Residential Dodd Road in West St. Paul offers little in the way of obvious amenities. There's a quiet brick-front bar that seems to whisper, "Regulars only, please," and on the cross street of Ohio, Gallagher's Bar & Grill, an old-school Irish bar serving short-order breakfast, inexpensive steaks, and lots and lots of beer. It's not at all the sort of place you'd expect to find a neighborhood bakery, but once you know it's there, it's a comfort. It may not look like much, but that's before you know their story.
Marie Philippi never set out to own a bakery. She was happily running a Boys & Girls Club and it tugged on her heartstrings when she realized that many of the kids the club served had never had a birthday cake of their own.
"When I picked up that cake from Target, just with their name on it, it was the biggest thing, that they had their own cake. I just wanted to take that experience deeper."
Soon she was being asked to make cakes for friends and family every week. Should she turn it into a business? She set a goal to make a cake a week for a year, to see how she felt about it at the end of her experiment. Fifty-two cakes later, she found herself driving by a funny little storefront in West St. Paul that could never keep a tenant. She drove by it every day on the way to drop her kids at day care.
"I had no idea what I was doing," she remembers.
She got the storefront, but not the adjacent kitchen. She baked in New Hope and trucked the goods over to St. Paul. Three months into the endeavor, her three-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia. She doesn't know how, but she managed to keep the business going through all of it.
"Everybody says they want small businesses to succeed, but nobody ever helps them to succeed," she remembers. She never got a big loan, and she says she's basically been "bootstrapping" for the past five years.
"I almost had to close my doors at least 20 times."
But at long last, she says she feels like she's in it for the long haul. She's got a business partner; 26 employees; a new, highly visible, almost ideal location on Marshall Avenue sandwiched between Izzy's Ice Cream and Choo Choo Bob's Train Store; a remodel (and grand re-opening coming soon) in process at the Dodd location; and is in talks with U.S. Bank Stadium regarding a possible account.
"Finally, we're being recognized as one of the best bakeries." Her son has recovered from his illness after three and a half years of treatments, and he's "just a normal kid."
Taste of Love now makes in less than a week the number of cakes Phillippi made in that experimental year. They've done work for the Backstreet Boys and Usher, they've made a life-sized deer, a life-sized Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, and a toilet. Pizzas, hamburgers, hot dogs, and anything else you want can be fashioned into cake form. Phillippi says she listens, there's no catalog to flip through, and if you want a turtle in a tutu then she and her team can make that happen.
Also know that the bakery does lots of work in mini-desserts for weddings, plus a whole roster of standard bakery items for wandering in, pointing at, and eating on the spot: doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, cupcakes, pies, cheesecakes, even gluten-free and vegan items.
But now that she's hit the "big time" as it were, don't think she's forgotten her initial incentive.
"You don't have to go to Target or Sam's Club," she says. "We can do any budget. We have very reasonable prices on cakes, too."
Every kid deserves his own cake.
Taste of Love Bakery
870 Dodd Rd., West St. Paul
2042 Marshall Ave., St. Paul