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26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs: Warren Brown

because only in America will someone quit a secure job as a lawyer to start a bakery

From: Inc. Magazine, April 2005 | By: null


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Warren Brown Cake Love and Love Cafe

because only in America will someone quit a secure job as a lawyer to start a bakery

Four years ago, Warren Brown walked away from a job as a federal litigator to bake cakes. It all started on New Year's 1999 when Brown, an able cook, resolved to become an expert baker as well. After work, he began to whip up cakes. He found that baking provided release from the workaday stress.

Soon Brown fell into the habit of throwing dessert parties -- "Friends were jumping on the bed," they were so happy, he recalls. Their joy combined with his job dissatisfaction led Brown to take a leave of absence in 2000. He wanted to see if he could support himself as a baker. He subleased a small commercial kitchen and found customers mostly by word of mouth. This went well enough that he moved into a 600-square-foot storefront that he christened Cake Love. He funded the business with credit cards and then a $125,000 loan backed by the Small Business Administration. When Brown officially left his day job, Emily McCarthy, Brown's friend since college, says she wasn't shocked but did think it was brave.

Today, Cake Love sells around 40 cakes per day at about $55 each. The sweet-smelling bakery's walls are painted a warm yellow, and a huge picture window allows a view of the kitchen from the sidewalk, drawing in customers. The surrounding U Street corridor neighborhood is being rapidly gentrified, and the business seems to embody the vitality and style of the young new homeowners who are moving in. McCarthy believes Brown's background further helps the business because in D.C. it seems that almost everyone is a lawyer. "They can live vicariously through Warren when they go to the bakery," she explains.

With about four of his 16 bakery employees present at any one time, a glut of baking equipment, and a steady stream of customers, Cake Love is easily crowded. Brown opened the Love Cafe across the street in 2002 to provide a little breathing room. The cafe, which has red brick walls and comfy chairs, serves sandwiches and soups as well as cake.

On a recent afternoon, customers stopped to say hi to Brown, who sat (a rarity) wearing a Cake Love T-shirt and a colorful knit cap. For a baker, he has a slim, athletic build. Now 34, he plans to open several more locations in suburban D.C. this year. Though he spends more time managing than frosting cakes these days, he still bakes most mornings. He also works on new products such as Cake Love's version of the all-natural energy bar. The business is successful enough that he has cleared his credit cards and can pay himself the same salary the government used to pay him.

Brown's bakery is even starting to generate buzz beyond the Beltway.

He has appeared on Oprah and the Today show, for which he prepared a German chocolate cake with frosting that he says is less gooey and more coconutty. Co-host Ann Curry seemed to enjoy the cake a lot, prompting Katie Couric to say: "You know, this is really a compliment because Ann doesn't eat during segments very often, and now she can't stop." It's hard to imagine a legal brief achieving the same level of acclaim.

Patrick Cliff

26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs

  1. Martha Stewart, Martha Stewart Omnimedia
    because she took one for the team
  2. Richard Branson, Virgin Group
    because he's game for anything. In fact, everything.
  3. Michael Dell, Dell Computer
    for being brilliantly straightforward
  4. Jim Sinegal, Costco
    because who knew a big-box chain could have a generous soul?
  5. Diane von Furstenberg, Diane von Furstenberg Studio
    for staging an elegant comeback
  6. Julie Azuma, Different Roads to Learning
    for offering hope and help to the parents of autistic children
  7. Fritz Maytag, Anchor Brewing
    for setting limits
  8. Ray Kurzweil, Kurzweil Technologies and other companies
    because he is Edison's rightful heir
  9. Craig Newmark, Craigslist
    for putting the free in free markets
  10. Jack Mitchell, Mitchells/Richards
    because his family business makes an art of customer service
  11. Frank Robinson, Robinson Helicopter
    for whipping an entire industry into shape
  12. Mark Melton, Melton Franchise Systems
    for giving immigrants their shot at the American Dream
  13. Michelle Cardinal & Tim O'Leary, Cmedia and Respond2
    for rewriting the rules for husband-and-wife teams
  14. Mike Lazaridis, Research in Motion
    because someone had to stand up for all those frustrated engineers
  15. Trip Hawkins, Electronics Arts and Digital Chocolate
    for still scrapping
  16. Warren Brown, Cake Love and Love Cafe
    because only in America will someone quit a secure job as a lawyer to start a bakery
  17. Muriel Siebert, Muriel Siebert & Co.
    for being a notable first with a worthy second act
  18. Chuck Porter, Crispin, Porter + Bogusky
    for verging on reckless
  19. Katrina Markoff, Vosges Haut
    for setting a completely unreasonable goal for her business
  20. Barry Steinberg & Craig Sumerel, Direct Tire and Auto Service
    for showing the power of the peer group
  21. Victoria Parham, Virtual Support Services
    for serving as a mentor to military spouses
  22. Tom LaTour, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants
    for staying at fleabag hotels so that we don't have to
  23. Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams, Mitchell Gold
    for creating a true comfort zone
  24. Izzy & Coco Tihanyi, Surf Diva
    for kicking sand in the face of conventional wisdom
  25. Tony Lee, Ring Masters
    for saving 16 jobs, including his own
  26. Rueben Martinez, Libreria Martinez Books and Art Galleries
    for simultaneously building a business and nurturing Latino culture

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