We had the good fortune of connecting with Anne-Marie Labbate and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Anne-Marie, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I have always been a prolific baker. Any spare time I had I would experiment with new recipes, develop new techniques and hone my skills. I would take courses and task myself to bake more and more complex recipes that were technically challenging. My favourite part about baking is the science behind it. Combining ingredients and flavours with the aim of creating something beautiful and delicious. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought I would start my own business.
When I moved to Dallas from the UK in 2012, I just assumed I would carry on as an IT contractor, just picking up contracts and working for a variety of companies, but a chance request for a birthday cake back in 2015 made me realise I could turn my passion for baking into a business. I can tell you there is nothing scarier than giving up your day job to start your own business, but I am so pleased I took the risk.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Cake.i.AM is a home-based bakery. I like to describe myself as a purveyor of boozy, baked delights, because my speciality is turning cocktails into cupcakes. Be it an old fashioned or margarita; champagne or rum punch, I craft cupcakes in such a way that they will taste exactly like the cocktail with a little boozy hit at the end. I also make layer cakes, celebration cakes, cookies, mini donuts and savoury treats. Not all of them are boozy, but all of them are tasty.
My baking style leans more towards British/European, so I can make all the classics you see on the Great British Baking Show, but I’m also no stranger to a Red Velvet or Hummingbird Cake. Whatever I’m baking, I tailor to the event I’m baking for, whether it’s birthdays, weddings, celebrations, corporate & black tie events, fundraisers, or just because.
Running a cottage bakery gives me more flexibility and allows greater focus on my customers. What excites me are the compliments I receive from people. I like it when they tell me that my mini cupcakes ‘taste exactly like a cocktail’, or one that always makes me smile ‘I’m not a cake person/I don’t have a sweet tooth, but your cupcakes were so delicious. I ate three’. This is how I know what I’m doing is right.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’ve lived in Dallas for nearly 8 years, so I every now and then I still like to do the tourist thing with friends who come to visit as they have normally travelled from the UK or further afield (who can resist the Longhorns at the Fort Worth Stockyards?).
One of the things I discovered when I first moved here was a self-guided walking tour of downtown. Nestled amongst the towering glass skyscrapers Dallas is famous for, are some historic buildings and public art that tell a story of the city, so, as long as it isn’t August, that is how I would start our day. For a quick lunch I’d take us to Klyde Warren Park and hit up a couple of the food trucks whilst listening to the hum of the city. Then I would take in one of the city’s many museums, such as the DMA or Nasher Sculpture Center, after which, and I know it’s a little kitschy, I would take them for a ride on the McKinney Avenue Trolley. To round off our ‘Downtown Day’ we’d go to Partenope Ristorante for some delicious Neapolitan food.
For a quieter day, spending the morning at The Dallas Arboretum wandering through the gardens is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s also a lovely setting to have a cheeky glass or 2 of prosecco. After all that exploring you need to have lunch, so we’d go to Khao Noodle Shop. Chef Donny makes the most fabulous Laotian food, and you should try everything. It’s great to see how many empty bowls you can stack on the table (for there will be many). It’s almost a challenge. Finally, as we are that side of town, we would then head up to The Wine Therapist. They host wine tastings and have live music. Phillip always has a bottle of wine in his hand that you ‘just have to try’, and James is always willing to help you find a bottle of wine you like. Gretchen ensures it’s just a great place to meet with friends, drink wine and chill.
The one thing I always make sure anyone visiting experiences is Texas BBQ, and one of my favourite spots is Hutchins BBQ up near McKinney. It’s a bit of a trek, there’s always a long line, but it is worth the wait. The concept of selecting a variety of smoked meats & sausages from a menu, having it served in crate, and using butcher paper for plates is always a surprise to my friends because it’s not the kind of thing they get back home.
At the weekend it’s always good to take friends to the Dallas Farmers Market. I like to grab an espresso from Palmieri Cafe, a couple of patties from Caribbean Cabana and check out what the other vendors are offering. From there we’d pop to my favourite brewery, Pegasus City Brewing or Bishop Cidercade (if cider is their thing) to have an afternoon tipple and play some games. Then we’d finish the day in Deep Ellum. The low-rise buildings & public art/murals lends itself to a more eclectic vibe and the casual bar scene makes it fun to bar hop, listen to some local bands, plus there are some great rooftop bars where you can get a view of the famous Dallas skyline.
Other than that, I like to keep things relaxed at home by cooking and baking up a storm (obviously) and going out locally. One of my favourite local haunts is The Ginger Man in Uptown. You can sit at the bar and talk to anyone and everyone whilst working your way through the wall of beers, which is a sight to behold, and afterwards pick up some Thai street food from Crushcraft, and for everyone’s ‘last night in town’, we’d head to Parliament for a goodbye cocktail or three.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are two people who deserve recognition in my story. The first is my Mum, Barbara. She is an excellent baker. Whenever she was baking, I was always at her feet in the kitchen (and not just looking for a lick of the spoon) I liked to study what she was doing. She taught me many things and provided the foundation on which all my baking is based. Always fresh, always from scratch and always with love.
The second person is my husband, Giuliano. He has been very supportive of myself and my business (and not just because he gets to be a taste-tester when I’m working on a new recipe). He’s a champion of my work and promotes my business any chance he gets. He’s been my delivery driver, my kitchen porter and shown great patience when he comes home from work and I’m decorating 300 cupcakes in the kitchen. Without him, this new chapter in my life would not have been possible.
A-M Labbate / @CakeBint