Yesterday, notable Cleveland baker Michel Kahwagi of Cake Royale
, his partner/wife Denise and their staff (which includes their sons Elijah and Nick), hosted the grand opening of their new retail spot and commercial kitchen at 4276 Pearl Road in Old Brooklyn. The company's kitchen was previously located at 3800 Pearl Road.
"We needed to move," says Denise. "We needed to expand. We had outgrown our other space. It was very small, only 1000-square-feet." They also had fielded requests from retail customers at their West Side Market booth D-7, where they've been for 10 years.
"On off-market days, customers wanted a place where they could pick up," says Denise.
The addition of two new impressive clients, the Metropolitan at the 9
and the Cleveland Indians, cemented the upgrade. Other long-standing clients include Joe's Deli in Rocky River, the Mayfield Country Club and the Canterbury Country Club, among others.
Construction has been underway for more than a year. The new building is 4,000-square feet, 2,000 of which are dedicated to kitchen space. The retail area occupies 400-square-feet and is adorned by murals created by Ohio City artist Danilo Zammattio
. They have yet to renovate the basement area.
Denise estimates the building was vacant for between five and eight years before they purchased it. Previous incarnations included a coffee shop and a pizza joint. The Kahwagi's financed the $140,000 renovation themselves.
The couple's story started back in the 1980's. They met in Texas where Michel, who originally immigrated to America from Lebanon in 1973, was a maître 'd in an Irving restaurant. He made Denise a mango cake that he had first tasted years ago while working with his brother in Kuwait.
"I said, 'Wow. This is fabulous. You need to be selling these.'" It must have been some cake. Not only did she marry him, she followed him to Cleveland in 1989 to support his fledgling wholesale pastry business, which has flourished over the past 26 years. Michel has taken the title of "best pastry chef" twice at the Art Therapy Studio’s
Creative Confections Dessert Competition, in 1999 and 2000. Not bad for a self-taught artisan.
Denise reveals the simple secret of the business: "We still do everything the old fashioned way. We do it from scratch, which you don't see very often anymore. (Michel) roasts his own nuts. We still juice all the lemons. When he makes truffles, he rolls them by hand. You can tell we don't take short cuts."
As for the decision to keep the business based in Old Brooklyn, the Kahwagis' reasons are home-baked and close to the heart.
"We live in Old Brooklyn and have always lived in Old Brooklyn. We want to give back to the community we live in and pay taxes in," says Denise. "We're just a very small business out there trying to do our fair share contributing to the economy."