Long before the rise of social media (or even the internet), people were making baked goods in their own kitchens for sale to the public. Though laws vary from state-to-state, Louisiana's Cottage Food Act (enacted in 2013 and amended in 2014) allows residents to sell specific, low-risk goods, such as jams, jellies, honey, candy, and baked goods, made and packaged in your own kitchen, provided that its label states that the "food was not produced in a licensed or regulated facility." People from all walks of life have jumped at the opportunity to flaunt their skills, make a little extra cash, and offer a wider variety of options to consumers who love to get their cake on.
In the GNO's black community, this entrepreneurial opportunity has been overwhelmingly embraced, and, over the past decade, there has been a surge of endlessly creative and incredibly mouthwatering delights on offer. Case in point: the overwhelming popularity of Calvin R. Virgil's Not Too Fancy Bakery (@NotTooFancyBakery) and his stellar salted caramel and candied pecan king cake since it was introduced a couple of years ago. While all the kudos to Virgil are warranted, there are many other artists in town making confections that also deserve a taste.
Christian Wells Brashears, a.k.a. "Chrissy," is a New Orleans native who studied the pastry arts at Delgado Community College. For the past six years, she has been the owner of Anointed Confections Unlimited LLC (@anointed_confections_llc), specializing in "gourmet cakes and desserts with a New Orleans flair." Though she often fills requests for individuals, Brashears also offers to cater desserts for parties, weddings, and corporate events. One of the most popular offerings in her arsenal of swoon-worthy confections is The Ultimate Sweet Box, where customers can mix and match items like cookies-and-cream cupcakes, turtle brownies, ooey-gooey cake, and white- or milk-chocolate strawberries.
"I am passionate about baking. It's my therapy, my peace of mind, and my happy place," says Brashears. "If I can make one person's day better by making them one of my sweet creations, I feel I've done what I was placed on this earth to do."
Born and raised in the 7th Ward, Erica Vernon began her cottage-food business Cake, Cake, Cakes Etc. (@CakeCakeCakes.etc) in 2014, shortly after the premature birth of her youngest child J'lani. Faced with both the emotional and financial challenges of caring for her infant (along with three other children), Vernon turned to a skill she'd always possessed. Though she began her business without any formal training, Vernon later pursued an associate's degree in pastry arts at Delgado. Recently, due to the spread of COVID-19 and the resulting stay-at-home orders, Vernon launched a changing menu of "Quarantine Treats," offering weekly desserts available for curbside pickup, such as her chocolate chip cheesecake brownies.
"[The treats] came about during the pandemic as a way to provide a sense of normalcy," says Vernon. "I wanted to give people something to look forward to and be happy about." Specialties to be had from Cake, Cake, Cakes Etc. include her signature "Wedding Belle" cake flavor (a baking emulsion available for purchase) and bacon praline pound cake.
Chef Mallary Roots, a graduate of the John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University, founded her business Confectionery Queen (@Confectionery.Queen) in late August of 2019. Though she was born and raised in New Orleans East, the levee failures of 2005 forced her to relocate to Baton Rouge, but she moved back home three years ago. Before launching her online business, Roots worked in bakeries and restaurants all across Southern Louisiana. Normally focusing on catering parties and other events, Roots's business has recently shifted due to the pandemic. Although she's still more than willing to bake a cake or three, lately, she's been wooing patrons with her incredible hand pies, drizzled with icing and filled with flavors like apple, sweet potato, strawberry, peach, and pecan.
Essence K. Thomas originally launched her Westbank baking business under the name KeKe's Sweets but changed it a bit later to honor her "biggest inspiration": her beloved grandmother Mrs. Alice L. Porter. Now known as Ally P Sweets (@allyp_sweets), the online bakery offers cakes (including king cakes), pralines, cupcakes, old-school popcorn balls, double-fudge praline brownies, and more.
"Baking was always my passion. Growing up, I enjoyed watching my grandmother and, of course, my godmother bake," says Thomas. "I never thought that a simple hobby would turn into a successful business." A couple of her signature creations have her customers coming back for more: what she dubs "Mini Macs"—macaroons with caramel—and "Devil Kisses," or chocolate chip cookies with pecans and caramel.
These ladies are only the tip of the proverbial pastry bag in terms of what's available in New Orleans' cottage-food industry. This local foodie, as well as many others, can't wait to discover more.