When people compare her to TV’s Cake Boss, BethAnn Goldberg of Menlo Park just laughs.
“We’re not Cake Boss,” she said, of the staff of her cake baking and design business, Studio Cake. “Things don’t get anywhere near that stressful around here; there’s just not that much action to see.”
The store’s action may not resemble that seen on the popular kitchen reality show, but the cakes Goldberg and her staff concoct and design certainly do—in fact, one might say, they put the TV batter to shame.
The cakes that come out of Studio Cake’s modest Gilbert Avenue kitchen can only be described as “out of this world.” Goldberg is famous for creating life-like recreations of just about anything one can imagine, from the head of Bart Simpson to a princess sitting upon a pea. They look so real, one may not realize it’s all a confectionary illusion, crafted out of sugar, butter, flour and Goldberg’s signature, made-from-scratch fondant recipe.
Goldberg’s cake are so impressive, she has not only been featured on the Martha Stewart Show, but regularly has The Food Network chasing her down to participate in their on-screen challenges, two of which, she has won.
All of this is a far cry from the former career she left just a few short years ago as a biomechanical engineer for NASA.
From Biomechanics to Cake Mechanics
Goldberg earned a bachelor’s degree in biomechanics from Stanford University. Toward the end of her degree, she started working for NASA, doing bone research. NASA then put her through her master’s program in mechanical engineering.
“Engineering—strangely, it all gets you where you’re supposed to be,” Goldberg said with a laugh.
With such serious work dominating her mind much of the day, Goldberg turned to cooking and baking in her spare time.
“Baking became a creative outlet when I was in engineering,” she explained. “I’ve always just loved cake, and I always loved the creativity of cake. I dabble in other things, but not to sell.”
Goldberg left NASA after grad school to take a job in the semiconductor industry, working in robotics, where she stayed for a handful of years. Eventually, she left her job when she and her husband decided to start a family.
As a stay-at-home mom, Goldberg had a little more time to devote to baking.
“I worked on perfecting some recipes, and learning how to sculpt cakes,” she recalled.
Naturally, she was the go-to person in her circle of family and friends whenever a cake was needed for any occasion. Goldberg used the opportunities to experiment with different designs
Eventually, word got around, and soon, people outside her circle were requesting cakes as well.
“About five years ago, it became more than just family and friends, because other people had heard about my cakes, so it started to get bigger than just people I knew,” she said. “Eventually, I started charging money for it.”
What finally solidified her decision to turn her passion for baking cakes into a business was when Goldberg perfected her own recipe for fondant — a thick type of frosting that is stretched over the outside of a cake, that can be sculpted into shapes.
“That was great, because then I no longer had to buy the boxed stuff from the store,” she said. “And then, everything in my cakes was made from scratch.”
Some days, she recalled, she would bake sample cakes and hand them out at special event venues and to event planners, just to get her name out there. As word of Goldberg’s incredible cake designs spread, her number of customers increased.
Finally, she decided to take the plunge and open up a storefront three years ago when the retail space she had had her eye on came on the market. The Gilbert Avenue space was exactly what she needed, and it was right around the corner from home, making it easy for her to drop off and pick up her kids from school, be there when they were sick, or anything else her family needed.
Studio Cake is Born
Once she had the storefront, Goldberg said, it still took nine months to get it up and running. However, her career simply would not wait, and it was during that nine months that the Food Network (FN) first called.
To this day, Goldberg is not entirely sure how the TV network heard of her, but imagines photos of some of her cake designs must have made it onto the Internet and enabled them to track her down.
“Food Network is always trolling Flickr accounts and things like that, looking for new cake talent,” she said. “Watching that show is how I learned to sculpt cakes; there was nothing I wanted more in the world than to be on that show.”
To date, Goldberg and the Studio Cake team have participated in five FN challenges, emerging victorious from two, with her Dora the Explorer and Bart Simpson cakes.
Goldberg says FN challenges are usually tied in with something else that is drawing publicity at the time—Dora was celebrating its 10th year; the Simpsons, their 20th. Goldberg also participated in a Shrek cake challenge when the Broadway musical first opened. Most recently, she participated in an “Awesome 80’s” episode, co-hosted by former teen pop star Tiffany, which will air on June 5.
All of this has helped make Studio Cake a thriving, busy business, with scores of loyal fans and customers, like Jaclyn Foroughi, who has ordered two complex cakes from Studio Cake in the past — one for her husband’s birthday, and the other for her daughter’s first birthday.
“I honestly can’t say enough good things about BethAnn or Studio Cake,” Foroughi gushed.
The cake for her husband’s birthday was truly an out-of-this-world cake. Goldberg made a life-sized recreation of the family’s white-haired dog, sitting atop a flying Persian carpet — a nod to his culture—playing a game of backgammon, one of his passions.
Foroughi said the cakes weren’t just show-stopping works of art.
“Both cakes were so delicious, that people actually came back for seconds and thirds,” she said.
Foroughisaid Goldberg’s cakes are so delicious they have been one of her insatiable cravings throughout her current pregnancy.
“All I've been thinking about during this pregnancy are BethAnn's cakes — so much so, that I had to ask if she could give me some samples just so that I could satisfy my craving!” Foroughi admitted. “Of course, she happily obliged.”
In an average week, Goldberg said, the studio will put out five to six wedding cakes, plus a few smaller jobs like an order of custom cupcakes. In a busy week, they might have 10 cake orders.
That’s no small paycheck, though; depending on the complexity of a cake design, a single cake can cost anywhere from several hundred, to a few thousand, dollars.
As they were doing their taxes recently, Goldberg recalled, her husband turned to her and said, “I’m so glad we’re not paying for your hobby anymore.”
Studio Cake is located at 104 Gilbert Ave. in Menlo Park. Call 650-575-5500 or visit www.studiocake.com.