From inauspicious beginnings as a cake wholesaler in 2001 has arisen a giant of the dessert world. The wholesale business, directed toward restaurants and hotels, expanded rapidly, necessitating a move to a larger space and eventually begetting a boutique cake shop on the Upper East Side in 2004. After opening a second location in the Plaza Food Hall in 2012, Lady M opened this shop in 2013, and has seen business continue to boom. The Japanese chain now spans international borders to Singapore, in a demonstration of the power of a quality product. The specialties here are the Lady M Mille Crepes, cakes made by stacking alternating layers of ultra-thin crepes and sweet light pastry cream. The vanilla Mille-Feuille is a classic; the green tea rendition demonstrates the signature blending of French and Japanese styles. But the roster goes deeper than its star player: the cheesecake won New York Magazine's best cheesecake award in 2006, the coronne du chocolat was featured as one of the chicest chocolate cakes in the city by Vogue Magazine. It is a treasure trove for the sweet-toothed. The simple, airy, elegant architecture of the space, with only a few tables to sit at, perfectly enhances the experience.
After visiting Lady M’s location at Bryant Park, I was excited to stop by the original on the Upper East Side. I saw many of the same breathtakingly vibrant cakes and tarts lined up behind refrigerated glass, but the 78th Street spot also offers a selection of croissants, salads, and sandwiches. We heard from Ken Romaniszyn, the founder, that the savory lunch items work best at the founding store because regulars do not think of Lady M as a high end cake shop, but rather as a neighborhood café that has been around for years. “When we started, this was just a quiet little bakery, ” he said. “In 2015, it’s very different. ” Lady M now has multiple locations around the world. They just opened in Hong Kong and are looking forward to a new store in Boston. Ken brings an extraordinary expertise to Lady M, as he is a graduate of Harvard Business School, but also attended the French Culinary Institute. "I like numbers, " he stated simply, but he also appreciates beautiful desserts. Since opening his first retail shop in 2004 - named after Emi Wada, a family friend and baker in Japan - he has continued to expand into the Plaza and Rockefeller Center. He is also hoping to have a space in the new World Trade Center. Ken is proud to say that he might be the only business to exist in all three places. When I inquired about their kitchen, Ken told me that all of the New York baking is done in a 14, 000 square foot space in Long Island City, Lady M currently has forty-five to fifty cakes on its roster. Of those, there are five or six signature cakes that are always in stock. The others on display change with the seasons. When we were visiting in December, many of the cakes featured chestnuts for the holidays, having just taken the place of the pumpkin flavors. Ken's favorite, however, the strawberry shortcake, seems to be available throughout the year. Ken admitted that it makes him nostalgic for summers spent in Japan as a child. Lady M is probably best known for its mille crepes cakes in which paper-thin crepes are piled high to create a creamy confection. Lady M can even make wedding cakes out of their signature mille crepes – in fact, this is what Ken recently chose for his own wedding cake. When I commented on how beautifully and consistently constructed every cake is, Ken smiled and stated, “This is what we do, so we do it well” - adding that since every cake is handmade, if it is not perfect, it is discarded. It was also a delight to meet Sarah Altemeyer, Lady M’s brand new marketing director, who was eager to share a bit more about Lady M’s projects and plans for the future. She said that she is hoping to introduce bite-size cake samples, so that people can try more than one flavor during a visit. She also informed me of Ken’s plans to decrease waste: for example, the kitchen often has a lot of leftover egg whites, so they have started making Asian-flavored macarons (green tea, red bean, yuzu, etc. ). Though they are not available for purchase, yet, there is a possibility that they might be in the not too distant future. Lady M also recently introduced its own tea brand and, finally, Lady M is bringing WiFi into each of its locations. While speaking with Ken and Sarah, I was struck by how upbeat they are about the cake business. Smiling, Ken said, “We’re in the happy business. " He gets to brighten people’s day with delicious food and help them out when they are most inclined to be in a good mood. Ken feels very fortunate and is quite confident in his industry's longevity: “This is not a craze, ” he told me. “It’s forever. Cake is consistent – it’s nostalgia. ”
Many times, when I see decorative cakes with towering sculptures of fondant and intricately molded details, I find myself preferring to look at them rather than eating them. This is not so with Bill Schutz's masterpieces at Creative Cakes; the perfectly crafted desserts, each made with a chocolate fudge base and buttercream frosting, are absolutely worth devouring. Bill never realized that he would make a living baking cakes. Back in high school, he would create cakes for girls' birthdays in his youth group. "I was doing it for the fun of it out of mom's kitchen, " he explained, and then went on to tell me that he had never received any professional training as a baker. "It came naturally. " His hobby stuck with him, even after he earned a degree in biology. In 1979, he began working at a cake shop. The Creative Cakes company became Bill's in 1985, and he has been astonishing people with his edible creations ever since. Bill was pleased to tell me that most of his business has come via word of mouth, with the frequently uttered reaction to his desserts being, "Where'd you get that cake? "Bill is adamant about his chocolate-fudge-and-buttercream-frosting combo. If someone is desperate for a vanilla cake base, he will pop open a box of Betty Crocker, but otherwise he sticks to his tried-and-true recipe. His tasty decorative cakes, which he has constructed in every shape from Yankee stadium to personalized Monopoly boards, have been especially popular among celebrities. The small storefront is filled with photographs of famous figures cutting into his cakes. Sports Illustrated even put a picture of Muhammad Ali holding his 50th Birthday cake, made by Bill, on the cover. Bill was especially excited when Michael J. Fox asked him to make a cake. He has always been an enormous fan of the actor, and when the party planners found out, they invited Bill to meet him. When I asked Bill if there was a particular cake that stood out in his mind through the years, he pointed to a photograph of one that he made for the Statue of Liberty's 100th Birthday. It was an enormous construction, covered in a detailed architectural icing design, featuring the Statue of Liberty at its center. He also showed me a cake that was covered in colored writing - "I love the way my writing turns out, " he laughed. It had been requested by an employee at the Museum of Modern Art. He called it a "head trip" when someone who worked in the art world requested one of his cakes. When asked if he had a favorite creation over all these years, he replied, "Once they're made, I'm always proud of them... I put my heart and soul into each one. "I was very happy to hear from Bill that the specialty cake community is a kind and close-knit one. When I pointed out a cake in his book that had an image printed on it, as opposed to his usual detailed icing work, he proudly said that his wife helps him with the photo printing, since she is better with computers. He added, however, that he often suggests people go to Edie at Cakes 'N Shapes if they want a printed cake, while she often sends those who want free form cakes Bill's way. When I commented that it seemed like a very friendly, joyous industry to work in, Bill agreed. "It's nice because you get to make people happy. I'll never be a billionaire, but I love my job. "
When asked what cake means to her, Lisa Mansour did not hesitate for a second: “Cake is happiness! ” she exclaimed. An award-winning cake decorator and owner of NY Cake, Lisa has had a hand in shaping the baking industry, from judging competitions to creating new and innovative product lines. In addition, Lisa has been inducted into The Wilton Method Instructor Hall of Fame and has won several awards from the Societé Culinaire Philanthropique. Besides her own hard work and determination, Lisa attributes her many accomplishments to a long family tradition of dessert-loving. Her grandmother was a chocolatier and her mother, Joan, a cake decorator, who opened The Chocolate Gallery in the ’80s. In 1989, Lisa and Joan grew The Chocolate Gallery into a store and school that focused purely on cake decorating. Then, in 1992, the duo opened NY Cake & Baking Supply on West 22nd Street. The business boomed, and, in October 2018, moved into a new, larger space just down the street from their old location. NY Cake is a baker’s paradise. The new location includes a commercial kitchen, a café where customers can purchase baked goods and coffee, and an expanded school. And, of course, there is the sprawling retail section that first put NY Cake on the map. Here, one can buy every baking supply imaginable and then some: cake and pie pans in multiple shapes and sizes, cupcake wrappers, chocolate molds, cookie cutters, food coloring, rolling pins, and hundreds and hundreds of other items. It is overwhelming in the best sense, stacked ceiling high with everything needed to create that special dessert. The idea, according to Lisa, was to provide something for every sweet tooth. “If you like to bake yourself, you can get your supplies in the back. If you wanna learn how to do it, you can come and take a class. Or, if you have no desire to bake, you can just come in, sit, have a coffee and have a treat. ”The expansion has been stressful, to be sure (“I’ve never worked so hard, ” Lisa confessed), but the challenge is what makes it so exciting for her. With the extra space, they have been able to grow the NY Cake line of specialty baking products–designed to help bakers execute intricate cake designs, such as a Chanle-esque quilted bag–and have started selling a series of blinged-out cake stands that are sure to jazz up any dessert table. The larger school can accommodate twice as many students, and the industrial kitchen has allowed them to actually sell cakes, rather than just helping people make them. “It’s so fulfilling for me to teach, to take an order, ” Lisa said, “It makes me happy. ”In addition to professional customers from bakeries, wholesalers, and restaurants, NY Cake has carved out a market among amateur baking enthusiasts and counts many Chelsea and Flatiron locals among its regulars. That sense of community loyalty goes both ways: From baking competitions and events to the cake-pop class Lisa volunteered to teach at a center for the blind on 23rd Street, NY Cake is a true neighbor. This might stem in part from the fact that the store is as much family as business. Three generations of Mansours work at NY Cake (I met Lisa’s nephew, sister and mother during our interview), and even those who are not blood-related are part of their big, happy “cake family. ”
It is easy to pass by City Cakes, but if that happens, circle back and find it. The first time I went in, there were several regular customers squished into this tiny basement bakeshop, hotly debating their favorite cookie flavor, with the consensus being oatmeal raisin. I sampled the triple chocolate spice cookie, a sensational blend of chocolates and ground cloves. On a subsequent visit, we learned about the new breakfast cupcake, which was being highly praised and considered remarkable - a pancake-batter cupcake, topped with maple butter crème and fresh bacon bits. Owners Marc Matthias and Benny Rivera started this business as a custom cake studio in 2005. Due to demand, the two expanded the bakery and began selling directly to the public. Benny does the design, while Marc handles the cake construction and marketing. They are a great duo that shoots for non-traditional designs and superb flavors. The cakes are wondrous to look at and taste divine, but to indulge in any of their smaller treats is also heavenly. On any given Friday or Saturday, one can stop by to observe the cake assembly, but while there, it is essential to try something else - be it a classic chocolate chip cookie, a sugardoodle cookie, or a salted caramel cupcake.