Designing your dream house, wedding, or wardrobe is a cakewalk with Pinterest—the virtual pinboard that keeps magazine clippings from cluttering your life—but Paradox Pastry owner Jenny Peterson has always been able to visualize her designs. It’s a handy talent to have when the bread-and-butter of your job is producing an average of five multitiered, highly decorated special-occasion cakes each week out of your home kitchen. Now, less than a month from opening her dessert café in the Glass Building on a bread-and-water budget, her visual eye is more valuable than ever.
While the dessert café model is decidedly European (Peterson lived overseas for 13 years and fondly remembers catching up with friends in Germany over coffee and a slice of “kuchen”), the style is all her own. “I’ve known the way I wanted it to look forever,” she said.
For the space, light, airy, and interesting were on her checklist. She considered a spot in the Water Street parking garage, but felt the weight of concrete upon her. When she saw the 1,800 square foot space between The X Lounge and Bluegrass Grill & Bakery, complete with 22′ ceilings, a mezzanine, and wire rope hand railings, she knew she’d found her space. “It’s industrial and kicky and the metal work reminds me of Paris,” she said.
Although Peterson’s dreamt her dream long enough to have everything from colors to glassware in mind, she did seek advice from design professionals. Her brother, an award-winning architect in New York, came down to see the space and pointed out its imperfections. The bathroom and storage room are both upstairs, for instance, but they were quirks she knew she could live with. Local architect Chuck Dickey incorporated her visions into drawings and general contractor Clay Meili from Monster Mechanics is hammering those drawings into reality.
The reality won’t match her mind’s eye to a T though. When Peterson presented her three chosen colors to her graphic designer, she left the meeting going back to the drawing board for two of them. “She told me they weren’t restaurant colors and that I needed to pick a red and a yellow. I hate yellow!” Peterson said. After one $1,000 mistake somewhere in the “curry” family, she settled on walls swathed in “Adventure Orange” and “Spicy Hue” to accent the “Slate Tile Blue” that she’s always envisioned for the ceiling. The result, even amidst wet concrete and fluorescent lighting, is warm and sweet tooth-inducing. And, as for that logo, it’s an urban and industrial amalgamation of elements from the various rounds of designs, in the shop’s colors.
An entryway wall will showcase pedestaled examples of Peterson’s studio cakes. Downstairs, diners will sit at high-top tables with light from the giant front windows streaming in, and an eight-person farm table will serve as seating on the mezzanine—Peterson’s favorite spot. Paradox’s baking area, where all the magic happens, will be open air, to give patrons full access to the action (and smells). It will serve the bakers well, too. “The best part of making food for people is seeing them enjoying it,” said Peterson.
A rotating variety of layer cakes, pies, tarts, and cobblers will fill the display case, and treats like whoopie pies will grace glass jars on top. Mornings come early at bakeries, so by 7am, Tuesday through Saturday, scones and multigrain muffins will tempt us. Savory offerings include salads, sandwiches, gougères, palmiers, and quiche which, ABC-license willing, will taste especially good with a glass of wine or beer (Paradox’ll stay open until 8pm on weekdays and until 10pm on weekends).
Peterson will leave the highly-designed work to the studio cakes (a side of her business that’s likely to grow exponentially given her new visibility and Charlottesville’s popularity as a wedding destination), so don’t expect to see chocolate squiggles or coulis smears on the plates. And, unless otherwise requested, slices of cake, pie, or cobbler will come unadorned. Thick European-style hot chocolate will be served in Irish coffee cups with or without freshly whipped cream (and soon, perhaps, a homemade peppermint marshmallow). Shenandoah Joe coffee will flow from an air pot or from stainless steel French presses. All part of her vision, these were the fun and easy decisions for Peterson and manager Maureen Scott, her friend of eight years.
There have been setbacks, like the plumber’s discovery that the floor was built with reinforced concrete, but it wouldn’t be a dream-come-true without them. It just means bringing in a bigger jackhammer.