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Erica Tiger opened her bakery with children’s medical conditions in mind. Now, she keeps it open while battling her own.
The Port Washington woman opened Crazy Cakes at 52 Main St. in Port Washington last year with the tagline “Don’t go nuts, go crazy.”
“We are a nut free facility, which is kind of important to the schools,” Tiger said. “I decided to be nut free because I always baked for my kids when they were little. It just seemed every class had those one or two kids [with peanut allergies], and I felt bad.”
The sweet treat decorator expressed how no child should feel isolated or ostracized for their condition, be it a peanut allergy, or — as is the case for her niece and nephew — cystic fibrosis.
“I learned from them, they don’t like to stand out,” Tiger said of her family. “It’s not like they want sympathy, they just don’t want anyone to think of them as ill. I think that’s true for kids that are allergic to nuts too, (but) they end up at the nut free table.”
Tiger herself hoped people would not treat her any differently since this past March, when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She is the same determined woman who opened a bakery six months prior to this news with the same support system that championed her business since its inception.
“I have an amazing staff and it’s really wonderful when you see people step up and they want to help,” Tiger said. “I’ve had friends and friends of friends offer to come in and help, and so far we’ve been good.
“I know if I need my son picked up or I need some pretzels dipped, I know people are there if I need someone,” she continued. “We’re managing, but it’s nice to know that you have that net under you, to have those people that care and are really supportive.”
Don’t let the fact that she owns a bakery fool you, Tiger is not crazy about baking.
“I don’t love baking, baking isn’t my passion,” she said. “Decorating is my passion. The artistic side is my passion.”
From a young age, the now 60-year-old professional decorator was enthralled with absorbing and creating three-dimensional art.
“My parents lost me in the Metropolitan Museum of Art because I would stop at something and just freeze, and they would just keep walking,” she said. “I wouldn’t just see leaves on a tree, I would look at the different shades of green. I’d notice when it was about to rain. I could tell by the way the leaves turn … you see the underside so they look lighter in color.”
For many years after college, during which she spent a semester studying art abroad in England, Tiger took joy in — and made a living from — glass blowing and sculpting ceramic accent tiles. Her résumé also boasts real estate and other entrepreneurial endeavors, which she set aside to raise her children, Aden and Mac.
Cupcakes on the road
Ten years ago, after her kids grew older, Tiger decided to balance motherhood with her desire to create art. Only this time around, her work would look good enough to eat.
“I started baking for [my kids], but I always had business in my head,” Tiger said. “I always have to try making money doing whatever I do.”
She hit the road with her Crazy Cakes Truck and served nut free cupcakes, coffee and assorted treats at festivals and other locations in between key stops.
“It was kind of fun, I picked up my son for soccer in the cupcake truck. He’d be changing into his cleats in the truck,” she said “It was the life of having a mother with a cupcake truck. Even if I didn’t have anything on board, kids would chase the truck [yelling] cupcakes!”
Just like her children, her baby on wheels began to grow. Tiger needed a professional kitchen and a storefront to call her own. Baking and decorating outdoors on the road proved too much of a hassle.
“The downside is in the winter, you can’t get the buttercream out of the bag,” she explained. “And in the summer it’s pouring out of the bag.”
Crazy Cakes, curating children’s creations since 2021
On Sept. 8, 2021, Tiger opened her brick-and-mortar Crazy Cakes in her hometown.
In her new kitchen, she began cranking out her favorites, such as jumbo-sized oatmeal raisin cookies, cupcakes, brownies and even “Ted Lasso”-inspired “Biscuits with the Boss” treats, made with European butter.
Then of course, there’s the sculpted cakes, which quench her artistic thirsts. Among her favorite cake creations are a two-foot grand piano, cleats atop grass, Lightning McQueen and the Batmobile.
While she is passionate about her creations, she wants other people, especially children involved, in the process. She’ll gladly turn a child’s drawing of their birthday cake into reality, and lets kids of all ages create their own cupcakes at the counter by choosing their cake flavor, frosting and toppings.
Children’s creations also complete the décor in her cabin-inspired birthday party area. Before opening the shop, she reached out to her community via Facebook, looking for children to pick up eight-by-eight-inch canvases at the store, on which they could depict a cupcake, cake or slice of cake in a medium of their choice. She passed out 150 and received more than half of them back.
“The kids still comeback to visit their work,” she said. “It’s fun because for them it feels like they’re published, like they’re on exhibit.”
Happiness found in the darkest of times
Every new business owner faces obstacles, but not quite like the one Tiger encountered.
“I opened in September and I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March,” she said. “I’m doing really well. But it has been — time wise — quite an amazing juggle.”
Tiger underwent a successful surgery to contain and remove the cancer, followed by chemotherapy treatment. She faced infections along her road to recovery and expects to soon undergo further rounds of chemotherapy.
“I’m very positive about it,” Tiger said. “I think I might be one of those few people that beat it.”
While she relies on staff heavily during longer stints in the hospital, she is reluctant to let work fall by the wayside. Not only are parties dependent on her cakes, she explained, but her work provides her with a comfortable, more familiar sense of chaos.
“I’ve learned to deal with stress because this business is a stressful business,” Tiger said. “Also, it’s a great distraction. I can put myself into something happy and something productive.
“It’s all about happy,” she continued. “This business is about happiness. It’s about celebration, and God knows we need a lot more celebration than we’ve had lately.”