A Whale of a Tale About an Extreme Cake Bakery
Kyle and Megan Baker wear their heart a bit higher than their sleeves.
The Thirsty Whale isn’t a bar, but the bakery did get its name because grandma had a few too many daiquiris on a Caribbean cruise. When Megan Baker and her sister, mom and grandmother returned to the ship from shore leave a few years ago, grandma was lying on the bed trying to recall the name of the bar: Was it the Thirsty Lizard? The Wet Whale? The Thirsty Whale?
For the record, the bar was the Wet Lizard, and Megan got so much pleasure retelling the story, she decided to name her bakery after the memory.
But it’s not your thirst buds that get activated when you enter the narrow storefront on North Fremont Avenue in Minneapolis; it will be more like an impending sugar rush—and you instinctively know you’re not going to leave empty handed. In a limited amount of square footage, sweets lovers come face to face with a wall of colorful fresh doughnuts, a side wall of packaged cookies and a display case of layer cakes, cupcakes and bars. But the knock-your-socks-off cakes—or “extreme custom cakes,” as she calls them—are captured on Megan’s iPad.
There’s the cake with an actual waterfall running through it for a landscaper’s special day and then the wedding cake with one side decorated with dainty pastel flowers and the other with superheroes (a marriage with such unfathomable compromise has gotta last) and a realistic bowl of ramen with floating chopsticks holding up noodles.
“I refuse to tell people no,” Megan says. If she can draw it, she can make it — “just maybe not for $20.” And plastic toys or kitschy trinkets will only find their way onto her cakes “over my dead body,” she says, dramatically.
Megan claims to be a significant introvert, but she hides it well. She works with her husband, Kyle, whom she at one time supervised, and her best friend, Amber. She had planned to go to art school after high school, but her mother didn’t count that as college. “My English teacher bought me a cake decorating set and said try this,” she says. She baked her teacher a cake and enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu.
Kyle Baker, on the other hand, was destined to one day own a bakery. Kids in grade school used to taunt him with refrains of “baker, baker, bake me a cake,” he says. And although his previous job took him off the night doughnut shift to work in cakes, his heart belongs to the many varieties of doughnuts.
“The only reason we have doughnuts is Kyle,” Megan says.
“I love doughnuts,” the people-person of the duo enthuses, not only the taste but because of their versatility. “They can be a breakfast, a snack, a treat”… (and for this reporter after visiting the bakery for the interview—a lunch.)
The couple started the business before they were married. “He was my unhappy apprentice” she says about the last job they both worked before quitting together. “I was done having a boss.”
Before they opened their storefront, all deliveries were free, to avoid people coming to their house or shared-kitchen space. Once they had walls and a floor at their present location, they started having people pick up the cakes there as a way to train them to come to the bakery, Kyle says.
“Kyle makes sure our business doesn’t fall apart. We just want to make cakes and sell them to people,” she says, getting a nod from both Amber, her cake baker, and Rosalie, a decorator.
What they know about running a business they’ve learned on the job, although Kyle says he has been a night supervisor and “I learned scheduling at McDonald’s at 16.”
“We’re significantly smarter than we were in 2016,” she says. They do about eight to 10 weddings a weekend during the wedding season, which runs from April through September, and have regulars, such as two Realtors who commission Thirsty Whale to do thank you cakes decorated with a picture of the client’s newly purchased house.
Megan and her staff are also award-winning cake decorators. Megan won all three top prizes in the wedding category a couple of years ago in the Annual Pillsbury Bakers’ Creative Cake Decorating Competition.
“I’m very competitive,” she says, adding, “I’m also picky about who I hire.” As she says this, Rosalie, another Le Cordon Bleu graduate, is applying powdered sugar with a large powder puff to fill in tiny crevices in a frosting layer that already looks flawless.
Marketing is easy when you have such eye-popping merchandise to display on social media sites. The visual site, Instagram, is their go-to, with tons of hashtags to get their message across. Twitter is less successful. “We suck at Twitter,” Kyle says, adding that’s often their message, which works in their favor as well, because the pictures of their cakes don’t suck.
And then there’s word of mouth—because with 20 flavors, including butter beer and cotton candy, the cakes taste as good as they look.
We couldn’t help but notice the slice of cake tattooed on Megan Baker’s neck and the dripping pink doughnut Kyle Baker sports on his neck. So we had to ask. “As a kid I always wanted tattoos,” Kyle says, but his parents disapproved. “Some have not been so great,” he sheepishly admits, pulling up a sleeve to reveal some faded bars of music. But some, such as the slice of cake and a candle burning at both ends for Megan and his pink doughnut—“I grew up with the Simpsons,” he says—are placeholders in their lives. While a visual icon, the pink-sprinkled Simpson’s doughnut is not his favorite to eat. That role is filled by the Maple Crunch Persian, but as a tat it would just look like a bland beige square. When asked what a Maple Crunch Persian was, Kyle replied, “It’s a fried cinnamon roll,” although his former boss would never allow him to refer to the Persian that way.
Since its a bad practice for bakers to wear wedding rings while baking and frosting, the two had each other’s initials tattooed on their ring fingers.
Both love being inked, but for Kyle, it’s “tattoo therapy” and therefore when he’s feeling stressed, he heads for Metal Mike at Nokomis Tattoo. He’s still working on sleeve that starts with a large lotus flower on the back of his hand flowing into different colored koi swimming upstream in a yellow river to be turned into dragons by mythical demons. A “bad-ass turtle” covers an earlier regrettable tattoo.