Nestled between a church and an insurance agency just beyond the back gates of Mills, only a striped, purple awning and a matching splash of purple paint sets this hole-in-the-wall café, That Takes The Cake, apart from the uniform green of its neighbors.
Previously located in San Francisco, That Takes The Cake, a small cupcake shop, was purchased and moved to Oakland in 2012 by Wendy Pollitz, and has sat quietly on MacArthur Boulevard ever since. The little store was almost forgotten by the neighborhood and nearly sold off in late 2015, before consultant, contractor, and pastry chef Robert Byrd got involved and saw potential in the little shop.
“Wendy was about to put this business up for sale, and she asked my opinion, and I said ‘No!’” Byrd said. “This business can be profitable, you just haven’t taken the right approach.”
Since Byrd joined That Takes The Cake, the small team of managers has worked to revitalize the store from the bottom up. Everything from the menu to the physical structure of the store has changed, and the management team believes that their transformation is only just beginning.
On Valentine’s Day 2016, they held an official relaunch ceremony, unveiling new products, a new look for the store and a new business model based on customer convenience and community outreach. Since their relaunch, business has taken off like nothing they’ve ever seen in their three-year tenure in Oakland.
Mills also plays a big part in many of these new plans for the improvement and expansion of the storefront. A partnership with the Urban Farm is of particular interest to That Takes The Cake.
“That is something that I think would be awesome,” Byrd said. “If we could cross promote each other but also go extremely farm-to-table.”
In addition to aspirations of partnership with Mills’ Urban Farm, That Takes The Cake also hopes to become a haven to Mills students looking for a place to study and escape the campus for the afternoon, even providing special deals and discounts just for Mills students. Earlier this semester, the company catered Mills’ Board of Presidents meeting, and hopes to continue to be a presence at future campus events.
Mills is not the only part of the community That Takes The Cake is interested in reaching out to. Since its opening in 2013, the store has been working with various youth employment organizations in Oakland, including Youth Employment Partnership and Youth UpRising. Their partnership with these organizations not only provides much needed employment for high school students in the community, but also provides opportunities for young, aspiring bakers and pastry chefs to be taught by the experts, and learn about running a business.
Seretha Woodland, manager and baker at That Takes The Cake, was once a young baking enthusiast herself, but grew up without the opportunities her store affords young people now. She taught herself to bake in middle school, and has developed her skills and achieved success as a professional baker with no formal training. The opportunities That Takes The Cake affords these kids, Woodland feels, are valuable no matter what career path they plan to enter.
“We’re actually helping them out with real-world experience,” Woodland said.
Though the shop has been a constant experiment to maintain, for its owners and managers, the satisfaction of seeing the business bloom and make a home for itself in Oakland has been well worth the work.
“I was looking for something that would help expand my creative side,” Pollitz said. “It’s still way out of my comfort zone, but it’s been immediately fulfilling.”
These changes are already ushering in a new era for That Takes The Cake, and with their team’s dedication to quality and success, the era seems likely to last.
“The goal here is always to make sure to go above and beyond someone’s expectations,” Byrd said.
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