By Carolyn Desalu
Photography by Rayon Richards
Co-owner, Make My Cake
“I eat cake every day,” says Aliyyah Baylor with a laugh. The co-owner of the Harlem-based bakery Make My Cake rode into the dessert world on a wave of Southern baking traditions upheld by her mother and grandmother. Her mother, Jo-Ann Baylor, started selling homemade cakes when she was 5, but when mom returned to corporate America, Aliyyah, at age 18, picked up the reins.
“I don’t think I fully understood [how much] my mom did,” reflects the tall, svelte entrepreneur. “I was making icing, doing the fi lling, and prepping the cakes, and when [the business] was handed to me, it was like, Oh, I get it, but not really.” With help from her cousin Kathy, who served as a longtime strategic partner until her passing earlier this year, Aliyyah created a million-dollar retail, wholesale, and mail-order company with two freestanding Harlem shops that both she and her mother oversee. “Mom is boss,” she says. “I go rogue sometimes, but she has confidence in me, and she knows she’s the brain and I’m the vision.”
Three years ago, Aliyyah received a validating call: The Food Network wanted her to appear on Throwdown! with Bobby Flay. “The producers said Bobby Flay and I would make our own version of a German chocolate cake, and I knew it was one of the hardest cakes to make, but, ironically, it was one of the first cakes my mom taught me.” And one she apparently makes extremely well: Flay included the Baylors’ recipe in his cookbook Bobby Flay’s Throwdown!, published last fall.
Though the brand has gained notice, thanks in part to her signature sweet potato cheesecake (which originally took two days to make) and famous clients like Tina Fey, Mariah Carey, and Vanessa Williams, Aliyyah still faces challenges, especially when a big-box store like Costco moves into the neighborhood. “Do you see the size and price of their pies? They’re a big company that can massproduce. We’re not invincible.”
Looking forward, Aliyyah is developing an ice cream line to add to her menu. Already, there’s an indication that the fourth generation will carry on the family business: Aliyyah’s 10-year-old daughter can sometimes be found ringing up customers, and her 18-year-old son is affectionately nicknamed Doughboy.
Aliyyah insists that she and her team make more than just cakes; they create memories.