GR: I hope so! I hope they let me do as many Christmas trees as I like to do. On the outside of my Carmel shop, I have 14 Christmas trees, and they all twinkle and have beautiful ornaments on them. Inside, I always have a huge, 15-foot Christmas tree, which is just stunning to look at. I’m hoping that I’ll get to re-create what I do here. And I think that’s what makes this place so magical — it kind of brings you back in time in a way. There’s no other place you can go outside of Disney World that makes you feel so much like a kid. Our shops bring back those old memories of storefront windows and what it was like to be in a place before technology — before cell phones were there. You actually spend time with your family and friends and enjoy a meal at the family table. What Cake Bake does is it brings a little bit of that back. It’s beautiful to watch. I was just upstairs, and there was a woman celebrating her birthday, so I made her a beautiful ice cream sundae and gave it to her for her birthday. And just to see her face light up — it was so cute! It’s just beautiful. I know that I totally made her day, and I look forward to doing that in Disney every day with as many people as we can get in.
©The Cake Bake Shop by Gwendolyn Rogers
DFB: Are you concerned at all about the transition from more local, smaller-scale operations to taking The Cake Bake Shop to a much larger scale restaurant in Disney World?
GR: No, not at all! I’m super excited about it, and I can’t wait. I think it’s going to be a fantastic adventure. I really enjoy the challenge of building something that’s bigger, on such a larger scale, to be able to accommodate a thousand times more guests than we do now. To me, there is nothing more exciting than that. I get all giddy about it! I’m looking forward to it. It doesn’t scare me at all. Bring it on! Let’s do it!
I think a lot of entrepreneurs and young people who start businesses are fearful, but that was one thing I never let get in my way. I was never afraid. Obviously, there were moments when I was thinking, “Oh my gosh, am I doing the right thing?” But I didn’t let fear take me over. When I was starting out, my joke was that I felt like I was jumping off a diving board into a pool with no water, and I was just hoping it would fill up by the time I got to the bottom. Because it’s scary when you’re independent. And I’m still independent — I don’t have finances or investors; I’m winging it on my own. And there’s something very empowering about that. I don’t ever want to lose that piece. To get to this point of success is inspiring. It inspires me and everyone who works with me, and it’s a great thing to be a part of, especially together with my team. My team is so happy all the time, and it’s great to be around them and see everyone who loves it just as much as I do.
©The Cake Bake Shop by Gwendolyn Rogers
DFB: We noticed that philosophy of fearlessness when it comes to your story of how The Cake Bake Shop came to be in the first place. Would you say that continues to be your key to success through this next period of transition?
GR: Yes, pretty much! I listen to myself. I listen to my instincts and I listen to my gut. I think that’s what has brought me to where I am today. People will give you a lot of advice. Some people give you great advice, and some people give you not-great advice. At the end of the day, you still have to make your own decision, and you have to listen to what you feel is the right thing to do. Throughout this whole journey, I’ve always tried to make the right decision for the best outcome for everyone involved. I come at it from a very happy, warm, loving, giving place. If you always come from that place, things will work out. I’ve always stayed true to my heart. I love people, I love food, and I love bringing people together. To have this opportunity to do that at Walt Disney World Resort is truly a dream come true, and I believe that’s my purpose. That’s why I’m here. All the things that I’ve been through in my life that have brought me to this point — that’s the only thing that makes sense.
DFB: Being an independent company, is there anything that has surprised or challenged you about working with Disney in this new stage?
GR: It’s been an incredible partnership. Every single person that I’ve met at Disney is so kind and so nice and really welcoming to me and my team. I don’t think there’s really been a challenge, but if there’s ever been something that I couldn’t figure out or I didn’t really know how I was going to accomplish it, I would figure it out and just get it done. I’m just figuring it out, and it’s going to turn out great. It makes it even more special that it’s a challenge. Bring me a challenge, and I’ll figure it out. It makes me smarter, and it makes me better. If you don’t have a challenge, then it’s boring. My days are so full, and there’s not a moment that I’m bored or doing the same thing twice.
DFB: We’d love to ask about some of the specifics that we’ll see at this new location. Will there be a private event space at The Cake Bake Shop in Disney World?
GR: I will have 2 private rooms. The way I’m designing it, you can take sections of the restaurant and close them off individually. So really, I’ll have 6 different areas where people can have a private event or a party, and I can close off that space to make it more intimate. Or, if I don’t have any parties, I can open it up and it’ll all look like one big, open place. The way I design spaces, I love to have different lighting in each area. I love light fixtures — those are my gig. I’m not a big fan of can lighting, so I never use can lighting anywhere, in any room. It changes the room. To have a light shining right on my head makes me uncomfortable, so I’d rather have warm, soft lighting with chandeliers and sconces. That’s how I design my restaurants. I also change the ceiling heights in every room. So in Carmel, there are beautiful beams across the main dining room with beautiful crystal chandeliers. Then the private rooms have lower ceilings that make the space more intimate. And in those spaces people can have a private bridal shower, a private wine dinner, a private champagne dinner. I’m going to have a champagne bar in the back of the Disney location, which will be different from the regular bar. The new restaurant will look just like the Carmel location in Indiana, just better!
I’m most looking forward to creating spaces for people to bring them together. And I’m also excited about the Afternoon Tea. That’s a very popular event here, and people drive from all over to come to it. They come to The Cake Bake Shop in Carmel from all over the midwest to have Afternoon Tea, and it’s pretty magical.
DFB: What is it about the Afternoon Tea specifically that makes it so magical?
GR: First, it’s the environment. Right now, I have a romantic rose garden theme in the restaurant, so there’s a huge botanical swan whose wings slowly move and her head slowly moves. And on her, there’s a little pink doll, and there are beautiful garlands hanging from the ceiling with roses everywhere. You feel like you’re in a magical environment, and I think that feeling is a huge part of that.
The food we serve in the Afternoon Tea is great. Anything we make for any restaurant is made from scratch, by hand, with the best ingredients that I can find anywhere. That’s another thing that separates us from some other Afternoon Tea services — we’re really good at pastry, there are beautiful little desserts on the trays, and it’s just a beautiful experience. It takes about 2 hours to have an Afternoon Tea.
Afternoon Tea at the Carmel location ©The Cake Bake Shop
DFB: From what you’ve said and the fact that both of the existing locations are booked months out, it sounds like reservations might be in very high demand at The Cake Bake Shop. Is that what you’re expecting at this new location?
GR: If you can plan ahead, that’s the best strategy. Here, in Indiana, we book out 2 to 3 months in advance. I would highly recommend that the second we have an opening date, guests should try to get in and make a reservation. But we always accommodate walk-in guests as well. So I don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t come in if they don’t have a reservation. We — on purpose — set aside room so that everyone is welcome. I always want everyone to come. That’s one of the reasons I built my Carmel shop, because my Broad Ripple shop is built in an old house, and it was so small that people would come and we couldn’t accommodate them. And I hated that! I didn’t want anyone to not come and have a wonderful experience. So I wanted to open Carmel, which is 3 times bigger than my shop in Broad Ripple, and it’s wonderful to be able to have that many people come in every single day. So I’m hoping that’s the same with the Disney shop. Because I want everyone to come in and have a wonderful time.
DFB: You mentioned before that the menus change seasonally. What are some of the things that inspire new flavors and treats for your menus?
GR: I’m hoping I might come up with 1 or 2 new cakes when I open in Disney. Most of my inspiration comes from the decor that I plan. I try to tie that in with the cakes and flavors. Right now, with a romantic rose garden, I have a lot of cakes with flowers on them. It ties in the whole experience. We have a cake that matches the doll on the botanical swan, and so everything ties in together. All the colors are soft and pastel. The cakes that I come up with duplicate that feeling.
And then in the winter — when I do the Winter Wonderland — I’ll have beautiful french blue ornaments on one cake. Everything goes together. To be totally honest, I haven’t decided on what the opening decor will be at the Disney World location. This one will be really hard because I want it to be absolutely perfect. I can’t even say what it will be because I don’t know what it will be yet! This one keeps me up at night because I want everyone to walk in and think, “Wow, that place is amazing!”
Sometimes I’ll repeat themes, and sometimes I won’t. It depends on what I find. Last summer, I had huge pink and white mushrooms that lined the outside of the shop. Inside, there were overgrown mushroom heads with twinkle lights underneath them, and you could dine underneath the mushroom, so you felt like you were tiny. I loved that — I thought it was really fun. But I didn’t want to bring that back this year, because I didn’t want people to expect that. I found something different, and I love what I have now. So I might do that when the location opens in Disney World, but I haven’t decided yet.
DFB: We noticed how frequently you mention your family when you tell the story of The Cake Bake Shop. How has your family inspired your baking, and how have they felt about this transition as well?
GR: My family is the whole reason why I’m doing what I’m doing. They’re the ones who said, “Mom, you should open a restaurant.” They said that to me for years. I always thought that I didn’t have time since I’m a mom and I’m taking care of them. That, to me, is the best part of my life — having 3 boys. They’ve been the best inspiration to me because every time I made something new, they’d tell me whether it was good or bad. And they never once did not tell me the truth. So that was a really good thing because it refined the food that I make. And I think it was all for the better. They are very good food critics, and I’m actually very proud of that. If we go to a restaurant, they absolutely all have opinions on what we eat. So that’s been great. And they’re still very involved in The Cake Bake Shop. My 2 younger sons are in college, so they work with me in the summer. And my oldest knows how to make every buttercream, every cake layer, every lemon bar, every savory food. So at least I know he can fend for himself. He’s a very good cook, which is really nice. My husband, of course, loves it. He used to help, but now I just make him food and he’s super happy.
DFB: Are you already a Disney fan, and do you have a favorite snack from the parks?
GR: I’ve been a Disney fan since before most of you were born. I was lucky enough that my dad took me to Disney World when I was 6, and now it’s been 50 years. I was lucky enough to go the year Walt Disney World opened in Florida. I have been a Disney fan ever since then. It makes me cry when I see Tinker Bell fly over the castle at the start of every Disney movie. I love the Disney parks — I could go to Magic Kingdom every day for the rest of my life. I never want to leave.
©The Cake Bake Shop by Gwendolyn Rogers
My favorite snack — which actually I’m really sad about — is the giant Mickey rice crispy treat, and they don’t make it anymore! And I’m devastated! That is my absolute favorite thing. Part of my tradition was that it’s the first thing I would get, and as we were walking through the park I’d take a little piece, and take another piece, and by the end of the day, I’d eaten the entire thing. And of course, in between, I’d have the Mickey Ice Cream Bar. I was literally just there last week, and I ate an ice cream bar while I was in line for Haunted Mansion, and it was great. I love Casey’s Corner — I could eat those corn dogs and french fries all day long. I love the Mexico pavilion in EPCOT — they have the best guacamole ever. I love the French restaurant in EPCOT. Not only the sit-down restaurant (I love the French bread they put on the table and the wine) but also the French Patisserie. Every time we go, we get the ham and cheese sandwich on the baguette, and we get it toasted, and we fight over it. Who gets the biggest bite? If someone eats the last bite, one of the boys gets really mad. I could name something that’s my favorite in every section of every park. I’m the biggest Disney fan, and I’m beyond excited to be a part of it.
©The Cake Bake Shop by Gwendolyn Rogers
Thank you so much to Gwendolyn Rogers for speaking to us and sharing some of the details about the upcoming location at Disney’s BoardWalk! We can’t wait to try out those beautiful cakes (and so much more!) when The Cake Bake Shop opens next year. Keep following DFB for more Disney food updates!
By Sara McOmber