The new aroma of Tacoma

It smells like cake

By Jessica Corey-Butler on October 4, 2007

Breathe in, Tacoma.

Do you smell that?

It smells an awful lot like happiness in a mouthful.

It smells an awful lot like the kinds of sweet treats granny used to have waiting for you, the kinds of treats celebrations culminate in. It smells like the kind of treats that have a naughty, decadent feel to them, the kind of treat that invariable begins and ends in a smile.

“Cake reminds you of being a kid,” suggests Jessica Gaya, who owns the Corina Bakery with her husband, Walt. Their ’50s-style confections range from huge cakes by the slice to cupcakes, to scones and cookies. Many of the recipes used in the bakery are from the period when your grandma might have been learning to bake — handmade with fresh ingredients.

“We opened it because we knew it would work,” Gaya explains of the idea behind the nearly two-year-old bakery.

“Food is not going to go out of style,” she explains, adding that the feeling of being nurtured with home-made food feeds the soul just like the calories fuel the body; the environment that encourages families to come in and read or relax together over a slice of cake also adds to that nurtured, comfortable vibe.

Sisters Odette D’Aniello and Mary Ann Quitugua operate the Celebrity Cake Studio along with cousin Wallace Bolo. D’Aniello speculates that it’s also a cake’s role as centerpiece to a celebration that creates a portion of its allure; her company puts out edible works of art fitting the themes of special events.

“We help with the celebration.”

D’Aniello speculates they do “hundreds and hundreds” of wedding cakes a year; this experience can come in handy when coming to the rescue of a bridal party whose cake was botched in transit or melted to the ground. “You don’t think a cake matters until it goes wrong — then it does matter.”

Growing up in the bakery business, D’Aniello says she and her partners have the experience to where, “I can guarantee that a cake will be there, no matter what.”

Through their collective 34 years of experience, after a family background in baking in Guam, they’ve developed a loyal following even outside the realm of wedding cakes. “We have a customer who finds every reason to celebrate — Happy Spring, even Happy Doctor’s Appointment for her mom. For her, random events are celebrations and deserve cake.”

But she admits she has limits: “If a customer wants a torte-style, decadent chocolatey-chocolate cake, I’ll send people to Gay (Landry, owner of Affairs in University Place. She’s more toward confection.”

Landry, too, sends people who want other types of cakes to the different bakeries. “We work together really closely,” she says of Celebrity Cake Studio and Corina Bakery; “it’s a really neat community.”

Landry developed her confectionary style dabbling in truffle-making prior to opening a shop. “We specialized in truffles, then moved to desserts,” Landry explains, “then moved on to lunch.”

Starting small meant she could balance home and family with business. “I realized the folly of having a child and opening a restaurant.”

Now Affairs has grown into a family business that’s part lunch and dinner restaurant, part educational outlet with monthly dessert classes, part catering business, part truffle wholesaler.

“If I’m not busy, I’m dreaming stuff up,” explains Landry of the many evolutions of the business.

Like Affairs, Celebrity Cake Studio, and Corina Bakery, the city’s new kid on the bakery block, is a family affair: Reina Miller’s business, hello cupcake, just opened last month, began as an idea presented by her mother and co-owner of the business, Tina Miller, after reading about New York’s cupcake bakeries in Sunset Magazine.

In high school, Reina would find herself engaged in “dream chat” with her five siblings about “their cupcake business.”

After a brief stint at Western Washington University, Miller “found herself;” she recalls the conversation went something like this: “Mom, let’s open our shop!”

Miller’s father, Phil, third owner of the shop, also helped with construction, while the two female Millers worked on details like painting and design elements that give the shop it’s distinctive feel that Miller describes as “Mom in the kitchen, but not too Mom in the kitchen.”

Additionally, recounts Miller, “Our plan was to have it be really family run,” with siblings helping on the floor and in the kitchen. “We didn’t anticipate having to need employees so quickly.”

But the need for employees became obvious in the first few days of business when the curious hordes overwhelmed the shop and ate all the inventory before closing.

“Cupcakes are for everyone,” Miller speculates about the instant popularity of the shop.

As with other Tacoma area bakeries, though, it’s the quality of the cupcakes that keeps people coming back, and breathing the sweet new aroma of Tacoma.

[Corina Bakery, 510 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.627.5070]

[Celebrity Cake Studio, 602 E. 25th St., Tacoma, 253.627.4773]

[Affairs Chocolate & Desserts, 2811 Bridgeport Way W., University Place, 253.565.8604]

[hello, cupcake, 1740 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.383.7772]