We always hear about the shiny, new food companies. The Spot is a series about the Philadelphia area's more established establishments and the people behind them.
While running a catering company years ago, chef Amy Edelman bought her cakes from Night Kitchen Bakery in Chestnut Hill. One day, owner Sandy Soley asked her if she knew anyone who wanted to buy the bakery.
“That’s when my wheels started turning,” Edelman said. “Six months later, I bought the bakery.”
That was 2000. She was 33, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a veteran chef with stops as disparate as the Commissary in Center City, a resort in Florida, Euro Disney in France, and Pollo Rosso, an Italian restaurant in Chestnut Hill.
Six months later, she met John Millard. He came to work for her a year after that. They got married and have run the bakery together since.
Edelman enlarged the Night Kitchen about five years ago, taking over the retail space next door to expand seating and add breakfast and brunch foods. She also hired chef Carl Drake (formerly of Drake’s Catering in Chestnut Hill), one of her line cooks at Pollo Roso 22 years ago.
Q: How did you meet John?
A: John was a chef. It’s kind of funny because when I was at the Commissary, when I was 17 years old, John was at 16th Street Bar and Grill [around the corner]. We didn’t know each other. Then years later, I was at the Boca Raton Resort & Club in Florida and John was in Fort Lauderdale at Café Max. Also, we didn’t know each other. He was married. Then when I first bought the bakery, I placed a personal ad and my personal ad had my email address, “ChefAmyBeth” and my zip code. We started dating soon after I bought the bakery and within a year, he was here working with us.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge about owning a retail bakery in 2016?
Answer: There’s so many. The biggest is always consistency. I always tell my staff that we can make or break our reputation every single day. Fluctuating prices is always an issue. It’s very hard to deal with issues that come up, like last summer there was a big problem with the eggs because there was a virus that ran through 90 percent of the chickens that were being raised for egg breeding. All of a sudden, our egg prices tripled, I think. We couldn’t obviously raise our prices to accommodate for that much of an increase, so we had to ... We lost a lot of money for about a good six months until things normalized in the egg-producing business.
Q: How about competition?
A: It’s funny because the year I bought the bakery, someone opened another bakery in Chestnut Hill called Cake and she’s still there, but when she opened, she opened it as a bakery. It was first a bakery, now it’s more of a restaurant. I was a little panicked when I heard that she was opening another bakery and I thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s competition. What’s that going to do to the Night Kitchen?’ To be honest with you, in 16 years that I’ve owned the bakery, we have grown the business every single year. The way I view competition is, especially with a growing population, people are moving back to Philadelphia, it’s got the largest growing millennial population in the country. There should be room for everyone, so that’s the way I have to look at it — otherwise I could get very anxiety-ridden, and I already have enough things to worry about.
Q: What are your most popular items?
A: It’s our mocha mousse cake and that cake was created by the original owner [Marie Tramontina]. I’m pretty sure that she got most of her recipes from Gourmet Magazine back when Sarah Moulton was the executive chef. People love, love, love that cake. It’s like a devil’s food cake with chocolate mousse in the middle and dark chocolate icing on the outside. That cake and the lemon curd cake are ones that people continually talk about. … Of course, there’s always the chocolate chip cookies. The shortbread cookies, we’re really well known for because they’re thick-cut shortbread cookies, and scones and sticky buns.
Q: How many people do you have working for you now full and part time?
A: Twenty people. When I first bought the bakery, I think we had seven or eight. Then over the years, before we did the expansion, it had grown and grown to about 13, and then when we did the expansion, it’s around 20. What really grew the business from eight to 13 was just the explosion of the custom cake business and the shows. Ace of Cakes was first and then Cake Boss.
Q: What does the gluten-free movement mean to you at the bakery?
Q: It’s interesting because right now it seems like the millennials really love the gluten-free options and that’s been tricky, but we have managed to figure out a few recipes that have become favorites, like the flourless chocolate cake, a couple of puddings that are gluten free, rice pudding, and also almond macaroons and coconut macaroons. Even my friend who is strict gluten-free, about as strict as I’ve ever seen, she will still have cake on a birthday, at a special celebration. I think people do try to stay away from it in general if it’s a weight-loss issue or they think it’s a health issue.
Q: How about the “evils of carbs.” How did that cut into your business?
A: It’s hard to know because our business has grown every year for the past 16 years. It seems like every couple years, there’s always a diet, a new fad. Sugar is also being demonized. I think what most doctors and people would say is that everything should be in moderation. I don’t think a lot of people come here and eat cookies and cupcakes every single day, so I think it’s a treat for the majority of people.
Q: What concerns you as a baker?
A: I worry about the ability to get products. I am an environmentalist and I watch what’s going on in the world with climate change, and I’m really concerned about chocolate. This business is built on chocolate, it’s arguably the most important ingredient and I don’t know what would happen if all of a sudden chocolate wasn’t available or chocolate prices were so exorbitant that it became a serious luxury item. Especially for the future of the Night Kitchen; my daughter [Izabella] keeps talking about wanting to run the bakery one day, which who knows, she’s 8 years old now. There’s so many things I worry about. I don’t know where to start.