Craving something sweet?
Head to Lucy Bakes, 133 W. Pittsburgh Ave., a new bakery specializing in sweet treats like cupcakes, cookies, brownies, bars, muffins, coffee cake and cake slices, along with custom cakes in flavors like Lucy's signature white cake filled with lemon curd and raspberry jam.
The bakery, owned by entrepreneur Lucy Walsh, softly opened its doors in August, showing off its corner entry storefront just inside the historic building that houses the Artisan Lofts apartments.
The eclectic space takes full advantage of the former industrial space showcasing deep charcoal grey walls with dark wood accents and an aesthetic composed of both vintage and modern details.
“I love the contrast of the dark and moody against the whimsy of decorated baked goods,” says Walsh. “I also really like the idea that people will walk in and be surprised by what they see.”
This weekend, customers can stop in to purchase a variety of pre-made baked goods including Nutella brownies, toffee and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, decorated vanilla almond sugar cookies, cinnamon walnut coffee cake, apple cider muffins, cake cups and four-packs of assorted cupcakes (pumpkin and cream cheese buttercream, salted caramel, chocolate peanut butter and vanilla raspberry).
Beyond the front retail space, Lucy Bakes also features a cozy sitting area where Walsh meets with potential clients and hosts cake tastings for weddings.
Meanwhile, the magic happens in an open kitchen that occupies the far end of the space.
“It’s a dream come true,” says Walsh of the kitchen. “It’s so much more efficient than working from home and I have the space to really expand the amount of baking I can do.”
The baking gene
Walsh says she’s confident that her talent for creating delicious cookies and cakes was passed down to her through the generations.
“My great grandmother, Ruth Keeler, was a wedding cake baker from the mid-40s until the 1980s in Erie, Pennsylvania,” says Walsh. “She was known for her royal icing details, which were actually created separately and then applied to the cake as she was decorating it.”
Although Keeler lived to be 100 years old, Walsh says she was only nine years old when her grandmother passed away. But her memory is preserved through photos, some of which are part of the decor in the bakery.
Her baking legacy is also recorded in notebooks in which she logged hundreds of orders, personal notes and delivery instructions for the custom cakes she made.
Walsch says her great grandmother remains an inspiration. But it’s her grandmother, Elaine Lynch, who actually taught her to bake.
“She was famous for always having a dessert on hand when you’d come to visit,” says Walsh. “And you never left her house without eating something sweet. From the time I was about six, we’d bake spritz cookies together around the holidays. We’d also make cookies, muffins and pies. She had raspberry bushes in her yard and we’d pick those and make raspberry jam.”
“My mom always jokes that the baking gene skipped a generation,” says Walsh, “She has the skills to do it, but she doesn’t love it the way my grandmother or I do.”
A dream years in the making
Walsh says she sold her first baked goods (cake pops) to friends and family while attending high school. In fact, by the summer before she entered senior year, she was baking regularly and taking custom orders which she delivered to customers around town.
When it came time to attend college, Walsh says she completed a year at DePaul University before transferring to Marquette University for the first semester of her second year. But she says the academic world just wasn’t a fit for her at the time.
“Grades and academic benchmarks weren’t my measures of success,” she says. “So I decided to move to Chicago and get a job. I worked full-time at a tanning salon and spent my spare time baking and selling what I made. By the end of the year, I was burned out. So I decided to move to Arizona where my brother was living.”
While she was there, she took a job at a small mother and daughter-owned bakery called Ruze Cake House, where she was able to get hands-on experience operating a small retail bakery.
When she was laid off during the pandemic, she made the decision to move back to Milwaukee.
“I didn’t want to move home, and I had friends in Milwaukee, so it just made sense,” she says, “Ultimately, I also knew that Milwaukee would be the right place to launch my own business.”
Lucy Bakes is born
She took a job working in the production bakery at Whole Foods, a position which gave her experience working in a high-volume environment. And she began to work on establishing her identity as a local baker.
To create awareness, she reached out to local companies and asked if she could set up dessert tables for them, free of charge. The exposure, she says, helped to develop interest in her business. “From there I started networking,” she says. “And over time I developed a client base for paid work.”
By the summer of 2022, Walsh says she’d accumulated enough business that she outgrew her home kitchen and needed to find a commercial space where she could fulfill her ever-growing list of orders. What she found in the Pittsburgh Avenue space was all that and more.
“I love this space so much,” says Walsh. “It’s allowed me to create a storefront that reflects my personality and it has enough room that I can expand my business as time moves forward.”
Walsh says she’s been blessed to have the support of her family, particularly her mother and father who helped with the build-out and design of the space and continue to offer support where they can: her mother sometimes operates the retail shop on weekends and her father keeps an eye on the books and lends wise advice to the business end of things.
“It feels like it took me so long to get here,” she says. “But I’m really really happy with how things turned out. I’m so excited to have really settled into this place, to be here in Milwaukee and to be doing what I really love.”
In addition to a weekly menu of baked goods, which Walsh posts weekly on her Instagram page, Lucy Bakes also offers custom cakes, cupcakes and cookies. Catering for special occasions, weddings and corporate events is also available.
Lucy Bakes is currently open Friday from 12 to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The shop is expected to expand its retail hours as we draw closer to the holiday season. Custom items can also be ordered online at lucybakes.org.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.