Saturday, July 11, 2009


Atlanta’s 1940’s Retail Credit Company adage, “A pleased customer always returns to the place where he has been well served” couldn’t be truer in 2009 – even when it comes to wedding cakes. I recently accompanied my best Friend who was shopping around for that greatest wedding cake for her daughter’s September nuptials (never too soon). She was excited and anticipating what should be a memorable, almost magical experience for any Mother. The process involved careful forethought, inquiry, a strenuous and detailed hands-on investigation / research, checking of references and all topped off with that carefully choreographed bottom line – the cake tasting. Harrah, I have finally found my true calling! Needless to say, I was pleased to be part of that last stage and, as always, more than willing to offer my two cents worth. Now please remember that I didn’t have a dog in this fight and was just there to provide support…

The final choice was narrowed down to Dallas Affaires Cake Company (DA) and Jackie Spratt Cakes (JS), with DA being the more well known and very pricey cakery - almost to iconic status in Dallas thanks to multitalented founder and chef supreme Sibby Barrett who now resides near Austin and operates the Onion Creek Kitchens at Juniper Hills Farm. DA has a neat website that features some of the highlights of this once great and elegant high end cake company. We didn’t recognize any of the personalities featured in their website (too bad). In a business environment where yesterday is the past and you’re only as good as your last cake, you have to always be at your very best. They weren’t.

One of the services that the really good (or presumptively good) bakeries will do is offer free samples of their cakes with assorted fillings and icings. Our Friend ordered a wedding sampler that would likely seal what would be a minimum $1K US order with Wedding and grooms cakes, accoutrement, etc. You would think that they would want to impress, eh?

We walked into the Dallas Affaires Cake Company just a few minutes in advance of our pick up time and politely waited for ten minutes until one of the five employees present (some within arm’s reach) even acknowledged our presence. We identified ourselves, our purpose and after another almost ten very solitary minutes were told that our samples were not yet ready. We waited for another thirty minutes while our cake samples – remember they were vying for our business - were prepared in front of our eyes.

In order to kill some time we decided to investigate the neighborhood. As we walked out of the bakery I commented that something was very amiss in this work environment. Disservice aside, what struck me when we first arrived was that everybody was in a sullen tedium. While employees were seemingly going about their business - they appeared in a fog. By the collective looks on their faces nobody wanted to be there and the attitudes were all at the low end of the spectrum. There was no magic, no happy – just sad. After a thirty year career in Human Resources I knew that something was very wrong with this business establishment.

A woman with enough tattoos to marginally qualify for Ringling Brothers retrieved white and chocolate cakes heretofore butchered as the crust was clumsily cut off (I watched). She had several five gallon tubs of icing and filling that looked institutionally store bought (refrigerated?) and slathered icing onto the cake in a cosmetic attempt to straighten up the heretofore jagged sides. The filling samples were unceremoniously and clumsily spooned into small containers. I have seen wheel bearings packed with grease with more agility and grace.

After all this wretched and tardy labor another less than cordial lady (she never smiled or identified herself) came out with a white bakery box, described the contents and sent us on our way. By this time the cake could have been heaven sent and I would have cared less. I expressed my displeasure as much while my Friend tried frantically to keep me quiet. Well, maybe we just caught them in a collective bad day?

We immediately spirited the cake samples off to the nearby digs of daughter and fiancée and started what was a long anticipated thorough, academic and objective analysis of DA’s offerings. I kept my mouth shut so I wouldn’t bias the proceedings (OK, sorta). Not surprisingly and much to my chagrin (silent delight), the cakes were dry and tasteless. The chocolate didn’t taste like chocolate and the icings and fillings were too sweet and just not spot on. They tasted like facsimiles and could very well have been. How the hell these people stay in business is beyond me aside from their still OK but once sterling reputation. It was an exceedingly sad consensus that these samples were far from even a minimally satisfactory nod (not even one star) and Dallas Affaires was eliminated from the competition. A few dozen superlative reviews on Yahoo from Highland Park socialites couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty or Dallas Affaires back together again… Sibby, they need you back and better sooner than later…

After a sufficient interval we all met at Jackie Spratt Cakes over near Southern Methodist University (SMU) where we were met by the very entertaining, sweet and sassy and bubbly Jackie Spratt. Jackie founded the very highly regarded Le Gateau Cakery in Dallas way back in 1981, developed it to a high level then in 1995 sold the business and moved to Florida (something about her horses). In 2004 after what she describes as a disastrous sojourn to the southeast she was back with us and opened up Jackie Spratt Cakes in University Park. As the ever knowledgeable and well informed D Magazine stated, “The Cake Queen is Back!”

Jackie was very patient and attentive, answering all questions with panache. This Lady had a ball hosting us and obviously answers to the beat of a different drummer, no lemming she. Our kind of people! Jackie with all her magic led us on a delightful tour of her cakes, fillings and icings and we could have been in the Dallas Museum of Art under the entertaining tutelage of four amigas Docents Brinker, Cuellar, Klion and Cook, en masse. It was an education and party all rolled into one event… Honest almost to a fault Jackie tells you how she feels whatever the consequences. You soon know that she going to cover your back and not see you (or her) embarrassed or disappointed. We soon developed the impression that she had turned the tables and was checking us out to see if we were worthy of her services. Jackie appears to be at the point in her career and life where she pretty much picks and chooses her customers.

Bottom Line: Jackie Spratt’s cakes were extraordinary. They were moist, rich and full of original flavor. The chocolate tasted like rich chocolate, eureka! The icing and fillings were all handmade on site and no institutional tubs were to be found in her shop. All her ingredients appear to be super fresh with everything made from scratch. The cakes, fillings and icing were all spot on and what about that Champagne Delight!. Mother of the bride was now the happiest of the lot. Another hurdle conquered and we had a great time! By the way, we couldn’t help also noticing her now legendary, huge cupcakes with a choice of fillings that can feed several hungry Texans.

By the way, we heartily recommend Jackie Spratt for other than just her extraordinary offerings and exquisite artistry. She demonstrates a real old fashioned caring personality and actually bonds with her customers. To boot, Jackie is Texas True through and through and anybody looking for the true spirit of The Republic need go no farther than Jackie Spratt.

Long Live The Queen!


Ned Buxton

PS. A recent anonymous comment on this post well entrenched in the Dallas Affaires corner insists that I just had a bad experience and surely I must have, "too much time on my hands." That could very well be true, but what does that have to do with reflecting the reality of our experience and ultimately holding people accountable for their behaviors? By the way, other folks have weighed in with similar negative experiences with Dallas Affaires. Appears to be more than the tip of an iceberg which we could really use here in Texas. I sincerely hope that they recover themselves though that won't start to happen until they acknowledge they have a problem... Thanks for sharing your opinion. Aye, NB

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