For the Love of Cake

For Kristen Repa, making a cake isn’t just an occupation. It’s an art form.

“I got into this industry because I love my craft,” said Repa, owner of Dessert Works in Westwood. “I love making cakes. It’s rewarding, it’s challenging. There’s so much to it.”

Dessert Works, located in Lambert’s Plaza on Providence Highway, has actually been in business for nearly 10 years (the anniversary comes this June), but only since February has the bakery been located in Westwood.

“We’re known here for our specialty cakes,” Repa said. “It’s a very broad statement, but basically, our philosophy is, sure, we’ll start our customer relationship off with a wedding cake, but then hopefully we’ll be creating your baby shower cake, an anniversary cake, the first birthday, and on and on.”

Originally opening in Medfield in 2001, Repa bought the business from its previous owner.

“The person that had the business just didn’t have very much experience,” Repa said. “I’d been doing it for a while. I’ve been making cakes and had been a pastry chef in a couple of different places, traveled, and it was time that I kind of breached out on my own.”

But it wasn’t long before Repa moved the company to Vanderbilt Avenue, right along Route 1 in Norwood, before finally settling in Lambert’s Plaza.

“We outgrew the space in Medfield,” Repa said. “We just almost instantaneously were doubling our business. Every year we were there, we were doubling the businesses, but we were outgrowing the space and it was frustrating.”

The larger location in Norwood, though, proved not to be ideal. While located right along Route 1, it was still difficult for customers to find it, Repa said, and as such Dessert Works suffered a bit in terms of foot traffic.

Repa attains much of her supplies, such as fruits and other produce, from Lambert’s Rainbow Fruit, and it was Nino Lambert, the owner of the store and the plaza, who told Repa that he was looking for a bakery to fill a vacancy next to The Dog House. Repa said the move was beyond beneficial.

“We’re definitely enjoying our new location,” she said. “I’m proud to say so many customers have come in and say they’ve been frequenting my business for the last 10 years. That’s awesome. It’s not like you find a bakery on every corner anymore, like back in the day. But nonetheless, it’s nice that we make it worth their trip.”

Where It All Started

Unlike many in her field, Repa did not go to culinary school. Instead, she learned her trade by working her way up the ladder, having started at the counter of a bakery and eventually traveling to Austria, where members of her family live.

“I literally started right out of high school, working in a bakery, working the counter at Konditor Meister bakery” she said. “They ended up pulling me into the kitchen, so I worked there for about three and a half years, leaving there with the title of Executive Chef.”

Repa then moved on to work at the Ritz Carlton in Boston, where she met her present husband, who was a chef in the dining room at that hotel at the time. Repa worked there for about a year and a half before going overseas to get some first-hand experience with an uncle in Vienna, Austria.

“Vienna is well-known for their desserts,” said Repa, who was able to work in the country legally by obtaining an Austrian passport.

She lived in Vienna for about a year before returning home, taking on the duties of Executive Pastry Chef at The Catered Affair in Hingham. She remained there for nearly four years before deciding the time was right to start her own business.

“I didn’t really have any formal training other than this experience,” Repa said.

Repa currently has 12 full-time employees on staff at Dessert Works, with another five or six part-timers, three of whom are interns in the kitchen and one of whom is an aspiring intern in the retail portion of the store.

Sales for the bakery in 2010 were approximately $750,000, Repa said, with more than 52 percent of that accounting for labor cost. While business has been great, she admitted with a laugh that she and her employees aren’t “raking in the dough.”

“Fifty-two percent doesn’t leave much behind for powering up that oven with the gas and turning on the lights, and making the actual product,” she said.

The Main Ingredient

Everything sold at Dessert Works is made from scratch. Everything from cakes to pastries to cookies is hand-made, using original ingredients, rather than pre-mixed packages.

“The products that we’re bringing in the back door are basic stuff like eggs and sugar and flower, fresh fruit, cream,” Repa said. “Everything is made the old-fashioned way.”

From wedding cakes to custom orders, if a customer has an idea for a cake in mind, Repa and her crew will do anything in their power to bring it to life. In the event of a birthday, the bakers will work in some creative elements that give a nod to the person’s likes and interests, such as music or motorcycles. The store also creates baked goods for corporate events.

In terms of ingredients used, the store, on average, goes through about eight cases of butter each week. Each case comprises 36 pounds of butter.

“It’s ridiculous,” Repa said. “One recipe of butter cream is like 48 pounds of butter, like 60 some-odd pounds of sugar, and two gallons of egg whites; a cup of vanilla extract. And that’s what all of our cakes get.”

The store is now also making breads from Thursdays through Sundays, such as French baguettes and focccia bread.

What’s more, the store will permanently be extending its hours from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. starting April 17.

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