“Cake is Love” is the title of a song by a popular Japanese guitar duo named “Puffy”. I listened to their album when I was working in Japan in the mid-90s. I always thought what a strange title that was. I mean, I love cake, but does it work the other way round? Could cake mean love? I figured it was one of those beautiful “lost in translation” moments.
When I reflect back onto the journey that BK has gone through over the past 10 years, it seems impossible for me to pick a favorite moment. Having been part of every step of the way, where should I even begin this process? Perhaps I should start at the beginning, the first step. I vividly remember Wakako and I traveling through Japan on one of our “inspirational investment” trips when we stopped at an Omiyagi store to pick-up a gift. Among all of the beautifully wrapped packages with Japanese characters, I discovered a familiar-looking name: Baum-kuchen.
Surprised to see a familiar German word, I asked Wakako:
“What is this?”
To which she simply replied:
“It is a famous Japanese cake!”
I was puzzled and perplexed. Baum-kuchen is originally a German cake but it is not famous in Germany. At least not in the region of Hamburg, where I grew up. Hamburg ironically is credited with the origin of the hamburger, but those are not famous there either. But back to our story: It turns out that the Japanese, fascinated by technique, have adopted and evolved the production of Baum-kuchen cake into a delicious treat. Translated into English it means “Tree-cake” and it receives its name from its resemblance to tree rings when sliced. It is created by dipping a long, rotating pin into the batter and then lifting it up against flames to bake the layer before dipping it back into the batter for the next round. It is a lengthy process. Once finished it is sliced into individual portions that each reveals the rings on the inside. We thought of it as looking at “layers of happiness” when we sampled a piece.
Fast forward to when we started to plan to create our studio: We thought names that would somehow represent an intersection of both of our cultural backgrounds and remembered our funny encounter in Japan. We asked ourselves:
“What if we name it Baum-kuchen?”
After all, it is a product with roots in both Germany and Japan (just like us), it visually represents the graceful aging process of trees, much like the kind of artifacts that we like to surround ourselves with. Personal growth and the idea of getting better with age are also incorporated in our interpretation of the word. We knew that our studio would be lifestyle-based and hence we were looking for a word that did not specify a particular category or industry, but rather a feeling and perhaps the beginning of a philosophy that we wanted to curate. So Baum-kuchen it was. And after all, at that time our “studio” was just a shelf in our garage, so we did not take ourselves too seriously back then (we still don’t).
After Wakako spent the first 3 years selling artifacts from that shelf in the garage and later at local markets, we all of a sudden found ourselves in our first brick and mortar store. The idea was to “start looking” for one in case we may need it in the future, but Wakako just went out and found one within a week. I remember installing a small Baum-kuchen sign on the outside, wondering if it might attract some confused Germans like myself to visit us (it did). Opening our first brick-and-mortar store was definitely one of the highlights for me. We had organized a small street festival with other local businesses, curated a BK music playlist and we even had a taco truck! It somehow made the entire dream of having our own studio all of a sudden a reality.
Last year, after we had outgrown our first studio and relocated to our current location in Altadena I had a friend of mine from Germany visit us. He is also a designer and couldn’t help but inquire about the name Baum-kuchen. He wondered:
“Why would you use a food item to name a studio that designs and sells lifestyle products? Isn’t that confusing to your customers?”
I wanted to find a good answer, something that would be lighthearted and happy. But I thought, what if he is right? What if using food as a name wasn’t a good choice after all? Scrambling to find other examples in my head a thought popped into my head. I said:
“Apple did ok”.