Sweet potato cheesecake, strawberry buttercream, and, of course, red velvet. These are just a few of the freshly baked desserts available at three African American owned cake shops in Brooklyn and Washington, D.C.
While Shakoor Watson, Warren Brown, and Raven Patrick De’Sean Dennis, III (who goes by Cake Man Raven) come from very different walks of life, all three have channeled their love of all things sweet into thriving businesses.
Cake Man Raven, who spent much of his childhood in Lynchburg, South Carolina, began decorating cakes as a young boy. “My parents sent me to my grandmother’s,” he said. That’s when he started helping out in the kitchen.
Like the others, Shakoor Watson also picked up some cooking skills during his younger days. “As the youngest son, I was always around my mom cooking,” Watson said. “I learned a lot of my crafts under my mother’s wing.”
Running a cake shop is a labor of love for all three men, but especially so for Watson, who opened up his bakery after several years in prison for drugs and crime. “I made up my mind I’m going to change my life,” Watson said. “I wanted to come out of prison running, not walking.”
After turning his life around, Watson opened up a storefront in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood, the same area he once hustled in the streets.
In another part of Brooklyn, Cake Man Raven’s fresh red velvets are a favorite in his Fort Greene neighborhood and beyond.
Washington, D.C. is home to Brown’s original Cakelove shop, which is located on U Street, historically a cultural center for the African American community.
In the past few years, Cakelove has expanded to six locations across D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. But, his success didn’t happen overnight. “It took a lot of time,” Brown said. “I was juggling lots of things in between – filling orders, keeping the business running, trying to write a business plan and get financing.”
For Cake Man Raven, entrepreneurship started back in 6th grade when he sold his first two coconut pies to his elementary school teacher for $5 each. As a kid, he wowed judges with his talents at cake shows and competitions.
Each shop has it’s own specialty, and Cake Man Raven has become famous for his red velvet, which he said originated in the south during the Civil War era. “The ladies used to keep their men home by cooking the red velvet cake,” he said.
Watson’s specialty is the sweet potato cheesecake, a treat his mom used to make. “I’ve incorporated her recipe into cheesecake, sweet potato butter pound cake, sweet potato dream cake – which is a sweet potato layer cake with cream cheese frosting, roasted pecans and almonds,” he said.
These cake connoisseurs have worked to pass the torch onto the next generation. “We try to get young fellas during the summertime to learn what it’s all about, the business aspect of it, of course the excitement of it,” Cake Man Raven said.
“I try to instill certain things in the youth that I’m around – we need to reach out to them and help them and give them a craft,” Watson said.