When the Dessert Shop Cafe closed its Broad Street location, owner Kimberly Davis was relieved.
“I was at my wit’s end,” she said. The popular bakery-turned-café suffered from its funky downtown address. Davis decided, after more than three years downtown, that the hassle of doing business in the city’s historic buildings was more trouble than it was worth.
“We left a lot of money behind when we moved,” she said. “But I decided that my health and my sanity were worth more than that.”
Plumbing forced the restaurant to close its doors on several consecutive First Fridays, and sometimes for days at a time.
“We were losing customers daily,” she said. The new location in The Centre at Furys Ferry Road in Martinez may not get the foot traffic that Davis enjoyed on Broad Street, but it didn’t stop Brooke Maples and Nicole Davis from popping in for a late lunch.
“She’s never been here and I used to eat here when they were downtown,” Maples said. “I got hooked on the chicken salad.”
The chicken salad is one of only a few things that Davis carried over to her new location, now called The Dessert Shop and Deli. Gone are the veggie burgers and fries.
“I just couldn’t take the grease anymore,” Davis said. “I just stripped it back down to basics, something I could always do to make sure that quality was always consistent.”
So she scaled down the menu, keeping the chicken salad, a selection of deli sandwiches and adding a few more salads. Of course, she kept her signature desserts like the Almost Heaven Cake and about the largest portion of crème bruleé you’ll find outside of Texas, where they probably make them in swimming pools.
To fill out the menu she added a daily special — such as roast pork with mashed potatoes and corn, or chicken and veggie lasagna — to satisfy heartier appetites and the craving for a hot meal. But Davis is a baker at heart.
“Baking is a science,” she said. “I’m a Georgia Tech graduate. I’ve been a math and science person all my life.”
Baking is about chemistry — ratios, temperatures, times and pressure — and yet Davis’ technique uses as much instinct as it does measurements. Things come so naturally to her that her boyfriend, an Augusta chef, cannot stand to watch her.
“He can’t bake,” she said, and her repeated reuse of the same measuring cup irritates a man whose workstation is so clean that other chefs compliment him on it at competitions. But her ability to “eyeball” measurements and her innate familiarity with baking means she can have a carrot cake in the oven in five minutes.
“As long as I can get someone else to shred my carrots for me,” she said.
Davis can be found in her restaurant nearly 70 hours a week, a far cry from the 90 hours a week that she worked when she first opened her own shop. During holidays, when cake order slips stack so high that she might one day accidentally ice them, she said that she sometimes bakes for 40 hours straight.
“Owning a restaurant is a young person’s job,” she said, with a laugh. “I don’t think I could be doing this in 10 years.”
Eventually, she plans to hire another baker, but she claims to be a poor teacher.
“It’s just faster to do it myself,” she said.
Perhaps in 10 years she can hand over some of the daily operations to a trusted employee. Then she can concentrate on things like the special request a gentleman tossed out at her when he visited last week: Lady Baltimore cake, a recipe that dates back to the early part of the 1900s. It’s said to have originated not in Maryland, as one might assume, but at The Lady Baltimore Tea Room in Charleston, S.C., and is a variation on a cake that Dolly Madison enjoyed.
That one took a little research, she said, but when she gets together the recipe, including nuts, figs and candied cherries, the gentleman will have his cake. And eat it, too.
The Dessert Shop is located at 339 Furys Ferry Road in The Centre at Furys Ferry Road. It is open Monday to Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Call 706-364-3591.