Chico woman opens canine bakery in memory of beloved pooch
Being in Carin Hilgeman’s presence, one quickly gets the feeling that there’s something exceptional about her. Hilgeman exudes a palpable energy that is enthusiastic, entertaining and compassionate all at the same time.
Hilgeman—known by many Chicoans as chairwoman of the Chico Arts Commission—is also the culinary whiz-woman behind the local doggie-treat bakery-business Ace’s Cakes.
Recently, I walked from my south-Chico home down to tiny Rotary Park with my daughter, Lydia, and our dog, Peanut, in tow, to meet Hilgeman, and to give Peanut the opportunity to sample her doggy delicacies.
Hilgeman, wearing a brown T-shirt with the word “bark” emblazoned across the front in white letters, hopped out of her car with a cheery “Hi!” and an infectious smile. Next, she carried an assortment of goodies across the lawn and placed them on a picnic table: packages of peanut-butter and blueberry-peanut-butter dog biscuits, a Chinese-restaurant carry-out box of canine cake mix, a brown corduroy dog toy resembling a giant gingerbread man, and a big white box containing an “Ace Cake.”
“Dogs, I think, are just fabulous entities—special creatures,” she said as she pet Peanut and offered him a peanut-butter biscuit, which he gratefully gobbled down.
Ace’s Cakes came about, she explained, as the result of a farewell party she had for her beloved dog Ace, shortly before he was put down due to the bone cancer he was diagnosed with in the summer of 2006.
Hilgeman recalled the party she threw to which 22 dogs and their humans were invited—a party featuring a low-to-the-ground “spring-water buffet,” assorted dog biscuits, two doggy swimming pools and “about a hundred tennis balls.”
And a cake. A big, carob-flavored, plain-yogurt-drizzled, doggy birthday cake shaped like a bone that she ended up creating herself after being unable to find anyone who made cakes for dogs, or a packaged cake mix meant for canines.
Since then, Hilgeman has hosted “easily four parties a year” for dogs she knows, parties that these days include piñatas filled with Ace’s Cakes dog biscuits.
“The boxers are always the first to jump high enough to rip a hole in [the piñata], and then all the other dogs are happy,” she said.
“Ace’s spirit lives on,” said Hilgeman, in the cakes, biscuits and mixes she produces with human-grade ingredients. (After Peanut tried a piece of the cake, I did, too. It was good—rather plain, like a dense, barely sweet bread.)
Hilgeman studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Berkeley, and does all her own graphic design. She removed the bag of cake mix from its artfully decorated box to show me the realistic-looking “paw print” she impresses into the bag with her fingers before vacuum-sealing it. “Ace’s paw of approval is embossed into the packaging,” she offered.
The blueberries in the biscuits, she added, “help dogs fight cancer with antioxidants. I just thought that was super cute.”
Ace’s Cakes is about to bring out a brand-new line of teensy dog biscuits, to be named “Lil’ Wee” biscuits, after Hilgeman’s late tea-cup poodle, Lil’ Wee, a rescue dog that she had to put down recently.
“Oh my God, I fell in love with that little biscuit,” she said emotionally of first seeing Lil’ Wee at the animal shelter.
These days, Hilgeman revels in the canine company of Bane and Pasha, her boyfriend’s two bull mastiffs, and her own pup, an Australian cattle dog named Rex Ryder. Bane’s most recent birthday party was pirate-themed; Pasha’s was princess-themed (“I always have a theme”).
“He’s turning 3 in November,” she said of Rex Ryder. “So we’ll have another party. Oh my gosh—that’s in two months! I’ve gotta get going!”
“Rex is contemplating a few options. Let’s just say that.”