It was a Friday afternoon in 1992. Raven Patrick De’Sean Dennis III was moving about his New York apartment, preparing to host a Sunday dinner for a choir from Benedict College. Then the telephone rang.
An executive chef named Conrad pleaded with Dennis — known as Cake Man Raven — to bake a strawberry shortcake for his boss’ 50th birthday celebration. Dennis, swamped with preparations for 60 out-of-town dinner guests, declined. Still, Conrad continued to plead his case and insisted that Dennis deliver the cake personally. Ultimately, Dennis capitulated.
When he arrived at the party, Dennis expected to hand off the cake then bolt back to Harlem to entertain his guests. But Conrad’s boss — the guest of honor — wanted to meet him.
“It looked like a statesman dinner was being held there. The tables were long enough to seat 25 people, so I said to Conrad, ‘Who is this that I’m meeting?’ He said, ‘He’s coming downstairs right now.’ When I turned around it was Bill Cosby.”
Cosby’s wife, Camille, had read about Dennis in a magazine article while awaiting a flight to Fiji a few days earlier. Once she landed, she called back to the states to order one of Dennis’ famous desserts. “Mr. Cosby said to me, ‘Any man that’s got my wife calling me from another island, looking for a cake, is someone I need to find out about.” What Cosby and other clients have discovered is a Southern-bred pastry chef whose tasty treats attract customers from far and wide.
After operating for more than 11 years out of his Harlem apartment, Dennis opened his Brooklyn-based bakery, Cake Man Raven Confectionery (www.cakemanraven.com), in 2000. Business has been so good that Dennis may be forced to move to a larger location. Part of the experience of visiting his bakery is the line, which is more like a congregation. In such close quarters, customers become familiar. They joke, talk, and guard their position around the L-shaped display.
Although the 15-employee business has just two ovens for baking and tight quarters that don’t allow for multiple cakes to be prepared, the product is a huge hit. As many as 25 customers cram into the 400-square-foot space, waiting sometimes as long as an hour for confectionary treats that include everything from a mouth-watering red velvet cake to 7Up pound cake.
Dennis, 38, has to limit his red velvet cake to four slices per customer so as not to exhaust his supply. “In the beginning we would go through one cake a day. Now, we go through 60 to 70 cakes in a shift and fill 40 orders a day during the weekend,” he says. The cost of Dennis’ custom creations can run anywhere from $400 for a cake that serves 25 to $40,000 for a colossal confection that feeds 3,000 or more. He also offers a more modestly priced menu that includes plain, yellow, pound, and red velvet cakes that cost $5 a piece; pies for $18, and whole cakes for $50. Revenues for Cake Man Raven Confectionery have