The former video-game producer has pulled off a happy baking shake-up by taking over a Maple Leaf institution.
“HELLO. HOME CAKE Decorating; can I help you?”
The rotary phone disappeared years ago, but some things will never change at this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it storefront in Maple Leaf.
The shop is an institution for local bakers, the place they went for advice on making a cat-shaped birthday cake for their now-grown toddler, or to learn to pipe buttercream, or to build elaborate sugar flowers for a wedding cake.
The challenge for Dave Hasle, the man now answering the phone and greeting customers, is navigating the biggest change: himself.
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Hasle — born in 1962, the same year the shop opened — bought Home Cake Decorating Supply Co. recently, taking over from Greil Mooney, the woman generations of customers identified with the store.
“You’re not the cake lady!” customers say when they park at the little strip mall for the first time in months and see Hasle at the counter.
Hasle knows, though, that Mooney — still working there two days a week — heard the same outcry when she took over the store decades ago. Her mother, Irene Amundsen, and her aunt, Thelma Sowards, were the original “cake ladies,” founding the store in Pinehurst before moving to Maple Leaf in 1964.
At first glance in the internet age, you’d think the old-fashioned shop would have been unlikely to find a new owner when Mooney retired. Cake pans are stacked high, along with every shade of food coloring and size of doily and shape of decorating tips. Signs, many handwritten, advertise glycerin and glucose and meringue powder, candy boxes and cake toppers. The Toledo candy scale in the backroom, still a workhorse, is antique.
The world of tech, though, is also how Hasle found his way to Home Cake. He’d spent years as a video-game producer for local companies, including Microsoft and Kirkland-based Monolith Productions. An artist at heart — one of his early jobs was designing G.I. Joe figures for Hasbro — he decorated creative cakes to relieve stress, to delight his daughters, to reward his team at work. He earned money from baking after leaving his management job, but didn’t want to turn the hobby into a career. Overseeing the cake shop, where he had been a regular, seemed a brighter idea.
“I knew in the end, after what I’d done for 25 years, that whatever I wanted to do, I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted it to be something I’m passionate about.”
And what the shop still offers — expert advice, personal service, friendly connections — can’t easily be found online.
In just one recent hour, Hasle advised a caller on making edible alphabet letters, and worked with another customer planning to dye a fondant rainbow. (“Send me a picture when you’re done,” he said.) He took a mail-order call for caramel, helped a mom and child pick supplies for edible emojis, directed a woman toward host gifts for a trip to Norway and helped a novice baker figure out how to swirl jam into cake batter. (“Pay me next time,” he said when her 50-cent pastry bag would have incurred a 25-cent credit-card fee.) The day’s best challenge so far had been helping a woman re-create a magazine image of a puppy made from cupcakes.
“My favorite thing, honestly, is just talking to the customers,” he says. Gesturing toward the shelves, he adds, “These are all just tools for them to do cool stuff.”
For now, changes in the crowded store are subtle: Hasle installed an air-conditioner and added a website. He expanded the selection of colorful sprinkles, and shifted the stapler to a different counter. He consolidated the ribbons. (“We must have had 18 shades of peach.”)
“I want to keep the spirit of the store true,” he says. “It’s got that old five-and-dime feel, where you come in and dig for stuff. But at the same time, you want to make it easier for people to know where to go dig.”
A new clock — still analog — is waiting for the right moment to replace the old one on the wall. Eventually, he’d like to add modern advantages, maybe even an edible printer. He might redo the jarring green paint on the cabinets, from when the cake ladies asked for “a nice green” back in 1964, but decided to live with the shamrock-pickle. Hasle can live with it a while, too.
“I need to respect the people that come in here and are used to the place,” he says.
The Wilton cake-decorating book from 1961 stays in a place of honor on his reference bookshelf, though, still with Irene Amundsen’s “certificate of completion” pasted inside. The worn spot in the flooring, too, might not get spruced up for some time. It’s in front of the cash register.
“Greil sees this as a badge of honor,” Hasle says.
During one of the day’s phone calls, as he answers, “Hello. Home Cake Decorating; can I help you?” his face softens into a smile.
“Hey; how you doing, Greil?” he says. They make a few plans and, like it’s still a family business, he says, “Love you; bye.” Then the doorbell chimes, and he turns to help the next baker seeking advice from the cake lady — or the cake man.