- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2007

Independent bakeries have found some sweet teeth.

Bakeries, whether they serve cakes like your grandma made or vegan muffins, are enjoying a bit of a resurgence throughout the Washington area.

“New York, D.C., Miami, L.A. — they’re booming,” said Mark Gedris, director of membership at the Retail Bakers of America, a trade group in McLean. “It’s an environment with high visibility with cakes and baked goods.”

The all-vegan Sticky Fingers Bakery, U Street’s CakeLove and Latin American-style My Bakery Cafe are expanding. Buzz and Sweet Jane Desserts, both in Alexandria, and Ocean City favorite Fractured Prune have opened up shop in the D.C. area. Other bakeries, such as C3Fix, a bakery and late-night shop, are vying for available space.

“Apparently there’s a real need for [bakeries],” said Kirsten Rosenberg, who with Doron Petersan moved four-year-old Sticky Fingers Bakery from a small Adams Morgan shop to a space twice the size on Park Road Northwest in Columbia Heights late last year.

“People are so happy to have a local bakery in their neighborhood,” said Ms. Rosenberg, whose shop sells vegan goods — made without eggs or dairy products. “People seem really grateful to have us here. It doesn’t matter that we’re vegan or not.”

Much of the industry growth has been from specialty bakers rather than the full-line bakeries that reigned in the 20th century, Mr. Gedris said.

The demand for sweet baked goods began to rebound in 2005 — when sales reached $11.94 billion nationwide — with the waning of a low-carbohydrate diet craze that hurt the industry, according to Packaged Foods, a division of MarketResearch.com in Rockville. Sales had climbed to $12.16 billion in 2001 before dropping to as low as $11.89 billion in 2004.

“Palates have become more sophisticated in the past 15 years or so,” said Keith Sellars, vice president for retail and development at the Washington, DC Economic Partnership, a public-private organization charged with attracting development to the city.

Consumers are willing to pay more for a higher-quality product, he said.

Mr. Gedris credits much of the renewed popularity of high-quality baked goods to CakeLove, which has locations on U Street and in Silver Spring.

Since opening his first shop in 2002, owner Warren Brown has appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and the Food Network.

“A lot of them are pulling off Warren Brown’s success,” Mr. Gedris said. “He’s a very visible feature in the D.C. area and he’s made quite a name for himself between TV appearances and the bakeries and cafe.”

Reintroducing baked-from-scratch goods turned out to be no cakewalk.

“People had been baking with Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker,” Mr. Brown said. “They’re accustomed to that as the flavor and texture of cake.”

Within three weeks after opening CakeLove, Mr. Brown had to alter his recipes to make them more like the boxed cakes that were familiar to customers. Now, he said, customers are more willing to try new things. His shops have been so successful that he is planning a third in Shirlington.

Other bakers are trying to find space in the D.C. area.

Justin Stegall, a D.C. native who spent a few years baking in cupcake-loving New York, is hoping to open a bakery in the District.

“Washington, D.C., and the surrounding areas … are becoming more and more aware of good food and good places, not chains, but mom-and-pop shops,” he said.

Debra C. Chatman is so confident that Washingtonians need more pies and cakes that she gave up a paralegal career to open her bakery.

“I think there is enough room in the metro area for anyone to open a bakery or a pie shop or whatever. I don’t think they have enough,” she said.

D’Vine Cravings on Ninth Street Northwest on the exterior of the Washington Convention Center is scheduled to open this spring.

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