I love Vegas, I love weddings…but I also love BAKING. So that’s why I contacted the Flour Power couple of Kari and Brian Haskell from Retro Bakery to talk a little bit about the Vegas wedding cake scene, what gets them up and infront of the oven day after day and where they see wedding dessert trends going in 2013 and beyond.
Retro is well known in the Vegas valley for not only having some of the most unique cake and cupcake flavors around (think pink lemonade, or an entire line based on Thanksgiving sides like candied yams) but also for having a kick-ass baking team who exhibit amazing ingenuity and artistry on their cakes and cupcakes. They don’t stop there though – they also do cookies, mini cupcakes and cupcake towers, even shipping some of their baking across America.
Queen of Buttercream herself Kari Haskell sat down from her hectic schedule to answer a few questions, and I’m eternally grateful for that. It’s the first interview in the “Better Know a Vegas Vendor” series, and I cannot think of a better person to kick it off with!
For those readers out there who may not know who you are, please introduce yourself and Retro!
My name is Kari Haskell. My husband, Brian, and I own Retro Bakery in the Centennial Hills area (NW) of Las Vegas. We’ve been open 5 years as of next month, and we specialize in unique flavors of cupcakes, cakes, and cookies.
Are you originally from Las Vegas?
No. I’ve lived in Vegas for 10 years, but I was born and raised in McMinnville, Oregon. I met Brian in Encinitas, CA, and we have been married since 1997. Ironically, we were married in Vegas about 5 years before we moved here.
How many years have you been in business?
Retro is almost 5 years old; however, Brian has been in the restaurant business for over 15 years. We met as servers at Red Robin, and he worked his way up the corporate ladder becoming the youngest GM in the company, while I was a stay-at-home mom with our first child. Our second child was two when we decided to open Retro. She has literally grown up in the bakery.
I read that you are a home baker who went pro, can you tell us a little bit about that?
I’ve been baking for fun since I was 15. I learned scratch baking from my Food 101 teacher, not “from Grandma.” I continued to bake throughout my adult life, and after we saved and saved, we decided that a cupcake shop in our neighborhood could really be our future.
The “Retro” part of your name – I see a few designs definitely reflect that retro “Atomic Age” 1950s look, but how else does it come out?
I have always loved the style of the late ’50s and early ’60s. I like minimalist design with lots of bright colors. I kept telling people I wanted a “RETRO” name for the bakery, and it just hit me that RETRO would be a great name! It’s easy to spell, say, and remember (which is CRUCIAL for a successful business). I also tried to make the flavors of cupcakes “retro” by being very familiar to my customers: Mint Chocolate Chip, Cherry Cheesecake, Coffee and Donuts…flavors from childhood translated into cupcake form.
One of the gorgeous retro designs the bakery has made
Photo Credit: Kari Haskell
What is your preferred way to work with clients – email, in person, telephone?
I prefer email with reference pictures of cakes they like. It makes it easier to translate my idea for their preferred style. I do NOT like to just copy cakes from other bakeries (especially those in Vegas) so I try to put our spin on every cake. The process is very simple when people have a vision; however, when they really don’t like anything specific, it becomes a challenge. “Oh, I like anything,” may sound great initially, but it usually ends with many many changes in design.
How do you start designing a cake for someone who has an idea, but no photos? I like to imagine you are like a tattoo artist and draw it out on paper and then…?
Brian is the real artist when it comes to sketching. He will take the customer’s ideas and usually create a couple of different sketches with different options. Then he usually asks me for my input, then email back and forth with changes from the customer. It’s quite a process if they have a distinct vision.
Where does your inspiration come from, design-wise and flavor-wise?
A lot of our cake designs come from vintage wall paper swatches and kitchen towel designs from the 1950s. I also draw a lot of inspiration from fashion magazines. I subscribe to Vogue and Elle just to watch for color combos and pattern ideas. We’ve used a pattern from Prada’s Fall 2012 collection in a couple of cakes.
Flavors are usually born from our favorite desserts (Pistachio was made because it’s Brian’s favorite ice cream). Ice cream flavors make PERFECT cupcake flavors, since our buttercream is LITERALLY one ingredient away from ice cream.
Do you do bespoke/custom flavors? How about gluten-free, sugar-free and vegan options?
I don’t offer custom flavor-making for our customers. It’s just too hard to make a little batch of a flavor you’ll never make again. It’s not cost effective for the business. We don’t offer sugar-free or gluten-free options yet. I’m always trying new things, but I will never sell them until they are perfected. I do offer three vegan flavors that are all chocolate cake-based with either PB, Vanilla Bean, or Cookies and Cream “un”buttercream on top.
Some of the wedding cake designs from Retro Bakery.
Photo Credit: Kari Haskell
Have you noticed a change in what couples are wanting in terms of cakes for their weddings?
Most people are paring down their weddings. Our most common weddings used to be 70 -100 people, but now I’ve noticed they’re becoming more intimate affairs of 35-50.
Do you see any big trends popping up for 2013?
Hot Pink and Blue accents (in lots of shades) have been asked for more and more this year. I do see lots of embellishments (like diamond banding, polka dots, and pearls) being requested as well.
What is the one thing you wish couples wedding in Vegas knew?
NEVER say wedding cake when asking for cake pricing….just because other bakeries may up-charge when they hear that word.
I really love your behind the scenes blog, and look forward to your cakes of the week because of the amazing ideas you manage to put into cake form. Some of my favorites are the “we met in McDonalds in Canada” cake and the watermelon cake which was SUPER realistic! But do you have a design through the years that has been a personal favorite… or challenge?
My personal favorite wedding cake was a six-inch cake design for Rick Faungo (who at the time was starring in “Jersey Boys”). He and his fiancée, Joyce, requested a “modern yet vintage” design. I came up with a bulls eye pattern using silver dragées for a touch of sparkle. We’ve used the design many times in many different colors, including for the wedding of my dear friends from Orange Soda Photo who wanted the same pattern, but in orange (of course!).
I also LOVED all the cakes we were lucky enough to do for Betsey Johnson. My favorite was her cake based on the Fall/Winter 2011-2012 Collection where we combined the patterns she used with fondant scrolls we placed on the cake.
Top: Wonderfully minimal-modern cake made by Retro for Rick Faungo (Jersey Boys)
Bottom: Fashion designer Betsey Johnson meets the Haskells and the cakes they made for her
Photo Credits: Kari Haskell
And some fun questions…
On a typical Sunday I am usually cleaning house, grocery shopping, and laundry but I’d rather be … reading a book.
If you weren’t a baker, you’d probably be:
My “dream” job for a long time was to be a QVC host, believe it or NOT!
Zombies are taking over the Earth, life and cupcakes as we know it are about to be changed forever. You have a chance to eat one final cupcake before KitchenAids and ovens across the world are rendered useless, but there are only two flavors left, chocolate and vanilla. WHICH ONE DO YOU PICK?
EASY!! Vanilla all day…I’m just not a chocolate girl.
Thank you, Kari! Who knew there were bakers who drew inspiration from Vogue?!
I’m not sure how exactly she does it, but in addition to a very active Twitter and Facebook life, Kari also runs a super interesting backstage bakery blog called Building a Bakery that is of special interest to those of you into baking or interested in what it’s like to run a small business. She also constantly uploads to a very active cake feed on Flickr full of ideas and inspiration for your next Retro order.
Congratulations on five years of amazing hard work and success, Haskell family. May your future be sweet.
7785 N. Durango Drive, #130
Las Vegas, Nevada