Friday, November 4, 2011

[EID Feature] Reen's Cakes "N" Things: Better Living Through Butter

Photos by Nicole Rupersburg.

Reen's Cakes "N" Things over on Detroit's northwest side (on Grand River right off the Southfield Freeway) doesn't have a website or a Facebook page. Owner Reen Jones doesn't Tweet or blog. They don't even advertise. They don't need to.

"You better get in here early, there will be a line out the door and down the block later," one of Reen's customers tells me as I walk in. Reen walks with me to the back by the glass counter full of glorious cakes and I ask her about that. "Oh YES!" she exclaims. "For the holidays we have cut-off dates for pre-orders and even though we tell them every year, every year we'll have a line going around the block with people saying they forgot."

For Thanksgiving, the cut-off date will probably be Nov. 9. For Christmas the cut-off date is scheduled to be Dec. 18 but will most likely be sooner as her pre-orders fill up and they can't take any more on - this is an all from-scratch bakery and they can only bake so much at one time.

Reen's has been open for 12 years in their current location; the company itself has been open for 17 years total (the previous location was right across the street). Reen previously worked for GM for 15 years and happily took the buy-out option in order to start the bakery and realize her dream. She has always loved to bake. "I had an Easy-Bake Oven as a child," she says with a smile. "I once had a friend tell me that [when we were kids] it would be a sunny summer day and everyone would be outside playing and I would be inside baking! I said, 'Was I really that bad?' 'Yes!'"

She went to school for cake decoration and was baking out of her home until it got to be too small. Part of her inspiration for getting into the baking business was when she would go to weddings and there would be these beautiful cakes (not to mention expensive) that just tasted awful. "They looked pretty but didn't taste good," she says - and we all know exactly what she means. She wanted to make cakes that were both beautiful AND delicious. And now she makes both beautiful and delicious "cakes for all occasions."

She doesn't do a lot of wedding cakes anymore though she'll still make smaller ones. But the daily business of Reen's lies in her everyday cakes and pies. Decadent caramel made with vanilla cake and rich, luscious stovetop-cooked caramel icing. Moist German chocolate cake with gooey caramel-coconut icing (REAL coconut). Lemony 7UP pound cake with smooth cream cheese frosting. Ruby-colored red velvet cake made with lemon cake instead of cocoa. Cookies, cobblers, cheesecakes, brownies, dinner rolls and sweet potato pie. Sheet cakes in all sizes customizable with edible paper (they can take your photo, scan it, and put it on your cake).

Also, mini-cakes. "They're perfect if it's just two of you at home and you don't want a whole cake, or maybe you have a family of five but they all want different flavors," explains Reen. At under $4.00 a piece ($4.25 for rum cake), these mini-sheets are still more than enough for two or three full dessert sittings for one person (well...depending on the person). "We've been doing these for a long time; they're huge for us." They really are the perfect portion, and once you dig your fork into that first corner and taste the edges slightly crispy from being baked in REAL butter along with Reen's UNBELIEVABLE icing (seriously, order the caramel cake), you'll never touch another store-bought cake with bland, sugary frosting again.

Everything at Reen's is made from scratch, and you can smell it as soon as you walk through the door. "We love butter here, as you can probably smell!" Reen jokes. But the rich smell of golden butter - butter baking in pie crusts, butter baking in cakes, butter baking in cookies ... beautiful, beautiful butter ... permeates the air inside Reen's. It smells ... happy.

"[When I was working at GM] I would wake up every day unhappy," Reen says. "I realized that that's not the way to live. I feel like this is what I was meant to be doing, and now I wake up every day happy!"

Reen also attributes her success to the great staff she has of dedicated, hard-working people, and also to her family. "I grew up in a family that never said you couldn't do something, it was always 'You CAN.' I didn't feel like I was taking a risk [when I opened the bakery]. This was my calling!"

Reen's is open Wednesday through Friday 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Closed Monday and Tuesday.) They accept credit and EBT cards. Items do sell out so be sure to call in advance to check or pre-order. They can also make a variety of items not on the regular menu so just ask.

Want to see more? Check out the Flickr set here.