Pastry shop serves a mouthful


Ashlee Roderick, owner of The Cake Artist´s Studio, works on a cake Thursday. Troy Stanger

By Winyan Soo Hoo

Surrounded by tall, elaborately decorated cakes, Ashlee Roderick said she always thought Champaign deserved a fine bakery.

“People don’t have to be in a major metropolitan city like New York or Chicago to have nice things,” said Roderick, the owner and pastry chef at The Cake Artist’s Studio.

The 32-year-old said she decided to open a bakery because she wanted her own personal business and had close family support. Her store, located on 1100 W. Bloomington Road, was custom-built by her grandfather, who used to be owner of the Chemical Maintenance Inc. business next door. Roderick’s father now owns Chemical Maintenance Inc.

Local residents, as well as people in Chicago and Effingham, Ill., enjoy Roderick’s baked goods.

Penny Cukay, a Champaign resident and weekly customer at the bakery shop, said she loved going to the bakery since her first visit.

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“I really enjoy Ashlee’s warm hospitality and great desserts,” Cukay said. “Her baked goods are really pieces of art, and it makes me feel so proud whenever I serve her cakes at home.”

Roderick said she has always been interested in art. Growing up in Savoy, Ill., she took after-school art lessons from the University while still in high school. After looking into professions in oil painting and sculpting, she settled on the “stable job atmosphere” offered in the pastry field.

“People always eat,” Roderick said, with a smile. “The Food Network (on television) also became popular during this time, and I knew that I loved working in the kitchen.”

Baking can be compared to art because of its creative aspects, Roderick said.

“You always start out with the same ingredients and materials, but everything you make turns out different each time. The best part of my job is definitely the creativity. I gain inspiration from everything I see – clothes, cards, flowers, shoes. I take bits and pieces from things I see and sleep on it overnight.”

Roderick attended The Culinary Institute of America in New York for two years, studying with renowned sugar artists and professional cake designers. She said culinary school allows its students to learn from others and refine their skills.

After graduating second in her class, Roderick chose to work at a number of resorts and hotels, including Blantyre, a four-star resort in Massachusetts. While there, she was responsible for making all of the resort’s baked goods and desserts. She served her creations daily to hotel guests, including celebrities such as Billy Joel, Andre Previn and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

In 1998, Roderick used her skills and experience to start her family business in Champaign. Her mother, Sue Roderick, known as the “bakery mom” to the other co-workers, helps out with the business.

“I have a close family and I realized it is really good to work with people who know and understand you – especially when it gets really busy,” Roderick said.

On normal business days, Roderick starts working at 9 a.m. and ends 12 hours later. She creates and decorates baked goods for weddings, birthdays and dinner parties.

“The challenge is trying to get everything done on time, especially for weddings.” Roderick said. “For the designs, I have to interpret what people want, even if they change their mind.”

Last weekend, Roderick had to finish six wedding cakes.

“Ashlee is the only one who decorates, so on some evenings she may stay at work until 2 a.m.,” Sue Roderick said.

On their days off, Roderick and her mother enjoy checking out the other shops in Champaign, making trips to Chicago, decorating their separate homes and just talking. Their chats often involve the latest flavor and design trends in baking.

Roderick said she is always thinking about her customers.

“It doesn’t matter what type of occasion you have or where you are from, every person who comes here deserves a quality product,” she said.