I hold out my hand for the conventional “Nice to meet you” handshake when Amirah Kassem pushes it aside and goes all in for a hug. “Welcome to my baking studio!” she says with a laugh. The owner of Flour Shop, a small baking company based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Kassem is a friendly, fun-loving and energetic kid in a grown-up’s body. A few glances around her kitchen would have you think you’re in a child’s playroom: oven mitts are shaped as Mickey Mouse’s gloves, giant lollipops are propped inside even bigger bowls of multi-colored bubble gumballs, and The Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata” is playing in the background. “I have three obsessions,” says Kassem, “Barbie, Disney, and Warhol.”
The Mexican native launched Flour Shop less than a year ago and it has only become more and more popular. So popular in fact, that Kassem almost has trouble keeping up with the growth of her own business. “I had clients before I even had a real business,” she says, “I get requests for photoshoots and interviews and I don’t even have a website yet!” But that’s set to change soon—her website is slated to launch this September and she’s hired an assistant to help keep up with the orders.
Website or not, Kassem has already made a name for herself. “‘The cake girl’ is what they all call me now. When I meet new people, they say ‘Oh! You’re that cake girl!’ and I love it! Yes, that’s me!” says Kassem, who has social media to thank for helping spread the word about her baking successes (she counts over 4,000 followers on her Instagram and updates her blog regularly). She has no formal training in baking; instead, she credits her mother for teaching her everything she knows about working in a kitchen.
“I don’t make gluten-free cakes or kale salads or any of that kind of stuff,” Kassem says. “If someone asks me to make something like that, I send them to [the vegan bakery] Babycakes.” Because, even though her main audience consists of artists and fashionistas, Kassem’s cakes are made with traditional ingredients—that is to say, butter, and lots of it. She also bans any use of fondant (that waxy, icing-like ingredient popular with wedding cakes) in her kitchen, stating that, while it can help make a cake look impeccable, it tastes like cardboard. Kassem is just as strict about refrigeration: all her cakes are made the day of, since prolonged refrigeration can alter the taste.
A previous career in fashion—working for brands like Fred Segal, All Saints, Blk Dnm, 7 for All Mankind and Interview Magazine—also helped Kassem gather the right connections. She is well-known in the fashion and art worlds, where she gets most of her orders from. The site Refinery29 hired her to make 700 mini-cakes for their recent 30 Under 30 party, Warby Parker asked for 1,000 cake pops and chocolate sunglasses, networking site ASmallWorld commissioned miniature cake-globes for its relaunch dinner, and even Olivia Wilde called in to request a Nike shoe-shaped cake for the Saturday Night Live finale party (Wilde’s fiancé, Jason Sudeikis, is a regular on the show).
When she isn’t dousing her cakes with edible glitter (her favorite ingredient to use), you’ll find Kassem hanging out with artist pals like designer Johan Lindeberg (“He’s been like my mentor. He helped me see New York,” she says of Lindeberg), Oliver Clegg and Richard Phillips. “We are all as much a part of artist’s lives as they are of ours,” she tells me as she’s frosting a rainbow cake, bobbing her head to the tune of “The Bear Necessities” from The Jungle Book. She also counts Terry Richardson as a friend and will occasionally show up in his photographs. “I don’t take my clothes off though, so. . . he doesn’t photograph me as much as other girls,” she adds.
Kassem’s personality is as irresistible as her cakes and her infectious, happy-go-lucky attitude seems almost partially responsible for Flour Shop’s success. It’s no wonder she is constantly asked to come along to present her cakes at parties. “My favorite part is watching people’s reactions when they see the cake. I get to see everyone’s good, happy side. People come to me when they want to celebrate, when they want something fun,” says Kassem. “It’s like going to Disneyland: you can’t be in a bad mood at Disneyland!” Eating the cake is only half the fun—she is the other half. So, have your cake, and eat it with Kassem.