By Judith Weinraub
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Warren Brown, the government lawyer-turned-baker and entrepreneur, will be very busy this fall. In addition to running Cakelove, his specialty cake and pastry business, and its offshoot, the Love Cafe, both on the western edge of the U Street corridor, Brown will host "Sugar Rush," a 13-episode series on the Food Network. He's the first Washington area food personality to have his own show, a network spokeswoman says.
He is also the focus of an episode on "Recipe for Success," a Food Network program about people who have changed their careers -- and lives -- by going into the food world.
And, if that weren't enough, Brown is opening a second Cakelove, this one in downtown Silver Spring. It will be 2 1/2 times the size of the original.
"Sugar Rush," which will be shown on Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m., will debut in mid-October. "Recipe for Success," an ongoing program, airs on Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. Brown's episode is being filmed.
Each episode of "Sugar Rush" follows Brown as he visits restaurants, pastry shops and bakeries around the country to talk with pastry chefs and chocolatiers, then returns to his kitchen to cook a recipe he's learned from them.
"We wanted to do a series about decadent sweets," says Kathleen Finch, the Food Network's senior vice president for prime time programming, who conceived the show. "We'd noticed that whenever we do specials about pastries and sweets, our ratings go up. And we'd had our eye on Warren for a while -- we wanted to put him in prime time, but not straight pastry-making. The show needed a host. We wanted Warren. We put the two together."
Not bad for someone who, at 29, was an avocational baker, a sometime health educator and full-time litigator for the inspector general's office in the Department of Health and Human Services. By fall of 2000, Brown had discovered that baking cakes gripped his imagination more than the law. He negotiated a three-month leave to think things through and develop recipes.
In February 2001 he quit his job so he could bake and establish his own business. Initially he rented space in a small commercial kitchen on 14th Street NW and took orders for custom cakes online and by phone. A year later, he opened Cakelove on U Street.
To get the business running, Brown took out loans and maxed out his credit cards. By the end of the first year, he hadn't paid off all the loans, but Cakelove was making a small profit -- not a given in the food business.
At first, he did much of the baking himself, assisted by a small part-time and volunteer staff. The most popular cake was (and still is) a three-layer buttercream with fresh strawberries. Frosted cupcakes and individual butter poundcakes in the pastry cases brought in street traffic.
Today, when Brown bakes, it's primarily to develop new recipes. He employs a staff of 15, eight of them full time. Cupcakes are the all-around best-sellers. Many customers come by for the aptly named "My Decadence," a dark chocolate cake topped with chocolate ganache.
With all of this to balance, why choose this moment to take on a second Cakelove?
"We have to grow," says Brown. "A business that doesn't grow dies."