Keeping the kake in town

When a woman walked into Yummykake a few weeks ago and ordered a birthday cake, her instructions were "Do what you want."

It was a dream come true for Larry Oswald, who owns Yummykake with his wife, Lisa. The cake he produced was a three-foot tall "Mad Hatter" cake with a neon checkerboard design and a triangle-shaped middle layer that created the illusion that the cake might topple over any second.

"I'm into really bizarro stuff," he said.

Oswald, who has run Yummykake for five years in Ashland, envisions a boutique "cakery" with shops in Portland or Seattle to sell his 25 flavors of custom-decorated gourmet cakes.

The road to that dream has so far been filled with innovation to overcome some of the challenges to doing business in Ashland.

One of the first challenges of the Ashland market is that people don't seem to want cake full of cream and sugar, Oswald said, at least not in the amounts customers demanded at the bakery he ran back in Iowa. He opened a store on Siskiyou Boulevard four years ago, hoping to attract the foot traffic he lacked at his original location in the Hersey Street industrial district. The customers didn't appear, and the storefront lasted just six months.

At the same time, however, he opened a second location in Medford.

"When we went to Medford, it just exploded," he said.

He sells 70 to 100 cakes in Medford and just eight to 10 in Ashland.

"In Medford, there's never a time when nobody's in the store," he said, but when asked about the number of customers in his Ashland hideaway, "I don't even want to say. It's embarrassing."

But Ashland is his home, and he plans to keep the Hersey Street store as a production facility, despite the dismal foot traffic and friends who have left Ashland and found better success elsewhere.

Cakes To Go

A major part of Oswald's business is wedding cakes, with more than 200 weddings last year. It is an area he has discovered is ripe for innovation.

When he began catering outdoor summer weddings, he began freezing the cakes and created insulated boxes to stop the butter- and cream-laden cakes from melting in the sun. He worked out at deal to provide cakes for ceremonies held at the Ashland Springs Hotel this year.

To reach the other end of the budget spectrum, he developed a concept he calls Cakes To Go.

Budget-minded brides can order a simply-designed plain white cake, pick it up themselves and finishing decorating it with their own flowers for about half the price of a custom-decorated yummykake, which run from $3 up to $7 per serving.

Oswald said he's filling an undiscovered niche for affordable wedding cakes.

"There are not a lot of places to go except for the supermarket, and the supermarket is notorious for supermarket cake," he said.

Helping brides save money by doing their own decorating is not just altruistically motivated, however.

With fewer culinary grads specializing in cake decorating, Cakes To Go allows Oswald to continue selling his famous gourmet cakes with a scant staff of five instead of combing through more applicants, the majority of which he said can't make a rose.

Oswald said he has more ideas up his sleeve to keep the business growing in Ashland's tough market and allowing him more time to create crazy cake designs.

"Either you have exactly what Ashland wants or you don't," he said. "I should have been out of business years ago, but I didn't."

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