Fire takes the Cakegirls shop

Lakeview bakery that gained fame on 2 TV shows is destroyed


March 29, 2010|By Cynthia Dizikes and Deanese Williams-Harris, Tribune reporters


Aspiring culinary artists, brides-to-be and even Field Museum officials were left reeling Monday when an early morning fire destroyed Cakegirls — an upscale cake shop in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood that was made popular by two TV shows.

"My first reaction was really feeling terrible for them as a small business," said Andrea Robertson, auxiliary groups manager for the Field Museum, which had ordered a 3-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus rex cake from the shop to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Sue dinosaur skeleton exhibit at a gala in May.

 "(But) secondly (I was) thinking we may need to develop a ‘Plan B' for our event," she said. "The cake is a big piece … because the theme is a birthday, and cake is kind of a signature element."

As of Monday evening, Mary and Brenda Maher — the sisters who launched Cakegirls from scratch in 2000 — said they were still trying to figure out how to fulfill at least 500 outstanding orders. The Maher sisters, featured on We TV's series "Amazing Wedding Cakes," also offered weekend cake design and decoration classes at their shop.

Damian Plaza, of Chicago, said he paid $250 to take one of those classes this May.

"I had to wait three months to get into the class," Plaza said. "But I am not that worried about it. My concern is that they get back on their feet."

Throughout the day, the Maher sisters fielded an onslaught of e-mails and calls from concerned patrons, friends and family.

"We worked so hard to make our business grow. This is our blood and sweat," said Mary Maher, tears filling her eyes. "It's like our baby — every inch of it we made. To see it (now) is so hard."

The Maher sisters grew up in Detroit, where they shared a room and an Easy-Bake Oven. After they moved to Chicago, they ran a cake shop out of their apartment until they could pull together enough money to rent the ground level of the building at 2207 W. Belmont Ave.

Their meager beginnings, however, soon turned into a successful business.

Customers of the cakes, which can cost more than $1,000 each, have included Bono, Queen Latifah, Ashlee Simpson and Jim Carrey. Mary Maher is a former $50,000 winner of the Food Network's "Last Cake Standing" challenge.

Chicago Fire Department officials said the blaze started on the residential second floor of the building shortly after 5:30 a.m.

By the time the Maher sisters arrived on the scene, they said water was pouring out of the charred structure, carrying blackened debris and cake frosting into the street.

"I just couldn't believe it," said Brenda Maher, adding that the sisters had insurance. "When I saw it, I felt like I was going to throw up. I just felt nauseous."

Fire officials said the blaze was brought under control about 6:50 a.m. But by that time, the roof had collapsed and the building was deemed a total loss. No injuries were reported. The Fire Department is still investigating what caused the fire.