Lisa “Bernie” Bernstein is living the sweet life.
STORY BY BARRY KAUFMAN & PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIM SMITH PHOTO
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. Lisa “Bernie” Bernstein perfected the art of baking while stuck in her house with nothing to do but binge watch reality television and play around in the kitchen. But while most of us waited until 2020 to try our hands at being shut-ins with a killer recipe, she got a jump start on all of us by starting her sequestration all the way back in 2008.
“I’d had surgery and had to stay in my house for two months. I wasn’t even allowed to go up or down stairs,” she said. As she lived on the third floor of a townhouse, her roommate was kind enough to move Bernie’s bed to the living room. Confined to just the kitchen and living room, Bernie had “no choice but to bake.”
“I had literally watched every episode of ‘My Big Redneck Wedding with Tom Arnold’ and there’s only so much of that you can watch,” she said with a laugh. So she turned to the kitchen, where she perfected the art of blending cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and eggs into edible art.
“My roommate said he hated sweets,” said Bernie. “But 10 days later he was 10 pounds heavier. And it was my fault.”
Faced with a surplus of highly addictive cheesecake, Bernie suggested her roommate take some in to Captain Woody’s where they both worked. “Shannon (Wright), the owner, was like, ‘Why aren’t we selling these?’ That’s how it started,” said Bernie.
Baby Cakes was born, with Bernie’s brother, Pete, owner of Fat Baby’s Pizza and Subs, aiding in the delivery. “He said, ‘You’ll make them at Fat Baby’s on Sundays when we’re closed. Here’s your business license application and your logo.’ I don’t even think I came up with the name; I think it was his idea.”
Soon Baby Cakes were on menus across the Lowcountry, thanks to Bernie’s willingness to bet it all on herself. “After working four jobs for seven years, I decided it was time to make the leap,” she said. “Six years ago I sold my house, took all my savings and launched a Kickstarter to cover the rest.”
In addition to both Captain Woody’s locations and Fat Baby’s, you’ll find Baby Cakes at San Miguel’s, Hinchey’s, Flatbread and more. Delectably soft and sublimely sweet, these cakes come in an array of flavors from the classic to red velvet, with specialties like M&Ms and peanut butter adding a twist to that classic flavor.
And if you want to get them fresh out of the oven, you’ll have to head to The Purple Cow, Bernie’s new bakery on Palmetto Bay Road. Here amid local artwork and artisanal fare, the bakery adds to the famed Baby Cakes with a slew of delightful doughnuts and coffee creations. “Purple Cow is the name of a Doris Day song,” said Bernie. “It’s a song my mother sang to us her whole life, and it’s a way to honor her because she’s the best person I ever knew.”
Whether at The Purple Cow or at a local restaurant, you’ll have to seek out Bernie’s Baby Cakes, because you won’t be trying this at home. “I haven’t written the recipe down anywhere,” she said. “The only person who has my recipe is my niece.” LL