Afton Garrett makes cakes. All kinds of cakes. Smooth and textured. Monochromatic and splashed with color. Adorned in sugary flowers or shells. Drawn-over with bears and tie-dye, and even a Baby Yoda. Whatever cake you imagine, Garrett can almost certainly create it.
But cake-making wasn’t the original plan. Garrett is currently the lead cake designer at Ellie’s and makes multi-layered masterpieces for birthdays and weddings. “I grew up baking with my mom,” says Garrett, who always had a creative streak. “I was the kid who was always doodling on things. I thought about going to art school for a while.”
Still, the self-described “Cake Witch” never pictured this particular career. Garrett – who goes by the non-binary pronoun “they” – first went to UMass Boston to study French. The experience was rough, and they found themself turning to the oven for relief. “I hated college, so I was stress-baking all the time,” they say. “About halfway through my freshman year, I thought, ‘Maybe I could do this instead.’”
Garrett transferred to Johnson & Wales, where they focused on baking and pastry arts. For a few months, they worked at Ellie’s Bakery as a barista. After a long stint at North Bakery, Garrett applied for a baking position at Ellie’s. The original cafe was too small to support its ambitions, so the baking team used the Hope & Main commercial kitchen in Warren to produce pastries.
“For some reason, I agreed to an overnight shift,” Garrett recalls. “I had to grapple with how my life was going to change, if they offered me the job.”
The dusk-to-dawn shift was hard – but also rewarding. Garrett loved the dedicated team and creative spirit. When Ellie’s opened a larger location on Weybosset Street, the hours became more traditional. Garrett started to concentrate on cakes, where they discovered a particular aptitude.
“I was drawn to the artistry of it,” Garrett says, “and the fact that Ellie’s doesn’t use fondant; we only use buttercream. It looks more like food. There are people who do really beautiful things with fondant. But I want it to still be identifiable as a cake.”
It was Melissa Denmark, Gracie’s acclaimed pastry chef, who dubbed Garrett “lead cake designer.”
“I was so excited,” they say. “I didn’t know that was something that I would just be offered. But they essentially let me create my own department.”
Today, Garrett has an active Instagram account, @thatcakewitch, which showcases their diverse designs. In the three years that they have worked at Ellie’s, the cakes have become radically more sophisticated, from four-inch confections to matrimonial centerpieces. Garrett compares cake-making to tattoo art, where clients can ask to replicate a known design, or they can ask an artist to riff and improvise.
“It really depends on the guest. They see the cakes on Instagram. They like the general aesthetic of the cake. From there, I can do whatever I want.” Garrett laughs, then adds: “To a point.”