By Adrienne McGee Sterrett
You know the idea: If the pastry looks beautiful, it probably won’t taste very good.
Baked to Perfection thoroughly stomps that adage into pieces — and the whole area knows it’s the place to go if you want delicious and beautiful baked goods.
Alex Benavidez and his wife, Stacey, on a recent afternoon were busy doing a wedding cake consultation with a client, making buckeyes for sale and, unglamorously, being sure there were enough vegetables chopped.
They like busy, but they don’t love harried. Harried takes a toll.
Baked to Perfection moved locations last year. Alex and Stacey formerly operated a restaurant, but that closed Memorial Day weekend. The business is now located in Suever’s Town House, a carryout at 944 E. Fifth St. That’s just a few blocks east of their old location.
“As it turns out, this is probably the best thing we’ve ever done,” Alex said.
Alex is from Texas, No. 10 of 13 children. He was always interested in art and cooking and credits his mentors along the way.
“And I’ll never forget it. That’s one of the saddest days I ever had,” he said, remembering his late art teacher who insisted his parents get him in art class and keep him there. She died soon after.
“We couldn’t afford it,” he said, but his parents sacrificed for their only “creative” child. He was in college in Texas, majoring in art, when he realized he needed a family break. He traveled to a sister, with whom he was very close, in Van Wert after his sophomore year in college.
“And I never went back,” he said.
His father died on his 21st birthday, and he took up residence with his sister in Van Wert. He worked at a box store there and bakery.
“I was the resident artist everywhere I went,” he said with a smile, explaining he picked up bread baking and cake decorating at the bakery quite easily. He credits his art background.
He met the woman who would become his wife at the Wal-Mart job, and they married in 1993 — with one catch. Stacey was not interested in moving away from the area. Her family was in Delphos, and that’s where she would stay. He was more than agreeable to that and settled into family life, starting a family of their own right away, and even giving a “regular job” at a Van Wert factory a try.
The factory job wasn’t a career, but it launched his. On a whim, he brought in a birthday cake for a friend at Federal Mogul — and, literally, the rest is history.
“I was bringing in cakes every three or four days,” he said. He made cakes for seven or eight weddings in the families of the managers as well.
The friend for whom he baked the first birthday cake had a connection to the former Grant’s Catering in Paulding. Before he knew it, he was put in touch with the owner, the late Linda Grant, and he was baking 12 to 14 wedding cakes every weekend. And this was out of their home, while he was doing other smaller jobs like painting or stained glass restoration to make ends meet. He admitted to being nervous to dive entirely into baking.
“I don’t know how many people could be with their spouse 24-7 and not kill them,” Stacey said with a smile. “You have to have a strong marriage.”
It’s obvious they do. They work as a team.
“Alex, did you get his flavors and everything?” she asked, mid stride, about a customer’s order.
They’re there to check each other, to do whatever work is needed. It’s 20-plus years of working together, and it’s smooth as can be.
In October 2008, the Benavidezes decided to leave the catering company and open their own restaurant. The building had formerly been a restaurant called NuMaud’s but needed much renovation, which they supplied. The rent was good, he said, and everything was on the up. Aside from going an entire year upon opening without a day off.
“Our kids were raised at the restaurant,” Alex said, explaining they were proud to instill a work ethic, and the kids were thrilled to be able to work hard to buy the kind of cars they wanted to drive.
At the height, there were 11 employees. There were regular meals available, as well as cake baking that happened there and a pastry counter they kept full. They tried to cut back in smaller ways, closing two days a week and reducing times to breakfast and lunch only, but it was still difficult.
“It was so crazy,” he said. “You were losing interest in what you’d loved doing.”
So when the building’s owner decided to sell — and negotiations broke down with the Benavidezes, who felt their long-term loyalty would have value — Baked to Perfection decided to undergo yet another transformation and operate at their friend Herb Suever’s carryout.
They’ve learned his business — they make the pizzas, subs and salads, even adding a new sandwich to the lineup: the Canal Club. It’s a good seller, Alex said, proud of the contribution.
“My wife and I, we can visit our kids at school if we want to,” he said. “Our lives … we are much more rested, I guess you would say. … People really were angry when we closed the restaurant. I feel a little guilty.”
But Baked to Perfection still offers much of the same. There are small, wheeled refrigerated cases in the carryout beside where vehicles pull through. Customers can literally point to whatever baked item they’d like without leaving their cars. Baked to Perfection offers cinnamon rolls, cookies, scones, muffins, brownies, fresh-brewed fair-trade coffee, cake, pies, buckeyes and custom orders.
“We did hundreds, literally hundreds, of pies for pick up” at Thanksgiving and Christmas, Alex said. He was making a double batch of buckeyes — 200 total — on a recent Wednesday and expected them to be sold out by that weekend.
The business does corporate orders for area businesses as well as brownies for Temple Beth Israel-Shaare Zedek for its annual Super Bowl sack lunch sale, not to mention the orders from average customers for a pie or two and birthday and wedding cakes.
Call ahead to order.
“We want to make sure we can sell our product fresh,” he said.
To pick up a pre-ordered baked good or a brewed-to-order coffee, use the carryout lane to the left.
“People are still learning about how we work now,” he said. “Little by little, people are just finding out.”
And with the ding-ding of a car, they’re off again to help a customer.
“I do my best for what we can do, and I feel like we do a really good job,” Alex said.
Alex’s perfect birthday:
“I don’t want a cake. I don’t want anything. I just want to be with my friends and family.”
Alex on mixers:
“We burned up so many KitchenAid mixers making icing.”
He blames how stiff he likes his icing for decorating purposes. Professional-quality machines now do fine.
Alex on fondant:
“I love working with it, but I don’t love eating it.”
Alex on children’s birthdays:
Even for young children, customers almost always do tiered cakes now. Only about 20 percent of orders for children are for sheet cakes.
“Some people don’t bat an eye paying $150 for a birthday cake.”
Baked to Perfection’s popularity:
Stacey answered the phone and took the information of a customer interested in booking a wedding cake. The business has started a book for 2018.
Alex on Pinterest:
Sure, it can be done. But you’re not going to like the pricetag. He said people in this area do not want to pay for him to work an entire week on one cake, which is what some of those designs would require.
Alex on parenting:
He and Stacey have four children — one in high school, one grown and working and two at Columbus College of Art and Design.
“I did not want them to become artists. … Being a parent who loves art, you introduce them to everything you know and go with it.”
Alex on portions:
“We’ve always gone a little bit larger than the normal because you eat with your eyes, you know what I mean?”
Baked to Perfection trivia:
Their son works at Brown Bag Delicatessen in German Village, Columbus. The chocolate chip cookies being served there weren’t wonderful, so his son called Alex and got his chocolate chip cookie recipe. Baked to Perfection cookies are now being served at that deli. Alex is amazed at life’s twists, as this is where they would eat as a family during visits to the city when the kids were young.
BAKED TO PERFECTION
944 E. Fifth St., Delphos, OH 45833
Hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays; 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays. The Benavidezes are present Wednesdays through Sundays.
Baked goods are always available. You should call ahead on sandwiches and pizza (real food) orders so you don’t have to sit there for 30 minutes while your pizza cooks. You should also call ahead of special baked goods orders – like if you want to buy an entire pie.
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