- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Warren Brown’s path from litigation to baking was not always a cakewalk, but in the end proved to be a sweet success.
Brown, a native of New York, left a successful law career to pursue his dream of baking professionally. Despite the difference in career paths, a decade later, Brown now owns and operates six CakeLove bakeries in the Washington, D.C., area. On Nov. 29, Brown came to the College of Southern Maryland’s La Plata campus to speak to students about challenges faced along the way and the realities of owning and operating a business.
Brown’s visit to campus was coordinated by CSM’s campus career services office. Assistant Director Lisa Warren said the office wanted to give students a take on a slightly different business model.
“We wanted students to have the opportunity to hear a compelling career story and talk directly with a well-known professional,” Warren said. “While his story is universal, his current business is also that CSM business students, hospitality students and aspiring entrepreneurs can learn from.”
“I want people to be aware of some of the challenges I’ve faced,” Brown said in his presentation. “A lot of the times, I still focus on what’s wrong, and there’s more to it than that.”
A lifelong lover of the creativity and “sense of soulful satisfaction” that comes with cooking, Brown had never really tried his hand at baking. Making this attempt marked a shot at pushing himself out of his comfort zone.
“I was going through a rough period then, and I had kind of closed up,” Brown said. “So, I put myself back out there and tried new things. Baking was one of those things.”
Brown started small, making blueberry muffins first and eventually experimenting with layered and filled cakes that he would test out on friends and family. In August of 1999, Brown was waiting on a flight to New York City to visit family and brought a cake with him. The comments he received in the airport proved to be his catalyst for attempting a career change.
“I was carrying a cake through the airport on a plate, wrapped in blue plastic, and people just kept stopping me and making jokes and comments about it,” Brown said. “That was an epiphany moment for me. I knew then that this was a verifiable product I could sell.”
From that point forward, when Brown would go on business trips to scout more information about cases he was working on in his role as a lawyer for federal government issues, he would stay a day longer to visit local bakeries and talk with the owners to try and map out his own path, a tactic he feels helped ensure his success.
“You’ve got to go out and talk about your business and what your idea is,” Brown said. “I really found that that’s the best thing to do. Make a decision, commit to it and then just go. You just have to begin and see what works.”
Although he felt “a little unhinged” when beginning the process of leaving a lucrative career path to pursue something entirely different, Brown’s hard work has paid off. He has appeared on TV programs such as “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” hosted his own Food Network show and published two books on cakes and baking.
He plans to expand his chain of bakeries outside the region. Even so, Brown said, the hardships are just as important, if not more so, than the successes.
“You can’t expect everything to go perfectly,” Brown said. “There are always going to be things you can’t anticipate in terms of what other people will do and don’t do.”
CSM freshman Jaclyn Enslow said she was most interested in hearing Brown recount the tale of his career switch.
“It was great. It flowed very well,” Enslow said. “He was really talkative and informative.”
“I’ve been to CakeLove, and I love their stuff,” freshman Lauren Hall added in between bites of the cupcakes Brown provided. “It’s incredible that he is where he is now compared to where he came from. It was so fun. They do a lot to get us involved at CSM.”
Warren was pleased with Brown’s presentation.
“I feel it was a great success,” Warren said. “Bringing real-world professionals to campus for students to engage with inspires them in their own career exploration and education. It helps bring students out of the day-to-day grind of classes, homework and studying to give them a glimpse of the possibilities for their own futures.”