The warm scent of fresh baked goods is all the excuse you need to buy nearly every pastry you see in Pretty Please Bakeshop.
Pretty Please Bakeshop is located just north of Golden Gate Park and features a new and delicious menu every day as well as one of a kind cake creations that have been featured in Style Me Pretty and the Bay Area’s own Golden State Warrior celebrations! We sat down with owner and creative mind Alison Okabayashi to talk about her journey and creative inspirations.
What is your creative journey and how did you come about opening up a bakeshop?
I’ve always been a creative person and raised by creative people and artists in their own way. Everyone was an artists by hobby, either cooking from scratch or building. My earliest memories are building with my dad, sewing my own clothing and clothing for my dolls. I always loved cooking and my family likes to eat so food was always important. I wanted to go to culinary school after high school but I went to Cal instead. After I graduated I ended up at culinary school anyway and I realized I didn’t want to work for anybody else, I wanted to be creative so I started my own company where I could do just that. Originally we just baked by commission and I had a full time job I was working for the first 7 years or so. In the beginning it was a nice way to be creative, and in the summer of 2009 I started to bake full time. It’s been a lot of little steps at a time. For Pretty Please, it’s almost the 3 year anniversary!
What inspired the name “Pretty Please Bakeshop”?
All of my baking is vintage American inspired - something my mom would have wanted to eat. We have classic American flavors like caramel, banana, red velvet - nothing too experimental - but we bake it in away that is updated for what people eat like today. I don’t think food should be taken too seriously so our desserts are traditional but fun. We wanted our name to be cozy and familiar and bringing up the feeling of more polite era, when people valued things more and life was a bit slower. The name needed to be short and sweet (and no puns!).
How did you find this location?
Craigslist, I think! I spent a lot of time looking at other neighborhoods but I’ve always loved this neighborhood and lived here for a few years. I didn’t want something too trendy or touristy - I wanted to be in a neighborhood where we knew our customers and it felt like a home. The space was the right size and fit the budget, which made it easier to jump in and start the business.
What inspires you daily?
I’ve always been someone that works really hard and doesn’t need any external motivation. If I say I’m going to do something, I go and do it and that’s how I approach each day. I am a strong believer of you are only good as what you do that day. I know people are expecting a high level of craftsmanship from us. I’m accountable to my customers, my staff, and myself and that inspires me more.
What is your creative process like for new recipes?
New recipes are collaborative here. Our kitchen staff has a weekly staff meeting where we write our menu out for the week. New ideas often come up from something normal and we morph it around into something new, like Blueberry Pancake Cupcakes, and we test from there and make sure it makes us feel the way we want. We ask ourselves: how can we turn this into something that fits our philosophy?
For custom orders, sometimes I meet with a client and they have ideas of what they want and I hit the drawing board with designs and present them with different options of what we can do based on their feedback. I often look at invitations and themes for birthday parties. For bridal orders, I look at their dresses and invitations. I am very adamant about staying away from looking at cakes and I look more at textiles and color palettes for inspiration. Pinterest is a great resource where I can gather different ideas for a theme like jewelry or movie themes, and I learned from Mary (of Very Mary Inspired) how to put it on paper. I’m not good at pen and paper but I can execute in baking and decorating.
What are day to day operations like?
We are open 6 days and I’m here 5 of them. I am trying to set more boundaries to limit myself from being here, but I’m usually here a couple hours before opening and we have a head baker who comes in even earlier and starts making production work. We make everything from scratch and myself and another person are both full time cake decorators. Once production for the day is done, we start special orders. Every week deadlines are different and there is no mold for anything so every day is new.
What is it like to work on a wedding project, as opposed to other projects?
I like making wedding cakes because I like to edit a lot which is really important and makes a big difference. My style is an attention to detail but not overtly detailed. Wedding cakes are just so pretty at the end because you start with a vision and see it come together. And then you deliver it and get to see the whole vision with everything together.
What is your longterm vision for Pretty Please Bakeshop? Perhaps a second location?
We are definitely in a process of changing. We’ll be in this space for another three years at least and I know I still want to be in the wedding world in at least the next five years. I like being here and I still want to be very much apart of everything. It’s definitely work but because I love it, it feels a lot less like work then other people I know. I don’t like to juggle a lot of things so I’d like to have more team members and better team work. I was here a lot more last year but we’re busier this year and I’ve been able to balance work out because we have such great team work here.
What do you think has been most important to you success so far?
Just hustling, working, taking it seriously and putting in the hours, being honest and not taking shortcuts. I really do have a sincere desire for all of our customers to be happy. Whether or not something goes wrong because of us or not, my main goal is for the customer to be happy. It’s the way I run my business and I just want to do right by everybody and work hard and do what we say we are going to do and have it received well.
The Warriors happen to be regulars for you - that’s amazing! How did you come about this client?
One of the women who works for the organization had a daughter who turned 3, so she called and ordered a cake from us and she was really happy with it (it was a Frozen cake and a design that became really popular) and she said it was the best chocolate cake she ever had. So she kept us in mind for whenever the team needed a cake. It was a good 4 or 5 months before the first order for a team member came in. They’ve always been really happy with the cakes and they’re kind of the perfect client because they tell us what they need and then let us do our thing. I’m a big fan of the team so I’m always ready to go and design something for them.
I’m curious about the process of designing and making a faux cake for photo shoots and visual projects. What is this process like? When are the cakes real, and when are they fake?
For a photo shoot, they usually tell us exactly what they need or send us a Pinterest board or show us a vision. For actual execution, there are styrofoam rounds called cake dummies but everything design wise is edible - made with fondant and other sugar details. Fondant’s color will fade over time so we tend to use more muted colors for faux cakes depending on what is needed. Most of the time the cakes are faux but sometimes designs will require say, buttercream, instead and that’s when we’ll make a real cake.
What is the most popular treat in the shop?
Red Velvet Twinks are always popular. Banana Pudding is a favorite and recently the Blueberry Pancake cupcake is popular. We have 20-25 items on any given day but anything red velvet is always popular.
What is YOUR favorite dessert in the shop right now?
If I was going to die in an hour, Snickers Cupcake.
If you were to eat only one dessert for the rest of your life what would it be?
Chocolate Chip cookies, last year I was eating at least one a day!
Any advice for self-starters?
Everyone has their own path and vision and maybe all I can say is trust yourself and work your ass off!
Alison was inspiring and a pleasure to speak with. We left with a boxful of treats we couldn’t resist, including Mini Banana Cream Pie and Red Velvet Twinks!
They are open 6 days a week and are open for custom designs year round.
Follow them on your favorite social media @prettypleaseSF
Pretty Please Bakeshop
291 3rd Avenue, San Francisco, CA. 94118