Alexis Henshaw is used to helping other people celebrate special occasions. But Veterans Day this year was a holiday for her.
The former Marine Petty Officer 1st Class turned pastry chef received word that the county had approved her for the Cottage License, which would allow her to bake from home.
The Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations license allowed the Ramona resident to open Alexis’ Cakery on November 10.
“There is no better way to celebrate Veterans Day weekend than to approve this leave,” said Henshaw, who served nearly nine years in the Navy. “Right now, I’m happy and content baking in my own kitchen.”
It was actually a reopening: Henshaw had originally opened Alexis’ Cakery in 2014 while stationed in Japan. He ran the business for the year and a half he lived at Sasebo Naval Base, selling custom or specialty cakes along with cupcakes, French macarons and handmade pretzels. His forte was making cakes for weddings, retirements, birthdays and ceremonies.
“I was very busy, but the beauty of this is that no job is the same, everyone’s cake and event is different,” she said. “I get to be a part of so many people’s special occasions. Everyone takes photos of their wedding cakes and I am a small part of their day.”
For Henshaw, owning a cake business isn’t just about baking. It’s also about getting to know your customers and incorporating his personalities and preferences into his unique creations.
“It’s a very personal thing to be invited,” said Henshaw, 44. “I love being able to cultivate people’s dreams by making a cake.”
Some of the biggest projects he has done are wedding cakes. Before beginning work in the kitchen, Henshaw often schedules a consultation with the bride and groom, which sometimes includes other members of the wedding party and family members. From there, she asks them to describe themselves and share what they like to do. Then they talk about flavors and designs and schedule a cake tasting.
Details like wedding themes and indoor or outdoor settings are important to Henshaw, so you can incorporate personal touches into each cake.
“It gets exciting because they’re excited,” Henshaw said of his clients. “I feed off other people’s emotion and just want to reciprocate. It’s not just about a job, but about providing something for a special occasion. Everyone’s chances are important and they are important to me.”
Henshaw, who is married to retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Donald Henshaw, just finished a black wedding cake for Ramona residents Garrett and Krystine Wear.
The Wears chose a Victorian/Sleepy Hollow-meet-Southern-style fall festival theme for their Oct. 29 wedding ceremony held at Ramona’s First Congregational Church.
Krystine Wear, a Marine veteran who met Henshaw at a Veterans of Foreign Wars event. When she found out that Henshaw was opening a bakery and had tried some of his pastries before, she hired Henshaw to bake a cake for his bridal shower.
“It was absolutely the most beautiful cake I had ever seen, so I knew I could count on her to make my cake for the most important day of my life,” Wear said. “I also really wanted to support the businesses of friends and family, so it was a win-win in my opinion.”
The couple wanted a cake that would make a statement, and black was one of the primary colors of their wedding, so an elegant black cake fit the bill.
Wear said Henshaw was “absolutely amazing” in listening to what they wanted and complying with their request. The cake tasting was one of the fun parts of the process, he said. Henshaw asked about their best flavors, then showed off different textures and styles before allowing the couple to choose what they thought matched their theme. The end result was a beautiful and delicious red velvet and chocolate raspberry cake, Wear said.
“The cake was not only the best cake I’ve ever had, but the process was easy and it was like working with family,” she said.
With a home baking business, Henshaw said he can create more personalized orders, unlike those from commercial off-the-shelf bakeries.
“By choosing a home baker, you can get something special,” he said. “Every tubed dog can get a pink ribbon. Custom work allows you a lot of flexibility in the product you receive. (Other bakeries) serve their purpose. In a pinch, you can pick something up and it’s going to be great, but it’s not as personalized as when you stop by a home bakery.”
Sometimes her creations can be little works of art, like the rustic Highland cow muffins she made for the Rustic Interiors opening ceremony on Oct. 14 in Ramona.
“They were so cute, you didn’t want to eat them,” Henshaw said.
Rustic Interiors co-owner Carrie Bryant, who runs the home decor store with Andrea Delgado, still has one of the cow pies in her fridge.
“It makes me so happy when I open the fridge and he looks at me,” Bryant said.
Bryant has known Henshaw for years, through the Pop Warner and VFW activities, and had previously tried his cupcakes and pretzels. Bryant said she knew Henshaw’s products were delicious and her character and integrity were top-notch.
“I am obsessed with Highland cows and they are the mascot for Rustic Interiors,” Bryant said. “I had found a picture of Highland cows and I asked, ‘Can you do this for me please?’ And they turned out better than expected.
“They were a success,” he added.
Henshaw joined the Navy in 1996 right after graduating from Buffalo High School in Buffalo, Missouri in 1996 because he wanted to travel and experience other cultures. He, too, had grown up in a military family: his mother, Karen Welch, had been in the US Army.
As his three children grew, Henshaw began to think about using his GI Bill. So while her husband was on shore duty in Nebraska, she decided it would be a good time to go back to school and learn about one of her passions, baking and cake making.
“I went in with the mindset that this is the career I want to pursue,” he said. “For me, taking the bakery and pastry route was what appealed to me the most. Then we came back to Japan and I was able to do it.”
In 2010, Henshaw went to culinary school at the Local Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska. She earned a Baking and Pastry Specialist Diploma and an Associate of Fine Arts degree from Community College in 2013.
Being a home baker fits in with the roaming military lifestyle, she said, and she could have flexible hours to be available to her children: Tyler, 15; Brandon, 19; and Hailey, 22. Plus, she said baking allows her to do something she loves while bringing joy to other people.
After leaving Japan in 2015, the Henshaws decided to move to Ramona, where Hailey could participate in the Navy Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (NJROTC) at Ramona High School. They were also looking for the same type of small-town atmosphere that they experienced in Nebraska and Japan.
When she first came to Ramona Henshaw, she wasn’t too sure she could relaunch her bakery business right away because she didn’t know many people in town. But she and her husband Donald soon became active at Ramona VFW Post 3783 and their community connections grew.
Alexis Henshaw served as the Ramona VFW Post Commander for three years, from July 2017 to July 2020. Next year, beginning in June, he will serve as the VFW District Commander for all of San Diego County. Henshaw also worked for a few years as an Assistant Loan Officer for H5 Financial in Ramona.
“Getting involved in the community helped me make friends and network,” said Henshaw, who received numerous responses to his Nov. 10 Facebook announcement that he was reopening Alexis’ Cakery. “That’s the beauty of Ramona. Once you get involved, this community opens its arms to you and wants you to succeed.”