- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

Warren Brown should be bigger through the middle. He has a passion for food and is surrounded by freshly baked cakes, tarts, cookies and cupcakes.

Mr. Brown exercises to keep his weight in check, but his bakery business continues to expand. The 34-year-old Cleveland native was a federal government lawyer nearly five years ago, working in the Inspector General’s Office of the Department of Health and Human Services.

After just two years there, the 1998 graduate of the George Washington University Law School embraced an urge to bake.

In 2000 he took a leave of absence from his government job to bake and lay out a vision for his bakery. In 2001 he walked away from his job. In 2002 he opened Cakelove, which has become a bustling bakery.

Three years ago he wasn’t sure the business would succeed, but now Mr. Brown is walking across U Street NW from Cakelove to Lovecafe, the coffee-and-dessert cafe he opened to serve as the retail outlet for the baked goods that are prepared across the street each day.

“When I decided to do this, people said, ‘You’ve got a job. Why leave that?’ They wondered how I would make a living baking cake. That’s valid. The concern people expressed was given with good intent and well received,” he said.

Mr. Brown and his staff make pastries from scratch using all-natural ingredients. Cakes are his signature dish — chocolate, vanilla and pound cakes — and typically cost from $48 to $65.

That’s a lot of money for a cake, but demand indicates people are willing to pay for high-quality cakes. Cakelove got off to a slow start, with Mr. Brown working in his apartment, then in a kitchen he rented at a restaurant on 14th Street NW. Now the bakery prepares up to 40 cakes a day, and his 23 employees are baking and selling scores of cupcakes and other pastries that weren’t on the menu three years ago in a cafe that didn’t exist until 2003.

Demand may stem in part from the following Mr. Brown has built. He has become a master marketer who is always working to publicize his name and his ever-growing company. He appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” two years ago.

“We had a huge bump in business after that,” he said.

He’s also been on two programs on cable television’s Food Network. That’s where Rene Hanebutt discovered Mr. Brown. Miss Hanebutt walked into the bakery late one afternoon this week.

“I just wanted to stop in and say hi,” she said.

Miss Hanebutt, a teacher at an elementary school outside Dallas, said she came to the District for a spring-break vacation and felt compelled to stop by Cakelove. She saw an episode of the Food Network’s “Best of …” program that featured five bakers, including Mr. Brown, and their best desserts.

“This was my first stop” in the District, she said.

Mr. Brown’s public relations efforts are making Cakelove a monument to dessert.

Demand has persuaded Mr. Brown to open bakeries in Rockville and Silver Spring, perhaps this year. He hopes to open 10 bakeries throughout the area and branch out to other cities.

He is also busy spreading the word about Cakelove by continuing to market his name. This week Mr. Brown signed a contract with publisher John Wiley and Sons Inc. to write a book about baking cakes.

“The main thing I want to do is take the mystery out of baking cakes,” he said.

Baking was a mystery to him. He has a long love affair with cooking, but he found baking difficult. He didn’t make his first cake until 1999. He describes it as a disaster, but the self-taught baker kept plugging away.

Mr. Brown has little time to bake now because running Cakelove and Lovecafe requires a lot of energy. Spending less time in the kitchen should ensure that he doesn’t get any bigger through the middle.

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