We long for springtime. It’s when our fancy turns to cakes.
Yes, the unofficial “cake season” is almost here (and we can’t wait). Starting with darling bunny and lamb cakes, it moves right into the shower, wedding/anniversary and graduation season. (Birthdays go without say.)
We had passed Cake Crazy Bakery & Catering for over a year on our drive back and forth to the William Street Thruway entrance before finally checking it out.
The intriguing 7-Up Cake we saw on the website (along with other great looking goodies) prompted us to learn what was going on under the whimsical awning.
Turns out a great story, starting with the fact chef-owner Shetice Williams, 37, hated to bake.
An Emerson School of Hospitality graduate (and valedictorian), Williams attended (and survived) the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.
“I remember coming back to the dorm and crying,” said Williams of the often-grueling (and humbling) experience students endure. Yet, in speaking with her, one gets the sense she is highly driven — a perfectionist — and the hardest critic of her own work.
While at the CIA, she supported herself by working at Olive Garden.
“The other students would kind of look down at me, but hey, it was cooking," she said. "I loved it, and I could cook a lot faster than them because of Olive Garden."
Her cooking stints included an internship at Disney, followed by Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House at the MGM in Las Vegas. She went to Emeril’s restaurant simply looking for a way to gain experience as an intern.
“They hired me on the spot,” she laughed. But Las Vegas is far from home. She moved back to work in Buffalo restaurants.
In 2005, she attended SUNY Buffalo State to get her bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Tourism Management. She eventually became a chef instructor at the Campus House "teaching laboratory" and social club for the Buffalo State community.
But it wasn’t easy.
“When the position became open I told myself, ‘I gotta get this job,’ ” said Williams. She painstakingly designed a menu, then interrupted a faculty meeting with her proposal. They hired her.
She was a chef instructor for eight years. Oh, and along the way she married her husband Stoney (short for Stonewall) and they had a son, Tyler, who is now in kindergarten.
So when did she discover she wanted to make cakes?
“In school I loved to cook, but I hated baking. I made my first cake for my mom’s birthday. I made a box cake and I screwed it up,” Williams laughed. “I had to re-do it. I even used canned frosting.”
Williams gave the cake to her mother who cried because she was so touched.
“I thought if I can put a smile on people’s faces like that, I want to do it,” said Williams. From that point on she became obsessed with baking.
“My mom told my aunt I was 'cake crazy,' ” she said. That was five years ago. After scrimping and saving, she opened her William Street shop in October 2014 in the site of a former bakery after renovating the entire space.
Williams’ stint at Buffalo State helped her with the business end of things.
“I love numbers and budgeting,” she said.
Originally, she purchased used equipment, but two days before opening the oven went down.
“That was it. I bought new equipment. I am overly nervous,” she said, acknowledging it will take her three to five years to break even.
Williams convinced friend Sabrea Ali, who had worked at Albert Young & Sons Cakes on Hertel Avenue, to join her.
Williams says, “She’s my heart,” and trusts Ali implicitly.
Also in the kitchen is Jada Arrington, who will graduate from Niagara County Community College in May.
Call Cake Crazy you’ll be greeted with, “How can we make your day a little sweeter?”
Everything in Williams' shop is baked from scratch. Butter, sugar, eggs, flour. No short cuts.
On our visit, a caller wanted a 7-Up cake. For 5 p.m. It was 4:40.
Laughing, Williams didn’t skip a beat told him, “I don’t just open up a can.” She told him to come in the next day and she’d have one for him.
“He sounded young,” she laughed.
Her selections range from unbelievably delightful cupcakes and cheesecakes to full wedding cakes. Plus cookies, tarts, cannoli, brownies .
“I do my own research and put my own twist on things,” she notes.
The 7-Up Cake is just one of those items, along other Southern classics like her sweet potato pound cake with pecans, sweet potato pie or tart, and a fabulous pineapple upside down cake.
In January, Williams took the plunge and got a booth at the big bridal show, along side all the big deal local bakeries. It was a little intimidating at first.
“I thought, ‘I have bills to pay, I can’t be afraid,’ ” said Williams. Brides loved her cakes, but it’s easy to see they probably loved her too.
Cake Crazy’s biggest asset is Williams. Her generous personality is the invisible icing on her cakes. For instance, on our visit, the “Lemon Bar Guy” came in. Williams and her staff note how many he buys so they can have more ready when he returns to stock up. She cares a great deal and takes pride in what she does.
To that end, she is working to build up her catering business. Her “orders” board shows everything from hors d’oeuvre parties to full dinners, and cake orders.
And she’s still not done.
“Someday I’d like to open a bakery café where people can come in and sit at tables," Williams said. Hopefully I will make it happen."
And when she does, it won’t be a surprise to her friends and family, or to us.
Cake Crazy Bakery & Catering
2525 William St., (716-235-8002)
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday. Parking along Helen Street.