Tracy Stevens (B.S.’00/H&S; M.T.’00/E) remembers her grandma and her mom taking her to The Mixing Bowl Bakery in Richmond, Virginia, to pick out her birthday cake. Opened in 1926, the bakery has a longstanding tradition in many local families, and Stevens is sustaining those food memories as its owner since 2009.
“The orders come in for each holiday, and people will always say, ‘My grandma always had these rolls and my mom always ordered this,’” she says. “It’s fun to see how families grow. We did a wedding cake for this couple 10 years ago and now they are bringing in their two kids for a treat. It is very special to be a part of their tradition.”
When did you start baking?
I started baking and cooking at a young age, and I had a subscription to Food & Wine magazine when I was 17. After graduating from VCU with a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in teaching, I went to the Culinary Academy in San Francisco and received my pastry arts degree in 2004.
What is your favorite thing to bake and decorate?
I like to bake cakes and breads. Bread allows me to get into my zen space. You get into a rhythm of rolling out the dough, and it all works itself out.
My least favorite thing to make is icing. If everyone would order a naked cake — a layer cake that is served with little to no frosting on the sides — I would be happy with that. Naked cakes were a big wedding trend in the 2010s, and are still a trend. In October, I baked a few naked wedding cakes.
How big is your team?
I have a small team, but they are a blessing. I have two decorators, one production assistant and one wedding coordinator/consultant. It is great to work with all of them every day. They have all been in the business in one way shape or form for most of our lives. I always welcome interns. I never turn away people who need to learn, want to learn and are willing to do the work that it takes.
What is your favorite event to bake for?
Birthdays are the thing. Everyone has one! My grandma brought us to The Mixing Bowl Bakery, my mom brought us here. They would always get my birthday cake from here. It has become a family tradition for people. They order their birthday cakes way in advance and take it to wherever they are going to celebrate. Being a part of everyone’s special day is what I like to do.
How did VCU prepare you for this journey?
I worked for a few years after high school before coming to VCU. I appreciated college more because I was a little older than the other students. I really tried to make the most of it. I learned that theory is one thing, but practice is another thing. You are the one who needs to go further and learn on your own. My degree in psychology helps me read people. There are a lot of different people who come into the bakery. I have had people who come work with me who do not want to get their hands dirty, and it gives me an insight into their childhood.
The teaching degree comes in handy with the interns and when people come in and ask questions. I am able to educate them on why something didn’t work or what to try again. I have so much more fun in the kitchen than I ever had in the classroom. I taught for the city of Richmond, and people would ask me what I would do to de-stress. I would go home and bake 250 sugar cookies for a PTA fundraiser or an event. Food has always been a big thing for me.
During the holidays, I would make milk carton gingerbread houses with my students. We would make a mess, but it was fun. They would have to purchase their candy from me and tell me the total of their order. I would always do things with food in the classroom.
What is your favorite part of owning The Mixing Bowl?
Being the boss means that I can make decisions and make them quickly and efficiently. I can take care of problems that arise, and I don’t have to wait for someone else. I like being able to solve the problems fast, but I love baking the most.