At Essex Street Market’s new IM Pastry Studio stall, cakes come in “lit” flavors like the Mariah (vanilla Baileys) and the “basic” slice of lemon Bundt cake is called the Miley. And the “not-so-basic” banana pudding cupcake? That’s the Oprah.
“There’s no real connection between Oprah and banana pudding,” co-owner Tiffany Washington admitted.
The link is strictly personal: “Banana pudding is my favorite flavor and Oprah is my all-time favorite person. I love Oprah Winfrey,” Washington, 35, said of the media mogul, whose trajectory — from roots in a small Mississippi farming community to status as the country’s first black female billionaire — she admires.
“That’s black girl magic right there,” Washington said.
“The epitome of black girl magic,” seconded her friend and business partner, Tamika Young, 36.
Their bakery serves tea and hot chocolate in paper cups printed with mantras of self-empowerment, like “Goaldigger,” “Boss Lady” and “Curly Girl.“
“We try to do the powerful woman theme here,” Washington said, “because we’re both moms, and we’re business owners and we’re wives and friends and sisters. We do it all on a daily basis.”
Young, who manages IM Pastry Studio’s marketing and operations, also holds down a full-time job as a communications manager for Spotify, while her partner (wo)mans their bakery counter on the Lower East Side.
THE RECIPE FOR A BAKERY
IM Pastry Studio was born in Washington’s kitchen in the Bronx. What began as a hobby and creative outlet became her second job: Friends and family members placed orders for custom cakes inspired by the baking she did as a child with her grandmother (Ilene Miriam, for whom IM Pastry is named), her training in fashion design and YouTube instructional videos.
Washington hit her stride in May 2011, with a commission to bake a birthday cake for Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony. She molded the confection into the shape of a team duffel bag with the player’s royal blue, No. 7 jersey draped over it.
Then she lost her day job as a production manager at a publishing house.
Getting laid off “was devastating,” said Washington, whose daughter Bria was 1 turning 2 years old at the time. “I kind of went into panic mode. But I just decided at that point that I really needed to get serious about the cake business.”
“Entrepreneur” was an unfamiliar term to a child of Brooklyn’s Farragut Houses, Washington said, “but my grandmother, she always encouraged me to use my creativity to do different things.”
A marketing contact at the rowdy SoHo nightclubs W.i.P. and Greenhouse funneled cake commissions her way until those hot spots closed, but it wasn’t until 2015 that Washington partnered with Young to open her first brick-and-mortar shop in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.
The Essex Street Market drew the two away from their Brooklyn customer base and a roughly 1,000-square-foot space by presenting an opportunity to hit the reset button, Young said.
NEW NAMES FOR A NEW SPACE
The Lower East Side stall where Washington starts her baking at 8:30 a.m. is only 200 square feet.
“Closing our last location and then coming to the Essex Street Market was not an easy decision for us to make, but it’s something that we felt we needed to do to propel the business to the next level,” Young said.
“We were doing events [in Brooklyn], and we also had breakfast specials and lunch specials, so we got a little bit lost.”
On the Lower East Side, Washington and Young are still taking custom orders for baked goods, but they’ve doubled down on desserts and pop culture.
Catchy names like the Kerry (a $4.50 “lit” chocolate Baileys cupcake), the Cardi (a $5.50 carrot cake slice) and the Britney, B—h (a $2.50 hazelnut cappucino cake pop) are new additions.
The alcoholic chocolate Baileys cupcake is an homage to actress Kerry Washington “because the Olivia Pope vibe,” Tiffany Washington said. “She’s powerful and … she’s just dope.”
The Britney pop is a misunderstood, much underrated item, like the pop star, Young explained.
And the Cardi carrot cake?
“We’re obsessed with Cardi B,” Young said of the female rapper whose single, “Bodak Yellow,” is second on the Billboard charts.
“She’s definitely the It Girl of the summer,” added Washington, who listens to the Bronx native while she bakes, “and carrot cake is a flavor that people love.”
IM Pastry Studios is open from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 .m.-7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday at 120 Essex St.