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Meet Elizabeth Belkind of Cake Monkey Bakery in Mid City, North Hollywood and West Lake Village

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elizabeth Belkind.

Elizabeth, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I began my career as a prep cook at Campanile Restaurant. I had the distinct honor of working alongside Roxana Jullapat (now Chef/owner of Friends and Family in Los Feliz) who was then a pastry line cook at Campanile. While I labored at the stoves, stinking of veal bones and lobster stock, I would watch her plating Nancy Silverton’s gorgeous desserts. Roxana’s work seemed so serene and sensual. My work was a dirty grind. I decided to ask for a job in the pastry kitchen.

A week later, I was working in the pastry kitchen under the careful tutelage of Kim Boyce (Bakeshop Portland), Dahlia Nervaez (The Mozza Group), Roxana and Nancy Silverton. It was a magical time to be in that kitchen, surrounded by so much talent. There I learned the fundamentals of baking and pastry from the very best. I stayed at Campanile for 3 years, eventually moving on to open Neal Fraser and Amy Knoll’s Grace Restaurant.

At Grace, I had my first opportunity to write a menu and develop recipes from scratch. I had the chance to hire and train my first bakers and assistants. It was an invaluable experience in every regard; and an amazingly successful time in my career as well. While at Grace, I launched the Wednesday Night Doughnut Shop. Each Wednesday, I would switch my menu to one entirely made up of various different made-to-order doughnut desserts. The doughnuts were a huge hit and they landed my name on the front page of the LA Times Food Section and a number of other local and national magazines.

In 2008, after leaving Grace to start up my own venture, I had the sheer, magical luck of meeting my current business partner, Lisa Olin. I was looking for work as a consultant while I worked on my own restaurant project. She posted an add on Craig’s List which stated “Mush Love Cake.” Well….. duh. I loved cake! We met, we hit it off, and I immediately began helping her develop recipes for what was then only the concept behind CAKE MONKEY BAKERY. With her feedback as my launching point, I developed recipes for well-loved classic American snack treats like Ding Dongs and Hohos. We named ours “Cakewiches” and “El Rollos”. A few months later, we became partners and started offering our treats to large charity events around town. Demand grew quickly, and by that winter, we rented our first commercial kitchen space in Burbank. 800 sq. ft. crammed to the gills with product. Our business grew thanks to a few wonderful restaurant and cafe concepts that were launched at the same time. They featured our products front and center in their cases. Before we knew it, we had a two million dollar wholesale business to run. In 2012, we moved into our current 6000 sq. ft. production facility in North Hollywood, which houses over 35 employees and daily production for 135 different wholesale accounts and our own retail store.

In 2015, we opened a pink jewel box of a bakery on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles. There, we bake a line of fresh croissants and breakfast pastries each morning, as well as cookies and pies. We offer something no one else does: miniature three layer cakes. Each filled and frosted individually in the technique used for standard sized cakes. We sell delicious, unique cakes for all occasions. And we offer our full line of Cake Monkey snack treats, reminiscent of the very best treats from childhood in the US. Many of our products are available as gluten free options.

In the summer of 2018, we are slated to open our second retail location. Located in Westlake Village, this new location will offer all of the delights we offer at our current location plus a small menu for breakfast, brunch and lunch which will include beer and wine options.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The food business in general is a tough business to be in. We have been fortunate to be successful. But staying successful requires total devotion and focus. Our bakery is entirely independently run. And by independently run, I mean by myself and my partner, Lisa. Over the course of the last decade, we have had to work miracles with the resources at our disposal. I believe we have done so with grace.

The job market for talented managers, bakers and retail workers is competitive in LA. When we come across real and potential talent, we hold on tight! I give thanks every day for the careful and conscientious managers who run our store and kitchens and the bakers who make our products by hand day in and day out.

In the last five years, we have seen competition grow in Los Angeles. On the one hand, it is wonderful to ride the sweeping wave of the LA food movement and to be a part of what makes this city a great culinary beacon. On the other hand, it is true to say that one cannot rest for even a moment in order to remain pertinent and on the radar of what can sometimes be a very fickle audience.

Add to the challenge for me, the need to balance my work life with my life at home. I have ageing parents whom I adore, a wonderful, embracing husband and a three year old son who anchor me and keep it all in crystal clear perspective. What is hardest for me, and what keeps me on my toes, is the need to stay present and give of myself entirely whether I am at work or with my family.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Cake Monkey Bakery specializes in classic American snack treats and miniature layer cakes. Our brand includes high end renditions of well-loved treats reminiscent of American childhood. Though our line of products extends well beyond retro snack treats and cakes, all our products are informed by the same ethos and aesthetic. Everything I create using top of the line ingredients hearkens back to a not far distant time when pleasure seemed much more simple.

As a bakery, we succeed every day in bringing pure delight to our customers. Our customers’ feedback keeps us going strong. As we have grown, we have maintained our top quality standards for everything we make. And still, everything we make is made from scratch and by hand. We are known for this, and for the outstanding quality and originality of our product line-up. There is really nothing like it.

What were you like growing up?
I was quiet and shy as a child. I was born in Mexico City into a family of 7 children. And yet, I remember spending a great deal of time alone. Ironically, I spent a lot of that alone time playing in a pretend kitchen in our garden. I would bake mud bread and mud cakes in an outdoor hearth.

I detested sports, yet my parents enrolled me in everything from track and field, to tennis, to Olympic swimming, to gymnastics. All I wanted as a young girl was a pink tutu and ballet shoes. I got both when we moved to the United States.

I was born to a Jewish American mother, who had ventured to Mexico in her twenties, and to a Mexican born father of Jewish East European descent. Religion never has played a part in my identity. But being born in Mexico and moving to the US at the age of 10 certainly has. For many years I felt like an outsider even though I made wonderful friends at every stage of my youth.

It was not until I graduated from college and went to graduate school that I began to value my “difference” in earnest.

Contact Info:

  • Address: Cake Monkey Mid City: 7807 Beverly Blvd, LA 90036
    Cake Monkey Westlake Village: 2805 Agoura Rd, Westlake Commons Shopping Center Thousand Oaks 91361
  • Website: www.cakemonkey.com
  • Phone: 818-508-9579
  • Email: info@cakemonkey.com
  • Instagram: @cakemonkeybakery
  • Facebook: @cakemonkeybakery
  • Twitter: @cakemonkeyla

Image Credit:
Staci Valentine, Nastassia Johnson

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