard work and sweet spirit are truly paying off, new items have been added, and, as she says, “I am blessed.”
The charming, intimate shop is cozy, with a small, old fashioned wire ice cream tables and chairs in the common area, and “wall words” which say, “May all who enter as guests leave as friends.” I felt that way the first time I walked in, and have continued to do so ever since. At the moment, the Bakery at Elkmont is decorated for Christmas, but not in traditional colors. I think that describes the way Caren does things: beautiful, creative work, with a strong work ethic and values, and always looking to do something “just a little bit different.”
Everything she does is baked fresh, never frozen, and what she calls “baked custom.” She loves “the details, and coming up with new ideas.” She added, “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.” Caren wants the prices to be reasonable, and makes sure the custom cakes, large or small, are made to be affordable for everyone. “I offer quality products with my own personal touch,” she says.
In the months since we did our first Athens Now Special Feature article for The Bakery At Elkmont, some things have changed, and there is much proof of a blossoming business. When the shop first opened, the bulk of Caren’s business was custom work, and word got around quickly. For awhile she was doing 13 custom cakes a week, and has had to scale back on that a bit. Now she does no more than 5 a week, and needs a month’s notice because of the demand. She also does wonderful, reasonably priced wedding cakes, and for those she needs 3 months’ notice.
“We are having great success with our new take-and-bake items,” she told me recently, and they are not all sweets. She has special order sausage balls, and they come in regular flavor, as well as savory and maple. She can bake them for you, or you can finish them in your own oven. She also carries what are known as “Elvis Burgers,” li’l smokies wrapped in bacon, and is currently busy taking orders for the Alabama/Notre Dame Championship game. However, you need to order soon, because she expects to sell out of the special game day party items fairly soon.
Continuing on with the “take and bake” theme, Caren’s assistant, Kristen Kress, is making a name for the shop with her yeast rolls and cinnamon rolls. Kristen will also make yeast items from whole grains, if requested. Another popular item is what Caren refers to as “old fashioned two layer cakes.” They are still made with the same care as the custom cakes, and can be beautifully decorated, but are lower in price due to their familiar “cake shape.” (It’s way trickier to make a cake that looks like a woman’s high heeled shoe, and I’ve seen her do it.)
Recently Caren has started a new service, and that is holding decorating parties for children. The kids get to decorate their own gingerbread man, reindeer cupcake, or waffle cone Christmas tree. The waffle cone, for example, is inverted, the kids cover it with green frosting, and “decorate the tree” with gumdrops and other items. She even teaches them to pipe with a frosting bag, and the parents don’t have to clean up!
Christmas and the New Year are almost here, and I would highly recommend you let Caren help you make your holiday truly sweet, even if you go sugar free or savory. She will show you just what it means to eat something “baked with love.”
The Bakery At Elkmont
23925 Thach Road
Elkmont, AL 35620
Hours: Tue-Wed 8-4
Closed the 1st Tues and last Sat of every month
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner