Nadia Cake’s Owner is Both Sugar and Spice
Abby Jimenez runs three bakeries with her husband, Carlos, including one in California. If they ever open a fourth one, she says, it, too, will be out of state.
Abby Jimenez was attempting to run a cake business out of her kitchen while surrounded by three kids in diapers fighting for her attention as the fondant slowly hardened and her hands cramping with severe carpal tunnel. To help relieve her stress, her husband, Carlos—who sandwiched in an hour-and-a-half commute each way to his 10-hour job—suggested they open a bakery. And as far-fetched as that notion may seem, she opened a bakery.
Jimenez named it Nadia Cakes, after her middle daughter’s nickname, and opened the doors in Palmdale, California, to lines out the door.
Volume wasn’t a problem. “I did as many cakes as three to four full-time employees in my bakery right now,” she says.
The unicorn cupcake normally is rainbow colored cake. This one was quickly whipped up for photographic uses only. Although the finished product was consumed.
To his credit, her husband quit his job a few months later to take over the business side of the operation, but then not having benefits was a bit stressful as well, she admits. On a high note, both had strong retail resumes.
For 10 years stress has been one of the main ingredients in Jimenez’s life, which she handles with the single-mindedness and witty banter that has won her 300,000 social media followers for herself, her three bakeries in two states and her soon-to-be published romance novel.
Jimenez isn’t the smiley, sunny personality one might associate with someone dealing with high-volumes of sugar all day. She’s Sicilian, which she says means “the coffee’s never decaf.” She’s more like the heroine in a modern romance novel, sassy and straight-forward—a girlfriend’s girlfriend. Chatty, but confident. After all, this is a woman who types drafts of novels on her phone—with her thumb—while baking, mothering and managing three bakeries.
Almost as a badge of honor, Jimenez says she never went to college, nor culinary school. Everything she knows about cake decorating she learned from an unfinished course she took at craft store Michaels or taught herself.
“Everything I do I tend to not go to school for,” she says. And everything she does seems to go big. She didn’t just sell one novel to a publisher, she negotiated a three-book deal. Her first novel, “The Friend Zone,” is in the comedy-romance genre, and will be available July 9—but Jimenez advocates preordering it (which I promptly did).
If the name Nadia Cakes rings a bell, it’s probably because of the recent hoopla about a holiday cake one of her bakers created, the Twerky, a roast turkey cake wearing a hot pink thong with a dollar bill tucked under it. The cake received attention on its own, but even more so when workers in the sex industry complained about it. They sold out of as many as they could make—Jimenez doesn’t give out sales numbers—but she stopped production after sex workers complained on social media. “I get it,” she says. In their view, “it looked like a dead stripper served up on a platter.” Not an image or an idea she wanted her bakery to be associated with, although porn star Chad White did come to her defense, she adds, ironically.
This is the second time the internet crowd has had a good time with one of Nadia’s cakes. A viewer mistook a stunning sparkly purple geode cake for female genitalia. Jimenez’s funny responses on social media went viral. The cake, now called the “vageode” is trademarked.
Abby Jimenez frosts a pan of cupcakes in the back of her bakery, Nadia Cakes in Maple Grove.
The brand is also known for its rainbow-colored cupcakes called “unicorn poop,” which if there was such an animal as a unicorn, this is what it would be leaving behind.
Not surprisingly, Jimenez was also a winner on the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” Rose Bowl show. “That show was so stressful,” she says. “It’s very real, they don’t stop the clock for any reason.” Contestants aren’t allowed to talk or make eye contact with the judges, and they’re segregated from each other so there’s no collaboration or cheating. It’s a three-day commitment, she says, but in her case, it was worth it. She went home with $10,000, and the knowledge that a judge declared her cheesecake cupcake the best he’s ever tasted.
So just how did she get out of the kitchen and into a bakery?
The couple financed that first California bakery, which they still own today, by putting $100,000 on credit cards. “We were so broke we didn’t have the change for the register,” she remembers. But thanks to her two years of baking cakes out of her home, the bakery had a built-in clientele.
Two years later, when the couple decided to cash in on their success and open a second bakery, they didn’t want another one in California, where it was both expensive to live and run a business.
In 2011 they loaded their three children into the car and went on a 23-state road trip looking for a perfect spot to open a second Nadia Cakes. Spending five weeks in a moving car with young children is a bit crazy, but even more so because “our kids are pukers,” she says in reference to her children’s susceptibility to car sickness.
They ended up in the Twin Cities because Carlos had heard what a nice place it was from his colleagues at his previous job. They saw a site in The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes they liked and snapped it up. “We signed a lease and moved here in December. We knew no one (in Minneapolis),” she says. Their gut instinct was right. “This is our busiest location,” she says about Maple Grove.
The third location is Woodbury, another booming suburb. If they ever decide to do a fourth location, it will be out of state so they don’t cannibalize their current stores.
The couple handles the work more or less equitably. Carlos handles “all the boring stuff”—like opening the mail and taxes and consolidating loans, she says, while she gets the creative side, including marketing, charity requests and handling 10 social media accounts, including one for her dog, Stuntman Mike. Just like she wrote her novel standing in line or as the inspiration hits, she meshes all the different roles in her life into one long, multi-tasking day.
The bakeries are inviting and girly with a curved display case filled with colorful cupcakes and cakes spotlighted by a chandelier. In addition to the best-selling flavors, they offer the flavors of the day, which Jimenez posts on social media first thing in the morning. Jimenez’s sarcasm and wittiness can be seen on the back of T-shirts and signage. Videos of her appearances on two “Cupcake Wars” and one “Fabulous Cakes” shows run on a loop on two TVs.
Nadia Cakes also offers “keto” items, which is part of a popular diet that is low-carb, no sugar. While it’s a weigh-loss diet, it’s also for people with certain medical conditions. Jimenez put herself on the diet when she found out her sister-in-law was coming to visit. “She gave me a list of 10 items she can eat,” she says. “I’m a very hungry person and I decided I should go on this diet and figure out more things (for his sister-in-law) to eat.”
Jimenez says her sister-in-law cried when she visited and saw the variety of dishes she could safely eat. “I want people who are on this diet to be able to come to a bakery,” Jimenez points out. But she’s also an unrelenting problem solver.
The bakeries all have strong staffs, which is why she doesn’t spend much time baking any more. “I have a loyal core staff. People here are strong enough to have a bakery,” she says, they just prefer to work at one and not take on the extra stress of being the boss. That’s her job.