For the romantics among us, Valentine’s Day infuses the entire month of February in a rosy glow that brightens up the gray weather. And there are few places that epitomize the 14th of February more aptly than Love & Buttercream, the pastry shop established by Brooke Wilson Vitale in 2012.
The avid baker, whose Royal Oak shop first put her brand on the map, spent much of last year putting together an impressive new outpost in a two-story, free-standing building just off Woodward Avenue in the heart of downtown Birmingham.
The new location opened in November. It’s spacious enough to have two classrooms for those who want to learn baking. The first floor houses the production area and retail space, with a showcase full of fanciful confections to go or to be sampled on the spot with Great Lakes coffee.
The confections behind the glass — an array of decorated cookies, petit fours, and cakes — are small works of frosted art. Macarons are a specialty, and there is always a macaron of the month (heart-shaped, of course, for February).
Love & Buttercream uses only natural ingredients and buys local products whenever possible.
Wilson Vitale, a lifelong baker who started out working in her parents’ Oakland Township basement and sold her first batches of sweets at farmers markets, graduated from Michigan State University in 2009 and began a marketing career in Chicago. She returned to her first love by attending the French Pastry School there before returning to Michigan.
Her staff has now risen from the original three to 30 between the two locations. Stephanie Nagle is baking manager and general manager Megan Friedrich’s right-hand person.
What makes Love & Buttercream especially attuned to the hearts-and-flowers season is that wedding cakes have always been specialties of the house, with 450 weddings in 2016 (they also do about 40 custom cakes a week). The new location has one room devoted to cake consultations with brides and grooms.
Yes, the grooms also get a say in the design of the cakes, says Wilson Vitale, and some handle the whole thing. She recalls designing a cake for a groom who was hosting a surprise wedding for his wife. “He designed the entire cake around the honeymoon he had planned, so it was Hawaiian inspired,” she says, adding that the bride was surprised by an entire wedding, “complete with our cake and a topper we hand created of the two of them in grass skirts and leis, and a trip to Hawaii.”
Another memorable wedding cake included hand creating all of the bride and groom’s favorite things. “We had a Lego bride and groom cake topper, a bottle of ranch dressing holding hands with a bottle of barbecue sauce (their favorite condiments), a bike climbing up the side of the cake, handmade versions of their favorite Muppets, and other elements that were significant to their relationship.”
In addition to opening the Birmingham shop last year, Wilson Vitale, who is married to her high school sweetheart Sam Vitale, also gave birth to their first child, Salvatore Joseph Vitale III, known as S.J.
And though he probably doesn’t realize it yet, he’s one lucky little boy to have a mom who is a baking entrepreneur. There’ll be no grocery store-bought cookies in his lunch boxes.