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This baker may be Cincinnati's best-kept secret

Posted: 7:00 AM, Mar 15, 2016
Updated: 2016-03-15 07:00:45-04
This baker may be Cincinnati's best-kept secret
This baker may be Cincinnati's best-kept secret

MAINEVILLE, Ohio -- Jane Cervantes firmly believes that everyone should have a little “sugar and spice and all things nice” in their lives.

Furthermore, as a baker, she is convinced that everyone deserves a very special cake at least once, so she has made it her life’s mission to do just that for every single client.

Cervantes, a Landen resident who will celebrate her 64th birthday soon, has made thousands of cakes for private and public clients in Cincinnati.

“I believe everyone deserves a good cake made with love and good quality ingredients. I always remind myself that I am not just making cakes; I am leaving a legacy,” Cervantes said.

Twenty-seven years ago, she was a stay-at-home mom with three kids who knew when she threw colorful sprinkles on cupcakes, she could do better.

So she took a four-week cake decorating class at the local YMCA in Lebanon for just $10.

Empowered, she turned her hobby into her current business, Cakes Come True and Truffles Too , and began churning out cakes and truffles.

Jane Cervantes has created a wide range of cakes over the years, including special creations for weddings. Photo provided by Jane Cervantes

Cervantes’ unique trademark is that she only creates one-of-a-kind, custom cakes for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and special occasions. Every year, she donates a few special cakes to select charities at the request of her friends who are involved in some way with special causes.

“I ask them what they love and create it for them, whether it’s a car or a boat or a theme that runs through their lives,” said Cervantes, who takes her research so seriously that she once spent $150 on a designer Coach handbag to help guide her as she made a Coach-themed cake.

The cake cost exactly the same amount but the compliments and repeat business were worth every penny.

Jane Cervantes used Peeps marshmallows decked out in bikinis to create this pool party-themed cake. Photo provided by Jane Cervantes

Over the years, Cervantes' business has gone multi-dimensional: She's made customized 3-D cakes in the shapes of cars, steamboats, helmets and Peeps marshmallows dressed in bikinis for an annual pool party.

Cervantes will haunt novelty stores for miniature figurines of trees, sports items, flowers and rocks to create the perfect cake. For signs, she takes photographs, which she laminates and glues on toothpicks to stick in the cakes.

Cervantes doesn't just bake cakes; she creates chocolate truffles, too. Photo provided by Jane Cervantes

She also specializes in cheesecakes and 10 kinds of Belgian truffles, which her customers say are better than the famous gourmet Godiva goodies.

And as her fame spread, Graeter’s Ice Cream even invited her to make chocolates — and she did for a decade.

Cervantes looks back at that phase as being “pure fun,” recalling how the women she worked with giggled, chatted and tasted leftover chocolates, working “diligently to ensure high standards.”

“I felt like I was in an episode of 'I Love Lucy,' and one of my friends presented me with a figurine of that episode,” said Cervantes, pointing it out on the kitchen window sill.

Cervantes' time working with Graeter's reminded her of an "I Love Lucy" episode. Photo by Sonia Chopra

Graeter's still invites her to make chocolate presentations for businesses and local women and senior groups, and she has also taught cake decorating at Michaels Craft Stores , JoAnn Fabric and Craft Stores , Garden Ridge and Home Place. But now she prefers to work on her business.

It’s not a big company. Cervantes is the “sole proprietor, dishwasher and orderer of all supplies.” She also fulfills the deliveries and does all the baking and decorating in her 800-square-foot home kitchen with an oven that she’s had since the 1990s.

Cervantes has basic baking equipment and over 2,000 cookie cutters, plus 20 Styrofoam cake models. She has gone through many Kitchen-Aid mixers and her latest is a beautiful gold one, a present from her husband Tony, 68, an engineer at Belcan and her official “taste-tester.”

The cakes Cervantes creates range from $50 to $1,000. Sizes range anywhere from 6-inch cakes to cakes that have been 4 feet long.

An impressive resume

Years ago, when the Cincinnati Marriott Northeast opened, she was commissioned to make a 3-D cake of the new hotel. When the Krohn Conservatory celebrated its 75th anniversary and Mayor Mark Mallory officiated the ceremony, she did their cake, too.

In the last two decades, Cervantes has donated so many cakes and truffles — to charities like The Cure Starts Now Foundation , Little Mended Hearts of Cincinnati , Cincinnati Children’s Hospital , Kindervelt and Kings High School — that’s she’s lost count.

Cervantes also does chocolate parties, which feature her three chocolate fountains from which guests can dip strawberries and pretzels at local libraries, women's events and retirement homes. Some parties feature trivia questions and the prize is always something creative, like a chocolate cell phone.

It's in her genes

Cervantes creates all her cakes and does the decorating in her home kitchen. Photo by Sonia Chopra

Cervantes willingly divulges some of her trade secrets: Dominos Sugar, Land O'Lakes butter, special cake mixes and years of practice.

And an appreciation of baked goods, which is in her genes.

Cervantes was born and raised in Anderson with two older brothers and four younger sisters in a neighborhood filled with large Catholic families, like hers. Her father, Stan Favret, was a commercial photographer who specialized in weddings and her mother, Alberta, helped with his business.

They were both deeply connected to their community.

“Every time someone had a baby, my mother would bake something delicious like éclairs and I would say, ‘Can we eat some, too?’ and she would tell me, ‘Help me bake,’ and I did,” said Cervantes, who will not say what her annual income is but that she makes “enough.”

These days, Cervantes works long hours and she believes baking is her calling.

“I love what I do. I love the challenge of creating something someone imagines and I love seeing the happiness on their face when I get it right,” Cervantes said. “I have no plans to retire.”

Cervantes gets some assistance from her husband and her daughter, Catherine Von Bargen, 38. Tony uses his engineering skills to help design cake boards to improve the structural stability of her cakes. He also uses his many 3-D printers to help her “visualize” the cakes. The 3-D printers that he uses were created by their son, Sam, 35, and their other son Zack, 28, offers moral support, as they live out of town.

“My mom is one of Cincinnati’s best kept secrets. She has made custom cakes for some of the city’s great events,” said Von Bargen, senior project manager at Convergys , a customer experience analytics company downtown, who lives in West Chester. “I have watched her business grow over the years and it has been a valuable lesson for me. I have done my best to employ the determination and kindness that my mom possesses. She has brought joy to clients, friends and family with her custom creations. She is simply amazing.”

Rave reviews

Cervantes has spent decades building up a loyal clientele. Her business has spread through word-of-mouth from one delighted customer to another.

Mary Ann Merke, 87, a retired nurse who has since relocated to Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, has known Cervantes for 25 years and only buys cakes from her.

“There is nothing she cannot do. She is a first-class baker. If you can imagine it, Jane can make it,” said Merke, who, like her husband, Richard, loves boats.

Cervantes created this cake for a couple's wedding anniversary. Photo provided by Jane Cervantes

For their 60th wedding anniversary, Cervantes made the Merkes a 3-D steamboat cake to acknowledge the many happy summers the two families spent in adjacent summer houses along the Ohio River in Richmond, Ohio.

Cervantes' attention to detail is what enthralls her clients.

Theresa O’Bryan of Maineville has four kids, now ranging in ages from 21 to 28 years. For over two decades, for all their celebrations, Cervantes has made all their cakes.

“She is something else. She always manages to take my thoughts and put them into cakes and is never flustered if you change things,” said O’Bryan, 53, who co-owns O’Bryan Wine & Spirits in Loveland with her husband Steve, 55.

They've asked Cervantes to make dark chocolate truffles for their wine tasting events to add “that special touch.”

Myrna Overstreet, 52, who lives in the Kenwood area and works at Procter & Gamble , is among those loyal customers who will never buy a cake from anywhere else after eating Cervantes’ “incredible masterpieces.”

“Jane is a baking artist. Her creativity makes cakes visual art. You don’t even want to eat them, you just want to preserve them,” said Overstreet, who recalled that Cervantes baked cookies for an '80s-themed party that featured neon signs and cassette tapes.

Cervantes' talent and attention to detail set her cakes apart from store-bought baked goods.

“You cannot walk into a store and buy cakes like Jane’s,” said Jennifer Howard, 39, a Milford mother with three kids who works in finance, for whom Cervantes has made cakes for a decade now. “Everything she makes is always beyond expectations. I have never seen anything like her work. I am in love with it. It’s hard work, talent and good quality ingredients.”

For more information about Jane Cervantes' products or to order cakes or truffles, contact her at 513-314-2720 or email cakelady@gmail.com.