It’s not just a cake and bakery business, or just another place in Loudoun County for kids and adults to take classes. This local couple brings style, savvy and charity to the sweet tooth business.
Thanks to the passion of owners Erin Schwartz and Joe Mariano, Stacked Custom Cakes & Classes in Ashburn is all that and a lot more. The word of mouth about their start-up business is gaining them a reputation not just in the metropolitan Washington area, but also around the world.
Yes, they’re a couple. No, the wedding date isn’t set yet. She laughs and he blushes when asked.
Schwartz is a graduate of New York’s prestigious Culinary Institute of America, where she earned a degree in Baking and Pastry Arts — and finished first in her class. She then worked at the Pink Cake Box for two years, a high-end cake and dessert shop in Denville, New Jersey, before moving to the Washington, D.C., area.
“I think a lot before starting,” Schwartz said. “A lot of people look at other cakes for inspiration. I like looking at art, architecture, sculpture, other things.”
“I can make a gorgeous six layer wedding cake, or I can make a cake that looks just like your dog.” she said. “It depends what you want.”
Schwartz said she developed the artistic side of her style on her own, and that the Institute was necessarily more structured, and often tough.
“I remember a chef almost kicking me out because he thought my nails had been done and that was not allowed. I had to swear to him that these are really just my nails,” she said.
Mariano is an entrepreneur and executive chef in his own right, and added to his cooking skills in an unusual, creative way — he joined the Navy.
“I couldn’t afford Erin’s route, so I decided to join the military and learn that way,” he said.
Mariano enlisted and asked to be assigned to a submarine. Unlike bigger vessels with more crew and space, a submarine is severely limited in what can be taken aboard, including food.
“You get a big bag of flour and have to learn to bake and be versatile,” he said. “You cook for 150 or more people twice a day, you’re the only one, and it’s all from scratch.”
A year later Mariano was at the naval submarine base in Kings Bay, Georgia, cooking for a crew. He later moved to the Pentagon and took the executive chef exam. He passed.
“I wanted to test myself,” he said. “And I took every opportunity to read books, and now have an extensive culinary library.”
Mariano was honorably discharged from the Navy, honed his skills as an executive chef, and met Erin through an online dating site. Their common interests drew them together right away, personally and professionally.
“Joe’s the structure guy. He figures out and builds the engineering part of our cakes, many of which look more like sculptures,” she said. “I do the decorating, the art.”
They work on ingredients together and spare no effort to acquire the highest quality contents for their cakes and complex icings. “And they’re great tasting,” Mariano said, noting that good looks are not enough. The client must love the taste.
The couple aspires to not only provide unique cakes for parties, weddings and other occasions, but also to integrate education into what they do. That includes small group classes for children and adults, team building classes for corporate groups, and bringing in renowned instructors from around the region and the world.
They also donate time and effort to Icing Smiles, an all-volunteer charitable cause that provides celebration cakes and desserts to children with critical illnesses. Much like the Make a Wish Foundation, Icing Smiles connects with families on behalf of children, and Mariano said he and Schwartz enjoy making “dream cakes.”
They see charitable work as something they always want to do. “If I could make a living by donating cakes to families through charities, I would do it all the time,” Schwartz said.
She described baking for a young boy with cancer who eventually passed away. She made him a four-foot tall Pokémon cake, and recalled the joy of presenting it to him.
“It made his day,” Schwartz said. She later went to his funeral and still thinks about him.
“You’ve got to make the money so you can give it back,” Schwartz said.