The OP Café on Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica is very well known for its great breakfasts and lunches. But for quite some time now, this local favorite been gaining something of a reputation for its curiously good and unique coffee cake, a particularly delicious example of an old favorite that is, to regular visitors, including yours truly, something quite special. It turns out that the creator of this recipe, and baker of these cakes, is one of the delightful waitresses at said establishment, a certain Alley Mercedes, who is now set to soar with her delicious baked products after recently seducing Whole Foods to stock them, first at their Venice store and soon at others, including the Malibu location.
I recently chatted with Alley about cakes, how she is building her business, and how she sees Alley’s Bakery expanding in the future. It appears that things are moving along very well, thank you very much.
Alley began baking when she was in kindergarten, and after growing up in her nana’s kitchen and watching her cook; she remembers making a home cooking show at a time when camcorders were just coming onto the market. “I think I was 10. I made peanut butter cookies,” she recalls.
As Alley was graduating from UCLA she needed a job, and that was her introduction to the OP Café. “I interviewed and was the first girl John hired. He posted an ad looking for someone who wanted to help open a nice family breakfast and lunch place. The concept reminded me of my first job in Sunnyvale, CA at a Coco’s in town… So I pitched myself to make cakes for the place, coffee cakes, muffins, cookies, as well as waitress… that part kind of came up out of nowhere, but the idea of helping create the identity of a new place, with its baked goods just hit me. I thought people would respond to something they couldn’t get anywhere else, a homemade feel when they walked in… eventually, ‘the girl who makes everything herself’ became quite a draw to the place,” she said proudly.
The OP Café was the very first business to sell Alley’s cakes, and she is very grateful that it gave her the chance to ply her wares to a great many customers. People would say, “Wow, you made this?” This gave Alley the confidence to search for other venues in which to purvey her products.
When asked how she approached Whole Foods, and if she felt a little daunted, Ally explained, “I just took one of my fresh Blueberry Coffee Cakes to their corporate office in Sherman Oaks, warm from the oven. I didn’t expect anything. They tried it and asked, ‘what else do I have?’”
The coffee cake now retailing at Whole Foods is, of course all natural and organic, and Alley is currently working on making some of her other recipes suitable for the retail giant, as well as other organic emporiums. “I’m working on making my red velvet cupcakes red with a natural food coloring, so they can carry them too. They’re [Whole Foods] also considering vegan-, gluten-, and wheat-free versions of my coffee cakes, seasonal cakes, cupcakes, and pies for their store,” she expanded.
I asked Alley where she sees her rising cake business a year from now, and with admirable confidence she told me that 12 months ago she did not even have a business card and “now I’m selling my cakes in a beautiful new store, expanding soon to Santa Monica and possibly Malibu. I take it a day at a time, since I don’t have an investor or sophisticated business plan. Just really quality baked goods that I took and personalized one order at a time, and so much has grown from that,” she replied.
Alley eventually hopes to open a storefront where cake connoisseurs can socialize and share new ideas for cake concepts, and she can get to know her customers.
Watch this space!