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Community Highlights: Meet James Crist of Top Tier Treats

Today we’d like to introduce you to James Crist.

Hi James, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I met my wife in Eugene, Oregon while I was attending college at the University of Oregon. After I graduated, I moved back to my hometown of West Los Angeles, where I was born and raised. I majored in human anatomy and physiology, however as it turns out, my wife Jamaica is an insanely talented artist and baker. Using her talents in the kitchen, with me running the business side, we decided to open Jamaica’s Cakes in 2006. After a few years of confusion, specifically people STILL looking for Jamaican-style cakes after ten years (even though that’s just her name). In 2017, we rebranded as Top Tier Treats to take the confusion out of it. Our goal is to make gorgeous, whimsical, original cakes while still tasting even better than they look. We always say, “A gorgeous cake makes a great first impression, however it is the quality that leaves a lasting one.” We have been open over 15 years and have navigated the 2008 economic crisis as well as Covid-19, and we’ve not only survived, we’ve thrived. One of my best attributes is adaptability, and through every trying time, we make lemonade out of lemons. In the last year, we’ve been growing and have recently increased our workforce by 25% to keep up with demand. Everyone always has birthdays and weddings, and it’s always time for cake!

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
It has definitely not been a smooth road. From problems with city permits before we opened to employees stealing cash and tips, to delivery drivers handling our cakes like airport luggage, to overzealous health department inspectors, we have literally seen it all. But if you look back, we handled them all and learned from everyone. Every time a new problem came up, I liken it to walking through a dark room and not knowing where the door is. Sometimes it’s easy, and you find it right away. But I really felt myself feeling lonely, as there was no one for me to ask where that door is, I had to figure it out for myself every single time. However after 15+ years, Jamaica and I were just talking about how we don’t stress out anymore. The health department came, we had a sewer issue, and two employees came close to being exposed to Covid (they weren’t) but we didn’t sweat anything at all and handled it perfectly. There is no replacement for experience! It’s almost like I can light up that dark room now, assess the problems, and solve them without breaking a sweat.

We’ve been impressed with Top Tier Treats, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
We specialize in cakes that look good and taste even better. A lot of other bakeries can make crazy, amazing, original cakes, but it’s usually at the sacrifice of how they taste. I’ve seen some very high-end cake makers using box mixes, pre-made “American buttercream” (which doesn’t have any butter, it’s full of shortening). and stuff like that. We want our cakes to look amazing, but they’re actually dessert, too! We do everything 100% from scratch and even make our own caramel. When our apple pie has only six ingredients (and you know at least two already) and our fruit purees have only three ingredients in it (and you already know one, the fruit!) I truly believe your tongue can taste it better. If we bought a fruit puree that was pre-made, it would probably have at least 20 ingredients in it and I believe that dulls out on your tongue, it tastes great, it just doesn’t taste “fresh” if that makes sense.

We also have a full-service espresso bar, as well as lots of goodies in our bakery case, including 6″ and 9″ cakes that are available for walk-in, and cupcakes, cookies, tarts, bars, brownies, and we even have birthday cards and a huge candle/sparkler candle selection. Most of the stuff we do is custom order, and we are now booked at least one week out.

If you had to, what characteristic of yours would you give the most credit to?
I have frequently been called a true renaissance man in that I know a little about everything. I worked in hardware stores to put me through college, so in addition to the college stuff I know (business, medicine, physics, chemistry, biology, etc.). I also am a basic locksmith, I know electricity, plumbing, hardware stuff… I used to mix paint, so I still tell Jamaica what color to add when she’s trying to make a color out of fondant… I can drive any vehicle, from a column-stick shift to a forklift to a semi-truck to a backhoe, to motorcycles or race cars… I build electric scooters for the fun of it with cruise control and energy-recovery batteries from braking… I have done martial arts for over 20 years, and take boxing classes three times a week, and I play pool (billiards) competitively.

However, the quality that has always been my best is adaptability. You can put me in any situation, and I will not only adapt I will thrive. It’s like that saying, if you throw me to the wolves, I’ll come back leading the pack. It’s a long story, but when I was 18 years old, I was thrown in jail with horrible criminals, totally unjustified (which is another story) but I came back making friends with tons of crazy jailed people. I honestly feel I went in a boy and came out a man. If I can do that, I can do anything.

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James Crist

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1 Comment

  1. ruby soderquist

    September 28, 2021 at 05:37

    What a positive and inspiring outlook on life!!! I am so proud of you and your wife, you are living the american dream..that is why your grandparents immigrated to this country…to make a better life for their children and their children’s children..you have proven that hard work does pay off… I love you all…Auntie Ruby xoxo

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