We had the good fortune of connecting with Whitney Crowder and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Whitney, what’s something about your industry that outsiders are probably unaware of?
I fell in love with baking, cake design in particular, because of the artistry element. I have found, however, the artistry entails the main thing many people outside the industry are unaware of: the amount of time involved. And to be fair, I really didn’t comprehend that at first either. I couldn’t believe the prices bakers would charge for cakes until I, myself, really began my business and started paying attention to the–well-–attention I put into what I do. I’ll spend up to 3 days designing a cake–just on decoration alone. Crafting each petal on a sugar paste flower, or palette knife painting interesting texture designs. I completely submerge myself in the process, because I love putting in the detail. That’s where the fun is and where the uniqueness really thrives, and it’s what sets it apart! Though it’s exactly that, which takes a lot of time.
There’s a joke amongst cake designers, that some people think we just go into our refrigerators full of prepared custom cakes and pluck one out when we get an order, because we get requests for elaborately designed cakes for the next day. And that’s just not how it works.
I don’t think it’s sometimes understood, that each cake is its own creation. One of the hardest things for me to really embrace was that there’s a big difference between what I make and what you can pick up in the store anytime. And that’s ok.
There are those cakes that are mass produced and/or don’t take a great deal of time to make, and there are the types of cakes I do, which are, for lack of humbler phrasing, works of art. Not everyone is looking for the same thing.
I create for those looking for something special, something unique. I never do the same cake twice and so, in a way, each has its own identity because I make the cake to reflect the person it is for. That’s what makes it special, and that is what I love most of all. It may sound funny, but watching people’s faces light up when they see their cake is one of the best feelings in the world. And it’s worth every second spent getting to that moment.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I never expected to be where I am now, but I am so happy life has brought me here. Starting Sugar & Bite was definitely never something I pre-planned. I’ve loved to bake since before I could reach the counter, but it was never more than a favorite hobby until I started to discover how baking can be a real art form. In some bizarre twist of fate, it turned out the best canvas for me was cake.
My interest in baking really magnified about 6 years ago, and from there I began growing my skill set, by closely watching bakers I admired. It was one of those things where the better I got, the more I loved it, and the more I wanted to learn. Birthday cakes I made for friends evolved into something I was actually proud of, and I finally said: hey, I could really do this. So, not sure where it would lead, I took the leap in 2019 and started my baking business Sugar & Bite in New York City.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from this experience, it’s the power of saying “Yes.” I decided to fully see where this would take me by walking through every door that opened, and they opened fast. Almost immediately, I got the opportunity to train with some top chefs in New York, and soon found myself with my own pastry chef position in the West Village. It was pretty crazy where riding the wave took me, but it didn’t take long to realize the pastry chef game wasn’t for me. Don’t get me wrong, one of my favorite things to do is eat patisserie at dangerous consumption levels–finding new spots to do so is literally like a sport to me, but the repetition of making the same desserts every day, eliminated the main thing I love about baking: the creativity.
Though just as I was wrapping myself up in self-discovery, Covid hit. Every single one of my jobs was immediately shut down, and all that was left in the vastness of the unknown, was Sugar & Bite.
Weirdly enough, 2020 was the turning point for me (in a good way). I found myself having more time than ever to focus on Sugar & Bite–from promoting online, to actually experimenting with different techniques and designs. Honestly, I think my skill level tripled during quarantine, and with it, so did my exposure. Though it wasn’t until my partner, Adam, and I relocated back to my home-state California, that things really took off.
It began with a Sunday farmer’s market (Farmer’s Marketplace of Long Beach), which I thought would be a great way to meet the community and get my name out to a whole new customer base. And it really has been. As Sugar & Bite has become more and more known locally, bookings for custom cakes have skyrocketed. And that is the most exciting part for me, because I am now getting to focus on what I love best: Cakes.
Nothing in baking allows me to be more creative than cake design. I get to take an idea and run with it. It may seem odd, but it’s actually incredibly freeing. I get to be this mad artist and constantly experiment with new designs and techniques, never making the same cake twice, but instead, something truly special and unique. Something unexpected. I think that’s what sets me apart from others. I have a problem of refusing to compromise, so I will dedicate hours (or let’s be honest, days), putting in the detailed attention to make my customer and I’s edible dreams come true.
The term “Cake Artist,” that some of my favorite designers go by, used to seem a bit pretentious to me, but the further down the rabbit hole I go, the more I think it’s exactly right. We are creators, and the cakes I make are art. Art that not only has the ability to look visually stunning, but taste really fricken’ good. And I mean, after all, it is cake; if it doesn’t taste good, what are we even doing here?
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
This is going to sound pretty lame, but I actually haven’t been able to experience as much of the city as I’d love to because Covid has been omnipresent since we relocated here. I will say, I love to eat, and that we would absolutely be hitting my favorites spots so far: Night Market and Song for Thai, Amor y Tacos for Mexican, Howlin’ Rays for fried chicken, and Knead for the best dang cronut I’ve ever had. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I absolutely couldn’t do what I’m doing without the never ending support from my family. They were overwhelmingly encouraging for me to start my business, and even more so when things really took off. And I don’t just mean verbally. My partner, Adam, and my mom, Valerie, physically stepped in, from delivering cakes and washing the endless pile of dishes, to even learning how to bake themselves! I count myself incredibly lucky for such a team.
Adam Hardman Christel Robleto