Fire destroys Cakegirls bakery: 'Devastating'

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Brenda Maher was about to drive to work at Cakegirls early this morning when her sister Mary called sobbing. The upscale Lake View bakery that the pair launched from scratch in 2003 was engulfed in flames.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” said Maher, who rushed to the store from her home in Portage Park. “When I saw it I felt like I was going to throw up. I just felt nauseous.”

“We put a lot of work into this business,” she had said hours earlier. “Now in a flash it doesn’t exist. This is devastating. This is our livelihood. We built this from nothing.”

The building at 2209 W. Belmont Ave., with Cakegirls on its ground level, was judged a total loss, with firefighters battling the blaze only to keep it from spreading.

By the time the Maher sisters arrived on the scene, they said water was pouring out of the charred structure, carrying blackened debris and cake frosting into the street.

A Chicago fire department spokesperson said the fire started on the residential second floor of the building shortly after 5:30 a.m. Fire officials have told the sisters the building is a total loss and will be condemned.

Julie Thomas, who owns a 24-hour dog care facility two doors down from the fire, said that she was awakened by the sound of sirens and helicopters. Running outside, she watched flames shoot through the nearby building’s roof and into the lightening sky.

“It was a huge fire,” said Thomas. “It was scary.”

Fire officials said the fire was brought under control about 6:50 a.m. They said that the roof had collapsed and there was extensive damage to the whole building. The fire closed Belmont to traffic between Hoyne and Oakley avenues.

No injuries were reported, but one of the tenant’s cats is believed to have died.

Throughout the morning Monday, the Maher sisters camped out at a neighboring Starbucks, fielding calls from worried friends and family and wondering how they were going to start to piece their business back together.

“We worked so hard to make our business grow. This is our blood and sweat,” said Mary Maher, tears filling her eyes. “It’s like our baby — every inch of it we made. To see it today is so hard.”

The Maher sisters grew up in Detroit sharing a room and an Easy-Bake oven. After they moved to Chicago they ran a cake shop out of their apartment until they could pull together enough money to rent a shop.

The spot they rent on Belmont wasn’t ideal, they said. But they made it their own, redoing the floors, lugging in the necessary baking and decorating equipment, and fashioning the outside metal sign.

“We worked to the bone,” said Brenda Maher.

And it paid off. Cakegirls has received national attention. It embarks Wednesday on its second season as one of four bakeries on the WEtv network’s “Amazing Wedding Cakes” series. Fortunately, that film is already in the can. And Mary Maher is a former winner of the Food Networks’ “Last Cake Standing” challenge, taking home a $50,000 prize.

Cakegirls’ cakes are pricey. According to the company’s Web site, wedding cakes start at $600 and specialty cakes at $900. Customers have included Bono, Queen Latifah, Ashlee Simpson and Jim Carrey, among other notables.

In the coming weeks and months they said they had multiple wedding and Easter orders and an assignment to sculpt a T-Rex cake for the Field Museum.

Now, they worry how any of that will get done. In the hours after the fire, offers of help poured in from around Chicago, but the sisters said they have not made any decisions. They did say that they had insurance.

The bakery has been open for seven years and has six employees on staff, Brenda Maher said. “More than anything, it breaks my heart that for now, they will be unemployed,” she said.

With the wedding season fast approaching, the bakery has up to 500 outstanding orders, she said. Firefighters this morning were keeping the sisters out of the building, so they were unable to retrieve any computer records — or know if there are any records left to retrieve.

“Please apologize on our behalf to our customers,” Brenda Maher pleaded shortly after the fire. “We are going to do our best to reach everyone.”

Later this morning, staring toward the charred remains of the business, Brenda Maher said the last several hours have been surreal.

After teaching two cake decorating classes Saturday, the last day the shop was open, Maher said she closed up as usual, finishing the remaining paperwork and wiping the counters clean.

“I just closed the doors and turned off the lights,” she said.

Cynthia Dizikes and Deanese Williams-Harris

152 Responses to “Fire destroys Cakegirls bakery: 'Devastating'”

  1. I am so sorry for your loss. I’m sure the memories you have created in that building are priceless.
    You are very talented and I think you are one of the best cake artists out there. I wish you a speedy recovery from your devistation. Your customers will understand as you pull everything back together.
    God Bless!!

  2. :( What a terrible thing! I am so sorry that this has happen to the Brenda & Mary and the rest of the Cakegirls family. Wish you a speedy recovery. I belive that you ladies will overcome this and that your new home will be everything you want.

  3. OMG this is shoking it like losing everything but keep those spirits up everthing will work out

  4. I’m so sorry to hear you lost your shop, but thrilled that you were not in it at the time. I hope you are able to rebuild and enjoy making beautiful work again soon. Hug each other for all of us and you will never let go of each other. (((HUGS)))

  5. My prayers are with you and all your employees. I know what you are going through, because my parents lost their house due to a fire and had to start over. I know it will be a very long and difficult time, but you will come back even stronger.

  6. very very sorry for your loss, don’t give up have faith and you’ll see that God will make you stronger to make everything possible again and ever better you will see.
    My prayes and thoughts are with you.
    many Hugs!

  7. None of us can possible understand the hurt and emotions you both are feeling right now. I will keep you in my prayers. I know you will come out of this stronger than ever.

  8. I was checking my email when I saw the news. I am so sorry about your business and the memories that you have. I watch both of you on TV and you make great cakes and I wish I could be as good as you. Thank God you girls and staff are okay but you will get over this hump and start a new. I wish you all the best and my God bless you and help you through this. My prayers are with you and you will have a great come back. Be strong and keep up the beautiful work and have made many customers very happy with the beautiful cakes. L J from Mohave Valley, Arizona.

  9. My Heart goes out to you and your employees, I have watched you for years and have used alot of your techniques, God is looking after you and I know you will bounce back even stronger then ever, I wish I lived in Chicago to Volunteer to help you rebuild your empire. I will be buying some of your T-shits, I hope it helps out. :O(

    Love Always
    Jermaine Malone of Orlando, Florida

  10. The losts make you stronger, you´ll rebuild cakegirls better than this one. I assure you God has something good for you both.

  11. I was devistated when I read the article yesterday. I also wish I lived in Chicago to assist you both on rebuilding your empire. I have watched both of you for a couple of years & loved how you won on the food network! I watch your show out here in S. California and I pray that you get through this. I love to make cakes, although I wish I could make them like both Mary & Brenda. I was just laid off 2 months ago and I know what it’s like to struggle. God is watching over us all!
    God Bless you both and your staff & you will come back from this stronger! Love you both! Hugs

  12. My thoughts and prayers are with you both. To me it is very important to see women move up in the world, as I am trying to do so myself. I may not be able to offer much, but if you need help to get some of those orders out, I would volunteer my time to go down and help. I believe women need to support each other in every way.

  13. You are going to come back BIGGER and BETTER then ever before!
    In Jesus Name!

  14. One door closes so that another can open. There is a bigger and better building waiting for you to make it yours. And your customers love you as do thousands of others who watch your show every week. Hang in there ladies. Can’t wait til you are back up on your feet!!

  15. I am so sorry to hear about the fire. Just know it will get better! I lost my 3 story home including all my husbands contracting tools, a truck & 5 off road vehicles in a fire June 25, 2009 that my son accidentally started. We all 4 were safe, as well as our 4 dogs. My youngest son was sad since he lost every award, trophy, toys & his 3 birds but with insurance we were able to replace many things. Now that our house is almost rebuilt, I am getting to make changes & start off new. Don’t think about what you lost but how much you can make it better!

  16. I am heartbroken for the Maher sisters! I have loved watching their creations on TV and love seeing them work together as family & business partners! I will pray that solutions will be quick to be realized and quick to be implemented! I’m sure whatever they do, they will succeed! Their business came from their hearts, so the business is still alive – the building can be replaced!

  17. I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I know you will come back bigger and better. GOD never shuts a door without opening a window. I wish you were here. I would gladly turn my shop over to you. I do cakes for fun, but you make cakes for a living.

  18. Oh my heavens , I checked my email and just found out ,, I am so sorry to hear your CAKE HEAVEN has been lost .. I have seen ya’ll so many times on cake challenges .. and ya’ll are a force to be reckened with… ya’ll make such awsome cakes .. god will bless you 10 times fold. he always takes care of his angles and that you sisters are . so keep your chins up and push full force ahead .Cake Girls has been one of my inspirations for cake decorating and I love to watch ya’ll . So get up get going . Ya’ll are great!!! God bless you

  19. I am going to buy a t-shirt this weekend when I get paid for my next cake order. We all know what it’s like to start in our home kitchens and try to build our dream. I can’t imagine having it all taken away. I know you ladies will be okay and you will rebuild! God Bless, when I get my shirt I will wear it with pride!

  20. So sorry to hear about the fire…. My daughter and I love watching you and have purchased shirts in hopes of contributing just a little towards your rebuild. I truly believe you will be blessed in your future. Keep hope and faith alive…. Bless you both.

  21. This is a terrible tragedy. I have watched “Amazing Cakes” and seen the determination and dedication of the CakeGirls. I know they will recover. God bless!!

  22. My prayers go out to you girls.. God can do anything except fail….Just look at this as a blessing..I’ve seen some of your work and I know that this is not going to stop you girls. You’ll just get bigger and better. FYI:I only dream of becoming half as good as ya’ll are.

  23. Hello to you all, first i like to say my prays are with you all. I know you will come back bigger&better. Sometimes it takes a bad situation to make a good one. God bless you all. loulou-philly

  24. that is very heartbreaking. like ya’ll said its ya’ll’s baby. i can only imagine what ya’ll must be feeling and then that probably wouldn’t be the half of it. my heart goes out to all ya’ll’s hard work. but hey i have no doubt in my mind that God is going to bless you all bigger and better. you see “reason’s why” and “silver linings” later. that i can promise.

  25. Oh my this is just heartbreaking. My prayers are with you too and I know you will overcome this and come back better and stronger. God Bless!!!

  26. It’s so sad….. God works in strange ways…. something good will come up from this, I’m sure of that. You’re one of the best!! Even tho I just bake cakes as a hobby I don’t miss the show specially when you’re on it. God bless you.
    Edith de la Flor

  27. My heart is broken for them. I know they really do put their soul into their work and their shop as many of us do. It’s simply a crazy thing that just blows my mind for them. All the best, I know they will come through this and open doors soon which will be even better than before.


  29. I’m just about to cry. It’s so sad to see your dreams, your work destroyed like this. You must be strong and get up on your feet again. It will be all right. God bless you.

  30. This is so unfortunate! I pray for strength to the both of you. I know you two will pull through! God Bless!

  31. My prayers go out to the Cakegirls and the family that lost their home. This is a devastating time for all. You girls have such talent that I just know in my heart that you will survive and be stronger because of this set back. Now is the time to organize your thoughts and change the things that you didn’t like about your business structure. If location wasn’t the best, then look elsewhere now. This too will take time and an extreme amount of effort but you have what it takes to go on and become bigger and better. A place that is entirely your own can be an option now. God Bless you all. Can’t wait to see you back in the swing of things again soon. I’ve heard of the offers of other Bakeries in the city and you are already blessed with comraderie to get your oders out. You will prevail. Best wishes.

  32. Cake Girls,
    Good thing you can’t see me, toooooo many tears. 3 years ago on Valentine’s day our home was destroyed in a fire. Part of our home had been converted into a cake bakery. No employees, just me. I averaged roughly 150 weddings a year. Nothing compared to what you two have been doing. Walking into the bakery studio the next morning, well let’s just say I’m glad no one else was around at that time. First thing I worried about was my brides, all of my records were in one file, a paper file.
    I was ASTOUNDED by the support I received from other decorators from around the world.
    My prayers to you both

  33. So sorry to hear about the fire at your bakery….I watch your show religiously and love your work…Hope you get back on your feet soon and maybe get a bigger better bakery…My prayers are with both of you and your employees…..

  34. Only bigger and better things are ahead for you. You are in my prayers.
    best wishes to you both. You are strong women as we all can see from the beautiful works of art, that are your wonderful cakes. Stay strong,good luck in all you do.

  35. Though life right now may seem bleak, like the phoenix you will rise from the ashes of despair and no doubt become bigger and better than you ever imagined. Our prayers go out to you and your staff.

  36. You are in everyones prayers. Things will seem dim and blek now but you have a great future ahead. God be with you in your decision making and future.

  37. I felt so bad for Mary and Brenda. I had the chance to have a class with them in January and they are INCREDIBLE… and I know in my heart they will ok.

  38. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I enjoy watching you on TV and will truly miss your show. I hope with all hope that you can rebuild and get back to making those beautiful cakes. I decorate cakes myself but just out of my home & for friends, nothing professional but I enjoy it so much. The look on the faces is worth everything!