The cake boss

Bakery owner follows the flow to her clientele’s hearts and bellies

Emily Zimmerman says her customers’ needs direct everything from cake designs to business decisions.

Emily Zimmerman says her customers’ needs direct everything from cake designs to business decisions.

Photo by Ken Smith

Like all business ventures, the success of Lovely Layers Cakery boils down to numbers. However, the numbers owner Emily Zimmerman is primarily concerned with aren't dollars and cents, but rather the amount of delicious treats and custom-designed culinary masterpieces sold. These figures—broken down into wedding cakes, specialty cakes, cupcakes, cookies and pies—are proudly displayed, by year, along one wall of the bakery's storefront on Meyers Street.

“I like to be able to look up there and keep track of things, to make sure that we keep on growing,” Zimmerman said during a recent interview, which happened to be on her 32nd birthday. Zimmerman started the business four years ago at the age of 28.

“I never felt like I was too young to do it,” said Zimmerman, who grew up in Paradise and studied at the Western Culinary Institute (now Le Cordon Bleu) in Portland, Oregon. “I had a lot of experience in the field by the time I started, working in bakeries in town and out of state. I guess one challenge when you're younger is that you're less financially stable, but I based the whole business off of not going into debt.”

Zimmerman explained that, rather than getting a loan or pursuing investors, she saved up a few thousand dollars—“just enough to start as small as possible and start building a clientele”—and worked alone in a rented commercial kitchen until the demand justified opening a physical location.

Though the cakery's main focus has always been custom-created, masterfully artistic and sometimes gravity-defying personalized cakes for weddings and other affairs, the storefront allows Zimmerman and her staff to sell their exceptional cupcakes and other treats directly to the public.

“My attitude has always been to just go with the flow, and grow as needed,” said Zimmerman, who today employs two full-time workers. “I try not to plan too far ahead and nail myself down to too many expectations, but instead I look at what my customers want and try to move in that direction.”

Though Zimmerman's future plans purposefully remain fluid, cakery fans would definitely appreciate some of the moves she's considering down the road, namely a more centrally located satellite store and/or a food truck to reach a larger clientele.

The fact it was Zimmerman's birthday prompted a follow-up email conversation regarding what the local queen of cakes eats when it's her turn to celebrate.

“I can't even remember the last time I got a birthday cake!” she wrote. “I think my friends and family feel like they can't make me a cake because I'll think it's terrible or ugly, which I would never think … I'd love a cake that I didn't have to bake myself.

“I got a lot of ‘happy birthdays' from customers and my co-workers and ended up treating myself to a cupcake that I'd baked myself that morning.”