For One Baker, A New Montrose Kitchen Is Icing On The (Gluten-Free/Vegan) Cake
Jody Stevens checks her calendar on a Wednesday. There are 22 cake orders on the books to be baked, decorated and delivered for the weekend, all by one woman. Half will be gluten-free while the other half will be vegan; all will taste absolutely delicious.
Stevens, who recently moved to a commercial kitchen facility on Colquitt in Montrose, hasn’t always had such a warm reception. In fact, when she first moved back home to Houston after a few years of living in Los Angeles, people thought she was off her rocker for starting a baking business specializing in cakes that had either no wheat or no dairy or eggs. (This was before gluten-free became a common buzz phrase on every aisle in the grocery store.)
Now—through her aptly named Jodycakes baking operation—she’s among just a few businesses in the city offering cakes that can be enjoyed by many with dietary restrictions, among them Celiac sufferers, those with dairy and egg allergies, people who live a lifestyle free of animal products, or those who have faiths that require abstinence from certain ingredients.
“I have a pretty big niche market with the Indian and Pakistani communities,” says Stevens. “Many of them do not eat eggs for religious reasons. I do a lot of large weddings and big celebrations. There’s only one other bakery in town that does eggless baked goods.”
Her interest in the specialty recipes came after living a few years in Los Angeles, where the health-conscious community was ahead of the national curve. It seamlessly translated into a thriving business here in Houston, with a loyal and appreciative client base that had very few options prior to Jodycakes’ arrival on the scene. Though her cakes are now highly sought after, Stevens never anticipated becoming a professional baker until tragedy struck in her personal life.
“I was in finance for years,” says Stevens, who was collecting a sizable paycheck, but also felt something was missing. “A big turning point was when my dad suddenly died. It was one of things where I began to question mortality, and I thought, ‘life’s too short.’”
While her father’s passing had a large influence on her current career, it’s also his legacy that Stevens carries with her to get her through the rough times, in business as well as life in general. One of those times happened recently, when Stevens’ home was destroyed in a fire.
“I’ve had a lot of setbacks, just in the last year,” says Stevens, who begins to choke up. “That really knocked me back. The thing that got me through—and this sounds so cheesy—is positivity. I think that’s why it’s so important, it’s what my dad instilled in me. He told me from the very beginning there were no limits.”
Stevens may have no limits when it comes to her professional career, but baking 22—and more—cakes for one weekend does take some discipline. While she admits she needs to work on her organization, she does have a system each week that helps her stay on top of things.
“Monday is my day off, Tuesday and Wednesday, I run around and do my administrative stuff, get supplies,” says Stevens. “Thursday and Friday, I’m just here baking all day. Being in this new space in Montrose has opened up even more opportunity. It’s centrally located, and I have customers in this neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods like West U and Bellaire.”
On top of her busy schedule, Stevens isn’t content to simply keep baking specialty cakes. This year she plans to take an art class to improve her abilities to make three-dimensional figures as well as study with a fellow baker who works with modeling chocolate.
“Because I’m self-taught, it’s really exciting for me when I get challenged and learn something new,” says Stevens. “I really want to take it to the next level.”
When that next level arrives, Stevens is ready to expand in the comfort of her new, spacious Montrose kitchen and the positive thinking that got her there in the first place.