Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Fee Fi Fo Yum: Cake and the Beanstalk

Walking past 1112 Locust Street, I’m stopped in my tracks by the cheery “Fee Fi Fo Yum” wording on the window. A leafy green beanstalk painted on the wall between the two entrances threads its way upwards towards the business’s hanging sign that reads Cake and the Beanstalk. A tantalizing display case filled with sweet treats galore beckons me to further investigate, and I step inside.

The cozy place is composed of two rooms; one houses the display area and “kitchen” (more on that later), while the well-lit sunroom offers plenty of seating and a view of the community garden. The external motifs match the whimsical interior décor. From a “kid’s corner” with crayons and LEGOs galore to stunning hand-painted chairs (designed by owner Daniel Klein’s wife Jenn) that tell a story through their artistry, Cake and the Beanstalk is the perfect spot for people of all ages.

Cake and the Beanstalk just celebrated its one-year anniversary at the beginning of the month and is going stronger than ever. The bakery and café’s menu offers a bevy of tasty treats, including tantalizing baked goods, savory soups, Le Bus-bread paninis, and locally roasted Chestnut Hill coffee. That’s not all, though; the place also hosts diverse events such as Story Time at the Stalk for youth ages 4 through 7, Open Mic at the Stalk for performers of all kinds, and art receptions.

Owner Daniel Klein is no stranger to the restaurant and baking world. After graduating from Penn State with a degree in hospitality management, he sharpened his skills in the pastry departments of Striped Bass, Circa, Morimoto, Le Bec Fin, and Twenty21. On top of that, he gained front-of-house experience working for City Tavern and Moshulu. Thanks to the folks at Lokalty , I had the opportunity to talk with the incredibly personable Klein about his experiences and his blossoming bakery and café.

NW: What’s your first food memory?
DK: I grew up in the Philadelphia area. When I was younger, I used to take road trips with my family; one trip we took when I was about six years old brought us through Chicago and into Wyoming. I remember I had this great shrimp dish in cream sauce at a restaurant there.

NW: How did you get your start in the food business?
DK: I graduated from Penn State in May 2001 with a degree in hotel and restaurant management. Many people I knew went straight into the hotel industry, joining places like Marriott. I wanted a different path; I had always enjoyed baking. I loved making people happy and wanted a career where people could consistently return to a place and enjoy their experiences there. So, I gained hands-on experience: I spent five years working in pastry at Striped Bass, Circa, Morimoto, Le Bec Fin, and Twenty21. A dessert lounge had always been on my mind, and eventually I launched Cake and the Beanstalk.

NW: How did you come up with the name for your bakery?
DK: My father in-law suggested to my wife Jenn and I that we come up with a name that lets people know that we offer both desserts and coffee. Cake is cake, of course, and the bean in beanstalk is the coffee reference. It also fit beautifully with our amazing location overlooking a community garden. In the summer, some of the sunflowers start to grow so high it seems like we have our very own beanstalks. Jenn is also a kindergarten teacher, so that just might have had something to do with it. After we had chosen the name, we designed the shop to match both the name and vibe we wanted to come across. We were lucky enough to inherit walls painted with the perfect colors and designed the chairs and wall art with the "beanstalk" in mind.

NW: What is one of the hardest parts about owning a bakery?
DK: Keeping up with the bakery products. For Cake and the Beanstalk, space certainly poses some limitations. My kitchen is literally what you see behind the display case. My counter has just enough room for my mixer and induction plate, and nearly all of my baking comes out of this microwave-sized convection oven. The sink is tiny as well and the turnover of washing bowls and utensils isn’t high.

NW: How do you do it all in such a small space?
DK: I can’t produce as much as I’d like, which just means I have to be selective with the treats I make for the day: there’s usually about six items available on any given day that change on a rotational basis. Of course, there’s the pace of daily demands and any specialty orders we have to fill, staff management, and other factors that come with running a business. Don’t get me wrong—I love owning Cake and the Beanstalk! It’s been a very rewarding experience so far and I’m looking forward to growing the bakery.

NW: That’s great to hear! On that note, what’s your favorite part about running Cake and the Beanstalk?
DK: It would have to be seeing people’s happy reactions after they bite into one of Cake and the Beanstalk's menu items, whether it's our blondie or our blueberry crumb cake. Knowing that our products make them happy and seeing customers return again and again means a lot to me. For instance, there’s one woman who lives in South Philly that comes out of her way every week just to purchase something. She doesn’t have to, but she makes the effort because she loves our bakery so much.

NW: How did Cake and the Beanstalk evolve into more than just a bakery? It was neat to see you offered everything from children story times to open mic sessions.
DK: I designed the bakery to be a community place. Philadelphia has such a vibrant community and I wanted to cater to the interests of all groups. The neighborhood has everyone from baby boomers to college students to young families, and I wanted to involve all of them.

NW: What is one of the lessons that you’ve learned during your career?
DK: Time management is key. Things can go wrong, but you need to be adept and know how to change and adapt.

NW: Do you have a culinary guilty pleasure?
DK: A big bowl of ice cream and a soft pretzel from Center City Soft Pretzel Co. The pretzels come out hot and fresh at midnight: it’s the perfect midnight snack!

NW: If someone could only pick one thing on your menu to try, what would you recommend?
DK: The banana chocolate walnut cake. It’s studded with chocolate chips and walnuts and is finished with a silky chocolate glaze. It’s my specialty; the recipe has been in my family for years. I tweaked the original recipe, reducing the amount of sugar and adding more bananas to add natural sweetness; I also added the glaze component. It’s a must-try!

NW: What is the most inventive item you’ve created at your bakery?
DK: It’s a tie between the cheesecake and the blondies. The cheesecake is unique because it has a chocolate tree nut cookie base. The idea came from a catering event I did. The cookies, which include pecans and almonds, make a delicious base that is not your standard graham cracker crust. The blondies are also special in that the add-ins rotate throughout the week; we’ve included everything from Oreos to candy bars in them.

NW: What is your cooking/baking philosophy?
DK: You eat food to live, but you eat dessert to live happily. This mantra inspired me to open Cake and the Beanstalk and has been at the heart of everything I do.

NW: What’s on the horizon for Cake and the Beanstalk?
DK: I’d like to increase our wholesale operations. We’re currently working on stocking our brownies and blondies at smaller cafes and delis, but would love to expand into places like Wawa and 7-Eleven. Increasing the number of specialty orders we fulfill is also a goal (see some of their amazing creations on the right!). I’m also hoping to increase the size of our cooking area. For instance, my mixer only has the capacity to make one cheesecake at a time. If I could get a mixer that makes two or four cheesecakes at once, I’d be able to increase output and satisfy more customers!

I had the opportunity to try the cheesecake Klein referred to earlier. The filling was creamy and light, filling my mouth with its cloud-like texture and perfect sweetness. The chocolate tree nut cookie crust was definitely unique as well, grounding the heavenly filling. I highly enjoyed this component as it made it stand out from other cheesecakes in the crowd. On another visit, I indulged myself with their decadent flourless chocolate cake. Its chocolaty richness and satisfying density make this a must-have treat for both omnivores and gluten-free eaters everywhere.

I highly recommend checking out Cake and the Beanstalk; the eats are excellent and the service is stellar! For more information about Cake and the Beanstalk, check out their website at http://cakeandthebeanstalk.blogspot.com/ or follow Klein at @Cake__Beanstalk on Twitter.

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