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Three years ago, Warren Brown was just another young lawyer working for the federal government. A 1998 graduate of The George Washington University Law School, Brown was toiling as a litigator for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. But Brown says he wised up early that law was not his life’s calling: “By my third month of working, I knew I needed something more creative. I wanted to work with color, texture, feel, and smell.” These days Brown, 33, may be experiencing sensory overload. As the proprietor of CakeLove, a bakery located on ultracool U Street in D.C., Brown is up to his elbows in butter frostings, cake batter, and cream fillings. Just two years old, CakeLove has become a destination for those looking for a more selective sugar high. One reason that the bakery has attracted attention is that Brown has become a minor celebrity, profiled in newspapers, magazines, and television, as the yuppie with the knack for creating scrumptious treats. But all this great buzz doesn’t necessarily mean that the business is a cakewalk. WHY CAKE? “I took a good look at the market and realized there was a low standard for cakes,” says Brown, adding that good-quality pies, muffins, cookies, and breads have become commonplace. “Cake was an underdeveloped market. I thought it’d be easy to impress people with a high-quality, scratch-made product. People always need cake — for birthdays, weddings. Cake is the highest-priced bakery item; it makes the most profit.” Besides, he adds, “everyone loves sugar and butter.” WHY THE LAW SCHOOL DETOUR? After graduating from Brown University in 1993, Brown worked for two years as a high school health educator in Los Angeles and Providence. He says he was frustrated with the way that education bureaucrats dealt with sex education: “The education materials were pathetic. I went to law school because I wanted credentials before decision-making bodies.” Planning to get back into the health field, he also got a master’s of public health at GW. ALWAYS A BAKING WIZARD? Hardly, says Brown: “I had a fear of flour; baking seemed too scientific.” But Brown confronted his fear and tackled cake baking like a lawyer — that is, doing extensive research on cakes, making them, and analyzing the result. Self-taught, he never took a baking course, “[though] I once took a course on cake decoration. But I don’t use it. The biggest thing I learned from that class was that I don’t want to decorate cakes. It takes too much labor, and that eats into your profitability.” SCIENTIFIC CONSUMER RESEARCH? Brown started to test his hunch that cake was his future when he was still at HHS: “I had a dessert party at my home. My chocolate cake got people so excited that they started jumping on the bed; there was a lot of energy. I had parties before, but nothing like that ever happened. So I said to myself, ‘There’s something about cake that’s going to happen.’ “ EASY TRANSITION? To test demand, Brown started selling cakes on the side during his last ten months at HHS. “I sold to friends and family. I had three different cake parties. I [also] put notices in the free local newspaper. Then I started getting orders, which led to more orders.” In late 2000 Brown took a four-month leave of absence from HHS, and never went back. For more than a year, Brown did his homework: he researched everything from cake mixers to locations for commercial space; he also took a six-week course on small businesses sponsored by a neighborhood organization. Finally, he opened CakeLove in March 2002. FINANCING THE VENTURE: READY FOR THE POORHOUSE? “I used my credit cards to buy about $40,000-$45,000 worth of equipment. I had a small business bank loan of $125,000 — though I only used about $80,000.” He started with $2,000 in savings, plus “my parents wrote me [another] check for $2,000 to cover my rent. … I still have $8,500 on my credit card that I haven’t paid off.” As for his personal needs, he says, “I cut down on spending and changed my lifestyle.” OUT OF THE RED YET? Brown says, “The bakery is profitable [now],” though he admits he’s experienced “cash-flow problems recently” because he opened an adjoining caf� that “went over budget.” THE SECRET: GREAT CAKE OR GREAT BUZZ? Brown readily admits that getting a great write-up about his plans to open a cake shop in the food section of The Washington Post in March 2001 gave his startup a big boost (the writer went ga-ga over his chocolate molten cake). Out of the blue that same year, People magazine picked him as one of its 50 most eligible bachelors. Since then, he’s appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Today.” But of all the publicity, he says Oprah was pivotal: “The phone rang constantly for a week [after the show's January 2003 airing], and our sales doubled … almost every single day someone comes up to me and says, ‘I saw you on Oprah.’” HAVING FUN NOW? Brown says he works ten to 12 hours a day. Though he’s not baking anymore (he’s got a staff of 20), the pressure doesn’t let up. For one thing, he’s trying to break into the wholesale market to increase his distribution. He also wants to expand into New York City, which he describes as a key media market. And, of course, the buzz machine demands constant maintenance: “I’ve got to show up smiling, making sure people know what I do and who we are.” So what makes this multitasker (who’s never hired a publicist) so sure that CakeLove will stay in the public eye? “I have a wonderful thing called curb appeal,” he says, maybe only half-kiddingly.

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