Jef "Cakeman" Bailey has been called the "MacGyver of the cake world."
Just like the 1980s TV character who could fashion almost anything into a device to get out of a jam, Bailey can sculpt almost any shape or character out of cake and icing.
Starting at tonight's grand opening, Bailey, a Rock Hill native, will begin sculpting his part-time cake business into a more full-time endeavor. He is teaming up with downtown's Cookie Cafe to open Cakeman's Sugar Art Studio. The two businesses, located on Cotton Alley, will share space as Cookie Cafe owners Dan and Michelle Sheehy continue serving cookies and other goodies full time while Bailey uses the commercial kitchen to design his creations.
"They do the cookies. I do the cakes," Bailey said Wednesday at the cafe. "Now, if we can just find room to squeeze in an ice cream person, we'll have the whole party."
Michelle Sheehy said pairing with Bailey happened after city development officials approached her with the idea. Bailey was looking to expand his out-of-the-home business, and the Cookie Cafe seemed to be a good fit. Sheehy said business at her 3-year-old shop has been enough to get by, but she hopes adding Bailey into the mix will bolster traffic into the cafe, tucked between the Wachovia Center and the Center for the Arts.
"Hopefully, it will be beneficial for both of us," she said.
Bailey said he'll start off with a display counter in the Cookie Cafe while retaining his job in the Harris Teeter bakery on Celanese Road. He'll use the kitchen downtown after hours to meet with clients and craft his cake creations. Tonight, he'll use the shop for demonstrations during his grand opening.
But he may soon be Cakeman full time. He's already receiving one or two calls a day from interested customers.
Bailey, who has baked for numerous local weddings, parties and special events, began his baking career as a child. He said he learned how to decorate from his grandmother, Grace Bailey of Rock Hill, who let him design his own birthday cake since age 10.
Similar to the pros highlighted on the Food Network's TV show "Ace of Cakes," Bailey can fashion almost anything from dough and icing. He's designed cakes in the shape of cars, pets, Elvis, cartoons and buildings. And unlike some of his competitors, he rarely uses props or hardware.
"Everything down to a dog's claws and teeth are edible," he said about the three-dimensional creations.
Bailey compares his craft to art, saying he uses the same brushes, files and techniques an artist would use for a sculpture or painting. He has acted since his teenage days, and after finishing school, traveled for different theater gigs. In Charleston, Wilmington, N.C., and New York, he financed his stage work by landing jobs in bakeries, picking up tricks along the way.
"That was my version of waiting tables," he said.
Since returning to Rock Hill more than six years ago, Bailey remained involved with local theater. His affinity for performing also is part of his new business. As a baker in a Charleston grocery store, he noticed patrons would stand in the bakery watching him decorate, so he plans to offer cake-decorating demonstrations as one of his services. He's also considering dressing up in costumes to match the theme of the cake for certain events.
During ChristmasVille in downtown Rock Hill last year, Bailey sculpted a gnome out of Rice Krispies treats and dressed up as Dr. Seuss' Grinch character to go along with the 3-D Grinch cake he designed and gave away during the festival.
"I've got an off-the-wall sense of humor," he said. "I'm trying to incorporate the arts more. It's part of putting on a show."
WANT TO GO?
• What: Cakeman's Sugar Art Studio grand opening
• When: 6 to 8 tonight
• Where: The Cookie Cafe, 113 E. Main St., between the Wachovia Center and the Center for the Arts
• Details: www.cakemanonline.com