We had the good fortune of connecting with Sasha Gustafson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sasha, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Taking risks is something I’ve definitely made a habit of in my lifetime. I don’t think I would be where I am today if I didn’t blindly jump into things, or move past the fear and follow my heart. My passion for baking and cake decorating has given me such drive, that it’s allowed me to live my life fearlessly in a way where not taking risks is not an option for me. My bakery’s name BUTTER came from my insane addiction to the yellow flavorful brick of fat that developed while living in Paris. After realizing that I wanted to pursue baking and not become a psychotherapist, I decided that I was going to travel almost 6000 miles to learn from the French masters of baking. I was nervous, but I knew I had to take this risk if I wanted to be great at what I did. I was shifting my future in a whole nother direction, leaving my family behind, leaving my amazing boyfriend (now husband) for a year…it was pretty scary! That year in Paris completely changed me. I learned so much about food, I ate everything I could get my hands on, I enjoyed every challenge culinary school threw at me, and I gained a new perspective on life with my heart feeling full every day. The French cooked with love, with passion, with so much gusto, and….WITH TONS OF BUTTER. I’ve adopted this philosophy of cooking and baking since then and continue to every day. My love for what I do really shows in the quality of my product, and the more Butter has grown the higher I’ve wanted to take it, and I’ll take whatever risks I need to take along the way!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Every day I get to wake up and go to a job where I have complete creative freedom. Not only with my artistry on cakes, but with my brand, and I’m so incredibly grateful for that. It most definitely hasn’t been easy to get to where I am today. Owning a business forces you to learn not only a lot about yourself but also about the industry you’re in and how to cater to thousands of people while keeping everybody happy. My love for art began as a kid. I remember doodling a lot in my books, and I always looked forward to my after school art class. I dabbled in a lot of drawing and painting, but my favorite medium was shading with lead, and this continued through high school and college. When I wasn’t in class, I was spending a lot of time watching Food Network, and I was blown away by what I was seeing – painting AND sculpting on cakes?!! This was so new to me and COMPLETELY FASCINATING. I couldn’t get these beautiful cakes out of my mind, and all I wanted to do was figure out how people were making this art out of sugar. Culinary school taught me a lot about baking techniques, but I knew that I wanted to work with only cakes. My first bakery job, where I ended up for 5 years, taught me how to bake, build, and coat cakes. I worked with a lot of frosting and was constantly pushing myself to learn new techniques with buttercream. Aside from my full time job, I was also working on running a cake business from home. This really helped me with being more creative using other mediums like fondant, gumpaste, and chocolate. My home business picked up rapidly, and eventually allowed me to quit my job at the bakery and dedicate myself full time to it. Now, 5 years later, I create some of the most beautiful cakes in the neighborhood, and most of what I know is self-taught, and til this day I continue to push myself creatively because there is just so much more to learn! As an artist, I use my cakes as a form of expression. I don’t copy any one else’s work, but if someone comes to me and they want an exact replica of a cake they’ve seen online I have to be really stern about needing to put my own twist on it. This is probably the most difficult part of my job, because my vision might not always be in line with what my client wants but it’s also the part I appreciate the most because it allows me to be more honest with myself and to never change my aesthetic for anyone. I am my art and my art is my brand.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Well, my honest answer would be to get in the car and take a week long road trip!! I love to travel and explore new places and it’s even more fun doing it with someone else! But I suppose if we had to stay in LA, it would start out with brewing a fresh cup of Unity or Demitasse coffee at my house with a slice of my homemade french toast casserole. Afterwards, we would take a walk around Echo Park lake, and then maybe get some cocktails and a bite to eat at Mohawk Bend. Then we’d maybe catch a movie at The Vista or Los Feliz 3, and then head to Messhall for dinner and more cocktails. The next day we’d grab an amazing breakfast at Republique, and then go see an exhibit at the LACMA. Maybe we’d grab some dinner and drinks in Little Tokyo or Arts District at some of my favorite eateries like Baldoria, Daikokuya, Wurstkuche or Bestia. For the rest of the week, we’d definitely check out our gorgeous beaches in Malibu, catch some live shows at the Echoplex, the Greek, the Moroccan Lounge or the Bootleg, or do some hiking in the Angeles National Forest or Santa Monica mountains. But no matter how much food we may have consumed, my friend would not be able to leave Los Angeles without eating tacos at Ave 26 Taco Stand!!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I have so many great teachers, managers, authors, and friends that have motivated me, inspired me, and supported me and for whom I have so much gratitude. However, the people who truly deserve a shoutout right now are my husband, my sister, my brother, and my parents. Ryan, you have been by my side since day one encouraging me to follow my heart and to push through any obstacle that came my way, you’ve given me unconditional support throughout this entire journey, and you’ve never judged me for a second. Ari, you joined me on this insane venture not having a clue what we were getting ourselves into, and now Butter would never be the same without you. I am so lucky to work with you, my sister and best friend. David, you believed in me enough to loan me the funds I needed to open my doors on Hillhurst and pursue my dreams of opening a bakery. You’ve always shared my work with the world, which drives me to want to be better every single day. Mom, my entire life you’ve shown me how to be a strong, hard working woman and to never stop reaching for the stars. Lastly, Dad, you’ve shown me that anything in life is possible, and to never give up on my dreams. My entire culinary journey began in Paris, where you helped push me to get into that school, you helped me with my crazy long apartment hunt, and when I felt lonely and homesick you comforted me. I love you all so much, thank you for shaping me into who I am today because I would not be the same without you all!