A social worker by training and a “cake lady” at heart, Jodi Rhoden combines her love of baking with her determination to help people.
story and photos by Bakery Boy
Jodi Rhoden identifies as a cake lady. Make that Cake Lady, capitalized. There are certain women, she contends, who find a profound sense of purpose in making cakes. Whether as professional bakers filling customer orders, café owners diversifying menus, or homemakers baking for family and friends, they revel in the pursuit of perfect layers and beautiful frosting. Most importantly, they cherish the pleased reactions their edible artwork elicits.
Jodi—the founder, owner, and head baker at Short Street Cakes in Asheville, North Carolina—is so taken with this idea that she has written a book, due out later this year, about some of the many Cake Ladies she admires.
SOCIAL WORKER TURNED BAKER
Although she learned a few things about baking from her mother and grandmother while growing up in Marietta, Georgia, Jodi became a serious baker through, of all things, her career as a social worker. After earning a social work degree at The University of Georgia, she moved to Boston and was involved in a program to help people get out of poverty by learning job skills. “I took a bakery training course along with them and learned to make artisan breads,” she says.
Following two years in Boston she moved to Asheville about 10 years ago to continue doing social work. To make ends meet she waited tables at restaurants and worked at West End Bakery, where she discovered that making cakes suited her personality. There she learned from two of the best: Cathy Cleary, one of the founders of West End Bakery, located about a mile from Jodi’s Short Street Cakes on the same street, Haywood Road in West Asheville, and April Moon, who now runs Sunny Point Café, located between the two bakeries and also on the same street.
“When my son Jasper was born five years ago, I started baking cakes at home so I could be with him,” she says, seated at a 1950s aluminum table in her bakeshop. Orders picked up and she outgrew her kitchen, so she took a business class, got a loan, found a former barbershop from the 1920s available, and opened Short Street Cakes in 2008. “The name comes from the street I live on. I see the bakery as an extension of my home.”
A homey atmosphere permeates Short Street Cakes. Some of Jodi’s mother’s vintage aprons hang on the walls, plus paintings by a friend, artist Hannah Dansie (aka Two of Hearts), who also works there as a baker. Jodi’s husband, Duncan McFarlane, painted a folk-art-style cake shop sign (see photo). An antique cupboard and salvaged dinette sets grace the place. Wooden and glass cake stands and flea-market-find Milk Glass lamps add to a simple-living setting.
FROM SCRATCH, WITH LOVE
A slogan printed on Short Street’s menus and business cards reads: “Fresh, Natural, from Scratch, with Love.” Jodi is indeed devoted to baking from scratch with all-natural ingredients. Consider the cupcakes. Most cupcake bakeries present a splashy rainbow of colorful icing. Her muted color palette holds mostly earthy shades of dark brown, creamy caramel, and off white. “I don’t use food coloring,” she explains. “Whatever’s in the icing, like chocolate or butter cream, is what you see.” She also uses fresh local ingredients whenever she can: eggs from Mountain Sunshine Farms in Asheville, organic flour from Lindley Mills in nearby Graham, fruit in season from farmers’ markets.
Cakes are this bakery’s main attractions. Simpler versions include Sour Cream Pound Cake (add almond flavoring by request), Mexican Chocolate Cake (with cinnamon and cayenne), and Ashevelvet Cake (naturally reddish-brown). Classic offerings take in Sweet Potato Spice Cake (cinnamon cream cheese icing), Coconut Cake (see photo), Carrot Spice Cake (carrots, raisins, walnuts), and Georgia Hummingbird Cake (pineapple, pecans, strawberries, bananas). Jodi gets creative with deluxe options such as Bacon Apple Cake (pound cake with bacon drippings, fried apples, bacon crumbles), Wedge Brewery Community Porter Cake (chocolate cake with a local brewer’s porter baked in), and Mardi Gras Queen Cake (pineapple butter cake with a bourbon soak and coconut-pecan custard icing).
Hungry yet? There’re also Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Flourless Chocolate Gateau, and custom-made birthday and wedding cakes.
As for the love part of from scratch, with love, Jodi shows it in a big way through her support of non-profit groups, an extension of her social-worker soul. “I donate cakes to just about any group that asks for them for fundraisers,” she says. “It’s how I’m able to tie my bakery work to my community involvement.” In return she gains loyal customers and plenty of goodwill. She gives cakes to Bountiful Cities, an urban agriculture organization that promotes affordable food for low-income communities (and where she’s on the board). She gives cakes to the YWCA of Asheville, where she’s glad they offer free child-care service for women struggling to hold onto jobs. And to Mountain BizWorks, which helps entrepreneurs launch businesses in under-served communities. And to Our Voice, a women’s crisis center involved with domestic violence and sexual assault issues. And other organizations she believes in.
Jodi says her book—working title, Cake Ladies—should be in print later this year from Asheville publisher Lark Crafts, a division of New York-based Sterling Publishing Company. It includes profiles of women who, like Jodi, hail from the South and identify as Cake Ladies, plus some of their recipes.
“I met all these women through providence,” Jodi says. Younger women in business to earn a living. Older women baking at home for family. Women baking everywhere from the Qualla Boundary Cherokee reservation in North Carolina, to her hometown in Georgia, to New Orleans, where her good friend Elyse Manning bakes at New Orleans Cake Café & Bakery. Their stories, she says, are about why they bake as much as what they bake, and about being Cake Ladies.
225 Haywood Road, Asheville, NC 28806
Read Jodi Rhoden’s blog, My Life in Cake, at http://shortstreetcakes.blogspot.com.
From I-240 in Asheville take Exit 2, go east on Haywood Road, which in a few blocks veers sharply left, and find Short Street Cakes on the left.
Hours: Noon-6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday
For more about Asheville: www.exploreasheville.com
For more about North Carolina: www.visitnc.com