A sweet coincidence leads a young entrepreneur to her dream career.
A pink neon sign welcoming customers to Deisy’s Cake Shop at 315 West State Street in Kennett Square reads: “Enjoy life, eat cake.” Pastry chef Deisy Tapia opened for business on March 15, 2020—literally hours before the COVID-19 shutdown began. But, if eating cake is any measure, through all the challenges of this past year local residents have been enjoying life, too.
Tapia’s first year in business in Kennett Square has been a spun-sugar whirlwind of creating cakes for cake-worthy family celebrations—from birthdays and graduations to first communions and confirmations, quinceañeras, and even small weddings. “We’ve stayed extremely busy,” she says. She and staff recently calculated that they’ve made more than 7,000 cakes in just over a year. On Saturdays alone, she says, they often fill orders for as many as 40 or 50 cakes. Perhaps that’s another lesson to be learned from the pandemic—eat more cake. Even when the going gets tough, there’s always something to celebrate.
Determined that her opening last spring would be anything but half-baked, Tapia’s creative game rose as high as her cakes. As orders for larger cakes were cancelled, Tapia refocused on making smaller cakes for smaller gatherings with special touches to make every occasion festive. “We offered curbside pickup and also made cookie decorating kits. Parents with kids stuck at home thought they were an awesome idea,” Tapia says.
Although it’s clear Tapia has an abundance of natural talent as a pastry chef, she describes her choice of career as a coincidence. A schedule mix-up at the Technical College at Pennock’s Bridge landed Tapia in the culinary arts program instead of in the cosmetology course she’d signed up for. “I ended up in the kitchen—and I loved it!” she says. “I’d never seen baking as a career option. I was involved in the morning news club at school and thought about journalism and other opportunities, but not baking.” After graduating from Kennett High School in 2011, Tapia studied at The Pennsylvania School of Culinary Arts in Lancaster and then trained at The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia.
Baking has always been an important part of Tapia-Vergara family gatherings, and Deisy’s Cake Shop, along with its sister shop, Panaderia Estrella, at 123 Rosehill Avenue in West Grove, is very much a family business. It all started in 2011 with their West Grove location. “There are a lot of Hispanics in the area, and my mom wanted to open a traditional Mexican bread bakery with bread and breakfast pastries made by hand every morning,” Tapia says. “My mom had the initiative, and I had the skills and education, so it was a good combination.”
As the West Grove business grew, they had so many requests for cakes that the family decided to expand. Tapia wanted the second location to be in Kennett Square, the town where she grew up and that feels like home. She’s enjoyed making cakes for teachers, the school superintendent, coaches, and others she’s known growing up. “Kennett Square has a great diverse population,” she says. There’s a customer base for traditional Mexican pastries, cakes, and breads such as conchas, the iconic shell-shaped sweet breads decorated with colorful confectioner’s sugar icing. The bakery offers flan, doughnuts, and croissants, but also desserts that are less traditional, like tiramisu. “We make a little bit of everything,” Tapia says, “and that’s what sets us apart from a lot of places.” Deisy’s Cake Shop provides customers the perfect opportunity to try different kinds of traditional Mexican treats. The tres leches, or milk cake, for example, is a vanilla sponge soaked in milk and is a traditional birthday cake. “People who aren’t Hispanic are trying it and liking it,” she says.
Although Tapia is based in the Kennett Square shop, she does all of the cake decoration for both bakeries. While Tapia’s mother concentrates on the bread, her father does a little bit of everything—from deliveries and inventories to bread baking. Her brother Darinel, who’s an architect in Chadds Ford, does all of the accounting. And her other four brothers and younger sister all help out whenever they can.
One of Tapia’s favorite parts of the process is decorating cakes to ensure they look as good as they taste, and she gets particular satisfaction from decorating wedding cakes. “It’s so fun to decorate these special cakes and see the final product,” she says. Her Instagram feed is a fun, diverse, and colorful record of her artistic skills.
Tapia loves working with customers to design mouthwateringly beautiful, one-of-a-kind confections for their special occasions. “Some people have a full vision for what they want, and we make a sketch together, maybe with a picture from the internet,” she says. “Others give me complete freedom to see where my imagination takes me.” She finds both kinds of projects fun and challenging. She enjoys being creative, making decisions as she tiers and stacks layers and deciding what to add. But she also likes seeing how well she can execute a technique another decorator has used. “Piping, the way a cake is iced, and how the flowers are arranged—I’m always learning and practicing new techniques, and it’s very rewarding and exciting when I master a new one,” she says. And with cake decorating trends changing as quickly as fashion, there’s always something new to learn. “Drip cakes are very popular right now,” she says, “and decorators are using a lot of macarons and fresh flowers. Striped cakes are also in.” She’s seeing more and more pastry chefs sculpting cakes, too.
Tapia has learned early the challenges and sacrifices involved in running a business. “The hours are extremely long and it’s hard to balance family and personal life. And the weekends and holidays, when everyone else is off, are our busiest times. I’m constantly working, thinking about what we need for ingredients, scheduling staff—it’s exhausting.” But it’s also very rewarding, she says, and when she sees a customer jump up and down with joy because they love what she’s created, it makes all the long hours and hard work worth it.
One of the sleights of hand Tapia and her staff perform each day is making the creation of beautiful cakes seem—well, like a piece of cake. “Lots of people don’t realize all that goes into making and decorating a cake behind the scenes,” she says. She smiles as she describes the feeling when, having spent countless hours making and decorating a cake, it’s cut and devoured within minutes. And on that one day about a year ago when three different fully decorated cakes, carried by three different people, all fell? “There was nothing to do but laugh,” she says.
When she does have spare time, Tapia enjoys spending time with her family, including her six-year-old daughter, and reading Spanish novels. She grew up speaking both English and Spanish, but she’s now learning to read in Spanish on her own. And when she has a chance to enjoy eating cake herself, chocolate chip is her favorite.
Customers can pick up a cake from the case in the shop or preorder a custom cake for any occasion. Tapia requests a minimum of a week’s notice for preorders, and preferably two. Tapia is already filling her schedule for 2022. “It’s never too early to order a cake,” she says.
Contact Deisy’s Cake Shop at 610.444.1419
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