By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — One thing just sort of led to another.
If you ask Niskayuna resident Evelyn Keplinger how she became the proud owner of her own cake business at the same age when many people are beginning to wind down their careers, that’s what she says: It just sort of happened.
But as she tells her story, it becomes clear that for the 62-year-old Keplinger, it was inevitable.
She made her first cake when her kids, Nicole, Corey, and Taylor, now 42, 40, and 33, respectively, were little. She enjoyed it, but lost track of the hobby.
“Now that my kids are grown, I spend endless hours,” she said. Sometimes, her husband, Bob, has to pull her away from her work for her own good.
“Two in the morning, [I’m] playing with fondant,” Keplinger said, laughing.
Though she has always enjoyed baking and decorating intricate cakes and cupcakes, Keplinger ventured into entrepreneurship only about two years ago. Her family and friends prodded her to get the proper permits to sell her creations from her home on Union Street.
“My husband and son kept saying, ‘You need to do this!’ ” Keplinger said.
“I really didn’t know. I kept thinking, ‘Who’s going to buy a cake from someone in their home?’” she recalled. “And I was really wrong.”
The result was Treatie Beatie Cake Shop, and far from twiddling her thumbs waiting for business, Keplinger is constantly working to fill orders. She’s worked with Macy’s on local events, and has even caught the attention of a popular New York City baking supply store called New York Cakes, which will feature her as its Decorator of the Week in an upcoming weekly newsletter.
The successes she’s most proud of, however, are more personal. After a relative was suddenly faced with the onset of mental illness in his 20s, Keplinger has become a crusader for the cause of educating people about the condition and providing support.
She partners with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Glennpeter Jewelers on Central Avenue in Albany for an annual fundraiser that regularly brings in more than $1,000. The third installment is set for April 24 at the jeweler, where she hopes local people will come by for a fun night out and learn about the cause that’s dearest to her family in the process.
Equally as exciting, Keplinger said she plans to provide the cake for a milestone occasion in about a year, as a gift to her oldest grandson, Nathan, who is 22.
“He just got engaged,” she said. “I’ll be doing his wedding cake.”
Creating is nearly constant at Keplinger’s Union Street kitchen, but it wasn’t always natural for her when she began constructing the complicated cakes she sells now. Her first experiences using fondant as decoration, rather than icing, were frustrating.
“In the beginning I was like, ‘Oh my God, I hate this,’ ” she said.
But while watching a video of Buddy Valastro, a baker known as the “Cake Boss” on his own reality TV show, she realized she would have to get comfortable with the material if she wanted to graduate to professional-level cakes.
“I knew I wanted to create things that were unique, and that people couldn’t get around here,” she said.
Now, she can’t get enough of creating with the doughy material.
Flowers and gems
She builds confections covered in flowers, edible gems, or glitter, airbrushed with gradient pastels. She also sculpts cakes of all kinds. A postcard advertises a hot pink high heel on a birthday cake, and a review on her Facebook page thanks her for an edible PlayStation 3 that made a teenage boy’s birthday celebration extra special.
This past week, Keplinger was working on a five-tier Valentine’s cake with decorations on top that light up.
That’s complicated enough, but her dream assignment is even more so: She hopes one day she’ll be hired to create a chandelier cake. If you’ve never seen one, it’s a cake that tapers from wide on top to skinny on the bottom — and hangs, suspended, from the ceiling. Keplinger imagines hers would be seven tiers.
It will take a special client to make that dream come true. Even cakes that don’t defy gravity are pretty expensive, because they’re labor-intensive. For a traditional wedding cake, “it literally takes me weeks of planning,” Keplinger said.
In the meantime, she plans to continue her education, taking classes locally and traveling to New York City for workshops.
In a sense, a professional focus on aesthetics is nothing new for Keplinger. Before becoming a baker, she had a 20-year career in cosmetology as both instructor and practitioner. She still rents a booth at Cast & Co. beauty salon on Union Street a couple of days each week, but it’s no longer her main focus.
“My heart now is really with cakes,” she said. “I’m guessing now I know how an artist feels when they paint a picture.”
Creating an oasis of unique sweets in her home has had just one downside.
“I just signed up at the gym again,” she said. “I do have a sweet tooth.”
Photos by Rebecca Isenhart