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'Cake Man' Raven tells all

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 9/11/2012, 12:51 p.m.
'Cake Man' Raven tells all

After taking time to regroup and redesign his business, famed confectioner Raven "Cake Man" Dennis said he's taking things one step at a time. Known in Brooklyn for his famous red velvet cake and setting a world record for the world's largest cake, Dennis said that after taking some time off, he's looking ahead to the future and continuing to serve his loyal customers.

The state of his business, Cake Man Raven Confectionery, was a topic of speculation as passersby saw a closed gate this summer. He closed for six weeks starting in July, opening back up in early August. In a recent interview with the AmNews, Dennis revealed why he had restructured his entire operation.

Earlier this year, Dennis left for seven months to go teach culinary arts in his native South Carolina. Placing his business in the hands of others, Dennis was under the notion that he could retire from the kitchen after baking for 32 years.

Dennis said that during his time in South Carolina, customers began to complain and things were beginning to fall apart.

"I came back to mayhem," he said. "I had to get back into the driver's seat and learned a hard lesson in business. While I was rebuilding my business, I had to go back to the essence of what it was."

Things became so bad, he added, that he had to let go of most of his employees, scaling down to only three full-time workers. He's also back in the kitchen doing 100 percent of the baking, waking up a 4 a.m. to meet the daily demand at his shop on Fulton Street, which is open seven days a week.

Dennis also ceased doing wedding cakes at this time and didn't take phone orders for six months while making over his business. This summer he also canceled his annual Friends and Family Appreciation Day, which he said he pays for out of his own pocket, due to a lack funds. Dennis was even unable to provide a scholarship this year from his Cupcake Foundation.

"It's not just selling cake, it's a whole experience of the cake. Standards have to be in place," he said.

In his personal life, Dennis said he suffered emotionally over the loss of several of his mentors, including the late Sylvia Woods and Calvin Copeland. However, he said, religion helped him make it through his hardships.

"Mrs. Lillie Wilson came from Harlem to help watch the shop during this emotional roller coaster," he said. "The Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts and the Rev. Belin, along with Evangelist Maxine Ceallus, fueled my faith in God to rise again."

This year, Dennis was looking to build a second location in Harlem on 110th Street but lost the space to Dunkin' Donuts. He told the AmNews that he hopes to unveil a Harlem location by the end of the year.

While expanding his brand, Dennis was approached by a television network wanting to do a reality show about his business. However, he turned down the offer, saying the network wanted to portray him negatively.

He's also currently looking to partner with a major corporation to take his brand international in 2013, hoping to produce and market boxed cake mixes, bake ware and other culinary items.

But for now, as he continues to rebuild, Dennis is preparing his annual wedding cake show, which this year will take place on Sept. 30, and is participating in the Circle of Sisters Expo in October. Best known for his replica cakes, Dennis is preparing to create a replica of the new Barclays Center in celebration of its opening.

In preparation for Thanksgiving and Christmas, Dennis is looking to train staff in the art of confectionery so he's ready to meet the demand of the holiday season.