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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cake creations a Kailua couple's sweet inspiration for customers


By Robbie Dingeman

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Rick Reichart decorated a doghouse cake for a cakelava customer. It took about eight hours to make, not including baking, and weighed about 60 pounds.

Photos by DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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PROFILE: CAKELAVA

Employees: Two, owners Rick and Sasha Reichart (pronounced rike-heart)

Describe your business: "Cakes without limits. We can do pretty much anything, depending on what people want to spend."

How long in business? Five years

Philosophy? "The best possible quality both in artistry and taste."

Big new thing: National television appearance building a SpongeBob birthday cake. It starts airing today at 2 p.m. on "Challenge" on The Food Network and will repeat.

Best tip for surviving: "Have your feet well-grounded in your field. You should know your business well before you start it."

Fun fact? They recently did a $3,000 wedding cake for 20 people. The couple knew exactly what they wanted and budgeted for the sweet extravagance.

To contact: www.cakelava.com or 263-2868

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Rick Reichart created this sculpted marine-theme cake in about 10 hours, not including baking time. The fondant frosting is all edible.

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Go from the culinary kitsch of a volcano tiki cake to an Etch-A-Sketch wedding cake or an eerily lifelike birthday cake depiction of a beloved pet dog and you have come into the world of cakelava.

The Kailua-based business bakes custom cakes for weddings, birthdays and other events. The cakemaster artisan is Rick Reichart and the business/marketing/customer relations specialist is his wife, Sasha Reichart.

Prices start at about $300 for a birthday cake, $500 for a wedding cake (including delivery) and frequently can go to thousands of dollars for special creations.

They are all made from scratch, no mixes, no purchased fillings or shortcuts, with custom flavors that are fresh and subtle but not too sweet.

They include: chai latte, broke da mouth, totally turtle, peanut butter fudgey, banana nutella, guava lava, coconut pineapple chunk, strawberries chantilly, kona toffee crunch and banana blueberry mascarpone.

And the cakes are never frozen at any stage in the process.

The business continues to succeed, with ups and downs, but with orders such as a recent fantastic ocean-themed birthday cake. And a huge doghouse cake complete with one of the family dogs depicted that was the centerpiece for a kids' party the mom-organizer held as a benefit for a local animal shelter, with guests bringing donations instead of presents.

Sasha, 38, is from Hawai'i, a 1990 Punahou graduate who moved to California to go to Mills College in Oakland.

Rick, 41, grew up in New Jersey and Maryland and moved from California to Seattle while figuring out his life path: "Honestly, I went up to Seattle just to make a life change."

She was cooking, working at a Japanese restaurant. He was waiting tables, looking for a cake job after working as pastry chef.

Eventually they moved to Hawai'i and have been in business five years, the first 2 1/4 years at the Pacific Gateway Center incubator center.

The husband and wife said the center helped them get started but that working conditions were tough, with no air-conditioning and a small space.

"It was pretty brutal," Sasha said. "It was so hot I couldn't get the cakes decorated fast enough," Rick adds.

"Finding bakery space for rent is very difficult," Rick said.

Sasha said the center came with a laid-back attitude, where sometimes the doors would be unlocked on time, sometimes locked and other times left wide open.

While they're grateful for the start-up, they're thrilled to have their own place in Kailua in a space that had been a restaurant and an early version of Agnes' Portuguese Bake Shop.

Rick Reichart has baked and sculpted cakes in the shape of football stadiums, classic cars, giant cupcakes, airplanes, Star Wars characters, giant Hello Kittys, Scooby Doos and designer handbags. He once made a life-sized tire cake with an actual rim placed in the middle of it.

Both love Hawai'i and the chance to do business here but agree it can be a difficult place for that. They cite hot, humid weather; difficulty acquiring some baking supplies; need for shipping and its high costs; and difficulty finding a kitchen space.

"In Hawai'i, people are more open to color and people are more open to flamboyant," Rick said.

Favorite cakes? "My favorites tend to be the ones I just did," Rick said. Many are whimsical, beautiful, brightly colored, some are sculpted.

Success has brought competitors copying Rick's designs and trying to imitate him. The Reicharts get frustrated when they see a design from their cakes appear on another baker's Web site.

When people bring them a design idea, Rick won't copy someone else's work. "We don't replicate other people's designs," Sasha said. "Rick is his own designer."

Sasha has been surprised that some competitors call them up to ask their prices or techniques.

They said they don't hire anyone else, partly because they can do it all themselves. And partly because the market is small and they couldn't be training someone to open a similar business and compete against them with their own techniques.

They are happy for all the national attention but stay successful by staying small to pay their bills and take care of their clients.

The hours are long 60- to 70-hour weeks but they say the work is satisfying as well as creative.

And both are looking forward to watching a Food Network appearance they taped creating a SpongeBob cake, enjoying some of their hard work from a different angle. The show, airing today, will run several times the following week and will go into rotation throughout the year. Based on his experience with the show, Rick is likely to return to do another Food Network "Challenge" this year.

And they're proud of the corners they don't cut. "He uses fresh creams, fruits, things that can spoil but taste really good," Sasha said.

"Do your own thing well and you don't need to copy anyone else," Rick said.