Small Bites: Donatelli Cake Designs opens downtown

Piece of cake: Karen Donatelli standing in the brightly lit kitchen of her new Haywood Street bakery. Photo by Max Cooper

Once every minute or so, a camera fixed on the interior of Donatelli Cake Designs, an under-construction pastry shop at 57 Haywood Street, clicks as it takes a photo. Eventually, the images will be compressed into a time-lapse film, a documentation of one woman's efforts to turn her dream into reality.

In March, Karen Donatelli (with husband Vincent) will open a bakery devoted to the desserts, European-style pastries and special occasion cakes that she's been refining since the age of 15. Donatelli's Cake Designs will fill two floors, with a small café area at the upper entrance. The 30-seat retail and dining area will feature a service counter and espresso machine — but the centerpiece will be the baked goods. "We're not trying to be Starbucks," Karen says. "It will be very simple. We want [the coffee] to complement our pastries."

Both Karen and Vincent live and breathe baking. Vincent is a baking and pastry arts instructor at A-B Tech. Both were educated in the art of pastry at New York's Culinary Institute of America — they were enrolled there at the same time, Karen says, but didn't meet until she apprenticed at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach (Vincent, having already graduated, was working as a baker there). The two eventually married and had three children, all now grown. "It's a sweet, sweet story," Karen says.

But having three children meant that Karen had to put her career on hold, she says. She worked as an Asheville real estate agent for a number of years, being creative with baking in her spare time. Now, with the kids older, Karen has time to throw herself into her craft again.

The Donatellis’ new pastry kitchen on Haywood is light and airy, with afternoon sunlight flooding through ceiling-high windows. "I always inquired about this location. I used to sit and think about all of the things that I would do. Finally, they said there was an investor that wanted to purchase the building so we could lease it," Karen says.

In that upstairs kitchen, Karen will make her European-style pastries, tarts, eclairs and croissants. "We're Italian, so we love anything with Nutella, hazelnut, that kind of thing," she says. "We'll have a very artistic case here," she says, pulling back a drop-cloth protecting the pastry case from airborne dust and paint. "When you look at them they're going to be beautiful, but when you taste them, it's just going to be 'Wow.'"

Downstairs, where Scully's bar and grill used to be several years ago, the bar has been ripped out, soft spots in the floors repaired and walls whitewashed. The space will feature a production kitchen that will specialize in catering, breads and ready-made (yet unique) desserts.

The area will service "hotels, restaurants, anyone that needs a pastry chef on call," says Karen. "A lot of restaurants can't afford a pastry chef, but they still desire to give their customers a beautiful dessert, with a beautiful presentation." As part of the service that Donatelli Cake Designs will offer, Karen will go to restaurants, listen to the chef's needs and design a dessert menu, specific to that restaurant. "I can train them to do dessert presentations, they can give me ideas and I can come up with desserts for them," she says. She also imagines producing cake kits for chefs with separate dessert components — say a chocolate "Happy Birthday" decoration, some macerated fruit, ganache and pastry — that a chef can assemble quickly. "And I'll train them how to do it," Karen says.

The Donatellis expect to be in business in early March. "I just can't wait to get in here and start baking," Karen says. "It's going to be a very nice kitchen. It's like a dream come true for me."

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One thought on “Small Bites: Donatelli Cake Designs opens downtown

  1. Lee Romano

    Fabulous! Probably the best pasteries I have had anywhere. I have been looking for the eclaire from my NY childhood – couldn’t find it in France but I found it in Asheville! Thank you.

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