Susan Leitner likes to have her cake and bake it, too. Recently she opened the Eloquent Oven, a new kosher dessert baking and cake decorating business in Mountain View.
An open house to officially announce the new venture was held in late August, and it attracted a crowd of clients, friends, neighbors, colleagues and, of course, pastry and cake lovers.
“We were Susan’s first customer in her new location,” boasted one of the attendees, Alison Ruebusch, the head of academics at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto. She had previously bought pareve cookies, cupcakes and squares for two events at Kehillah.
“They were eaten all up,” she reported. “Everyone loved them.”
Leitner, who lives in San Jose, had been working out of a kitchen space she was renting in South San Francisco. But with a majority of her potential client base in the South Bay and on the South Peninsula, she began to find it frustrating that she and her goodies were not on people’s radars.
“Everyone kept asking me when I was going to open my business,” she said, “even when I had already been open for a while.”
Leitner has been baking all her life. In fact, she often offered to bake special cakes for friends’ bar mitzvahs and weddings — without any formal training.
“I just figured out how to make fancier and fancier cakes,” she said. “I read and researched.”
In her working life, Leitner, 57, was a librarian (while her two sons were growing up) and then ran her own travel agency specializing in trips to Israel for a decade. Then she decided to turn her avocation into her vocation.
So at a time when some of her and her husbands’ friends were beginning to retire, she enrolled at the Professional Culinary Institute in Campbell and graduated from the baking and pastry program. Her internship was with well-known cake decorator Maralyn Tabatsky of Have Your Cake, which operates in a kosher kitchen in South San Francisco. That’s where Leitner started baking as a professional.
But once she realized that clients wanted to be able to stop by — to meet her, to visit her kitchen and to see samples of her work — Leitner decided to open her own place. She and business partner Sandy Mayer bought a spot in an office plaza down the street from Moffett Field in September 2009. It has taken much of the past year to build the space out to kosher baking kitchen specifications.
The Eloquent Oven isn’t a bakery in which customers can come in and buy things off the shelf or out of a display case. Rather, clients contact Leitner and then, perhaps, come in for a consultation; everything is baked to order.
At the Aug. 29 open house, most of the attendees were members of the Peninsula and South Bay Jewish communities who know Leitner as a longtime member of Congregation Beth David in Saratoga.
However, others were member of Baker’s Dozen, a local baking organization for both professionals and amateurs. “We came today because we wanted to be supportive of other local bakers,” said Baird Nuckolls, who, like Leitner, is a member of Baker’s Dozen
Micki Abramovitz, a 23-year old hospitality student at Cal Poly Pomona, spent the summer interning at the Eloquent Oven, where she helped Leitner set up and kasher the kitchen.
“I’ve learned about how to bake at a whole new level, and I learned about setting up an independent business,” Abramovitz said at the open house.
Abramovitz also learned from Leitner how to produce baked goods that are as natural as possible, “given kashrut considerations,” as Leitner put it. She said she uses the best, most local and sustainable ingredients whenever possible.
The Eloquent Oven’s specialties are expertly decorated wedding and specialty cakes and European pastries and confections.
“You can buy a chocolate chip cookies anywhere,” Leitner said, “but European cakes are harder to find.”
Her signature and most popular product is her gateau basque, an almond pound cake with pastry cream baked inside (it comes in both pareve and dairy versions). Her opera cake, with layers of marzipan, is also a favorite.
The prices for Leitner’s fancy, decorated cakes begin at $9 a slice, but she said she is willing to work with clients to try to meet their needs while staying within their budget.
The Eloquent Oven’s tagline, “Desserts that speak for themselves,” could also be Leitner’s personal motto. She is following what she feels is the right thing for her to be doing at this point in her life.
As her sister, Eve Gumpel, who came up from her home in Orange County for the open house, put it, “My sister knows what she wants to do and she enjoys it.” The Eloquent Oven is open by appointment only. Information: (408) 605-0578, www.eloquentoven.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.