Alexandria, VA: Interview with Occasionally Cake

Months back, my co-worker came in and told me some wonderful news: a bakery had opened down the street! I immediately investigated and was pleased to meet “Occasionally Cake.”

The display case is filled with delightful cupcakes in a myriad of flavors. They change every day and it’s hard to pick just one. I don’t think there’s a flavor these ladies couldn’t turn into cake. Check out their website for daily updates! You won’t be disappointed.


The primary business, as it turns out, is custom cakes. The cupcakes in the window are to lure food fools like me. They won the 2009 local Best New Business award, so they must be doing something right! During my visits, I had the good fortune to meet the owners and had the bright idea—“hey! What’s it like to own a cake shop?” Who better to ask then the people that run the show…

Meet Sabrina Campbell of Occasionally Cake!


Sabrina is a local of the Mount Vernon area of Virginia. Her great-grand parents emigrated from Italy to Uruguay and then her mother came to the United States where she met her husband. Hence, Sabrina holds a unique food and cultural background.

Fun Facts

- Color: blue
- Food: Italian (real Italian)
- Animal: pet golden retriever
- Kids: 2 daughters
- Books: “Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho and “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens
- Movie: “Gone with the Wind”
- TV: Cake shows! (“Top Chef”, “Cake Boss,” “Ace of Cakes” etc)—homework and inspiration!
- Krispy Kreme vs Dunkin Donuts: Krispy Kreme
- Peeve: Crappy, rude drivers
- Inspiration: Norman Davis, Gordan Ramsey, Ron Ben Israel, and Bronwen Webber to name a few.

The Start

“People thought we were crazy because of the economy.” This is Sabrina’s 1st store and was harder to open than expected (stupid permits). It took some thought but she wouldn’t have opened shop if she didn’t think it would succeed. She’s a decisive and calculated person.

Her husband thought of the store name and she immediately loved it. There’s a lot of love in the shop from the paint to the added carpentry thanks to the efforts of friends and family.

The crew started with just Sabrina and her partner, Marcia Crandall. They are now up to 4 with the added talent of Mod Rao and Lindsey Durrant.
The location is not designed as a sit down, café. Serving beverages requires a whole new fleet of permits. There is one simple table for cake design consultation

Experience

Cooking runs in the family. Her uncle and aunt own a restaurant in Manassas, the City Square Café. Put a chef with a pastry chef like Sabrina in the family, and you can imagine the food for the holiday gatherings! She started baking as a teenager when her family would watch football games. As a perfectionist, she appreciated the precision involved in baking. You cannot really go to school for certain aspects of this field, so it truly does take a lot of practice. She does a little bit of everything in the kitchen.

Why Custom Cakes

If you do too many things, it becomes mediocre. If you want something good, you want someone who specializes in it. “If you want it to be good… and I mean real good… you cannot over extend yourself.” It’s the difference between generic and precision.

Where do the Flavors come From

Some are standard, some are unique. Inspiration is everywhere. The Peach Mango Fusion comes from a 7-11 slurpee. The Caramel Apple comes from a carnival. She tries to appeal to a more sophisticated palate. And yes, the Pink Champagne actually does have pomegranate in it. A lot of the recipes have the same base ingredients and are tweeked depending on flavor; some are unique.

What it Takes

They make about 100 cupcakes per day, Wednesday being the busiest as they prepare for the weekend. They usually get in around 10AM and try to keep things as laid back and fun as possible. However, do not speak to Sabrina on Fridays- they are the most stressful. It is time consuming and hopefully the balance between the shop and family evens out with time.

Hardest Cake Ever

Took 100 man hours and cost $3,000. The cake was for a fundraiser so it was for free (“never again”). It was designed as the building for the Brown Academy. Sabrina didn’t realize it was going to be so much work. They hand painted by brick work and made everything to scale. It was a learning experience.

Other ‘Cupcake’ Stores

A recent trend is the cute little cupcake shops. The first I noticed was Georgetown Cupcake, then Cake Love, then Red Velvet, etc.

Occasionally Cake isn’t just cupcakes. Its specialty is custom cakes. However, in Sabrina’s opinion, they’re cupcakes are better than most, equal to some. There’s enough business for everybody. It’s their custom cakes that set them apart from the competition. Never slam other cake people- they deserve respect. Everyone is just trying to make a living and they should make one another aspire to be better. She’s learned a lot from others. It’s all about karma.

Ingredients

If you’re going to do it, do it right. Incorporate good fats; don’t skimp on them. Real ingredients are healthier and you can pronounce them.

Location

The shop is located on route 1 by Fort Belvoir, not the place I would envision this sort of market. When I think route 1, I think of car dealer ships and sketchy folk walking around. Hey, I live off route 1 up in Woodbridge!

As it turns out, the shop is super close to her home and her kids. The shop has visibility from the road and size was just right. Her sole complaint is the small parking lot. It adds a lil panache to the area and locals certainly appreciate it.

Down the Road

In 5 years, her husband wants to open a DC location. Sabrina feels they will expand and may have find a new location as they outgrown the space. The store is there to stay (“so long as I can keep Marcia!")

Lesson

Sabrina’s piece of advice: “BE CREATIVE!!!!!!”



Occasionally Cake
8859 Richmond Highway
Alexandria, VA 22309
703-780-CAKE