Stefanie Kitchner set out to express herself through the arts, at the last minute scrapping a photography career for a more savory path, melding both of her passions: being creative and making sweets.
Kitchner, the owner and head cake-maker at Ciao Bella Cakes, concocts cakes that truly epitomize works of art. A bold-hued three-tiered asymmetrical cake sculpted with fondant looks more the part of a trio of haphazardly stacked hats than dessert, but Kitchner bills it as one of many funky wedding cake designs she's perfected since beginning her business in 2009.
"Here I am," the amicable Kitchner, 32, said from her business' kitchen in her nearly 1,600-square-foot Jacksonville Road commercial property. "I've arrived."
Indeed. Kitchner, of Germantown, a graduate of the Pastry Arts program from The Restaurant School in Philadelphia, relocated to Hatboro last spring after outgrowing a 400-square-foot cake-making space. Now situated in a former garage, alongside a rivet manufacturer, Kitchner said it was a "major, major undertaking" for her husband Jay, who owns a general contracting company, to convert the space previously used to fix cars into a suitable space for a cakery.
But, Kitchner said the three-month labor of love to revamp the space proved worthwhile.
"I started as (the economy) was tanking and I've continued, every year, to get busier," Kitchner said, while whipping up a batch of her own made-from-scratch buttercream frosting. "I've actually had to turn business down."
On average, Kitchner said she crafts a dozen custom-made cakes for weddings, birthdays and mitzvahs every weekend. In May and June, her orders could be as high as 20 per any given weekend.
And Candace Taranto, her right hand cake-making woman, said it's a trend that she expects to continue building momentum.
"People are always going to have birthdays and they're always going to get married," Taranto said.
For both of those, cake is the main ingredient.
In fact, much of Kitchner's success early on stemmed from her own wedding. She and Jay married in 2009, about the same time as she was getting Ciao Bella Cakes off the ground. Kitchner said she coordinated with Old York Road Country Club in Spring House - where the couple's wedding was held - to provide cakes included with wedding packages.
The move brought Kitchner a definite boost in business, but also saw her mixing, baking and frosting her own cake. Kitchner, who also made her own graduation cake, said she chose to make her flower-adorned wedding cake, a concoction notably a bit simpler than some of her more recent creations.
With dual three-year anniversaries under her whisk, Kitchner said she's now set her sights on growing the business and allowing more time for recipe testing, to make room for even more house flavors. She currently offers eight flavors of made-from-scratch cakes and a dozen filling flavors, including the latest favorite, a peanut butter buttercream frosting.
No matter how elegant, simple, or one-of-a-kind her edible masterpiece, Kitchner prides herself on the finished product always being palatable - and tasting as good as it looks.
That means, according to Taranto, that clients will not find non-edible items between layers, or propping up portions of cake, as is sometimes the case on cake-making TV programs.
"There's no styrofoam," Taranto said. "It's all cake."