Sweet Lady Jane: Baking it in L.A.

For more than 20 years, Jane Lockhart’s gourmet bakery in West Hollywood has attracted new clients in one of the most competitive restaurant markets, but she gives brownie points to her loyal fans for helping create a business that succeeds.

On Melrose Avenue, Lockhart’s desserts are easily accessible to the celebrities in Los Angeles, but grabbing their attention can be difficult. Selling her products to the Hollywood elite has never been a top priority, Lockhard said, but her client list has accumulated the likes of Ellen Degeneres.

The Emmy-winning daytime talk-show host has repeatedly ordered Sweet Lady Jane cakes for both business and personal reasons. On The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2010, DeGeneres presented Jennifer Aniston with a cake from “one of (her) favorite bakeries.”

Just two years before, DeGeneres and wife Portia de Rossi asked Lockhart to create a vegan red velvet cake for the couple’s wedding.

“You may have one celebrity to hundreds of other Average Joes; those are the people you cater to most often,” she said. “But it does compliment us in a great way, too, knowing that people who can purchase anywhere love my cakes.”

Lockhart’s creations haven’t attracted just those living in L.A.

National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel site gave top honors to Sweet Lady Jane calling her baked goods the best patisseries in the entire world. Lockhart’s “culinary masterpieces” beat out bakeries in Rome, Paris and New York City.

Lockhart’s manu offers 29 cakes. Her most popular pastry is the Triple Berry Shortcake, a yellow butter cake filled with layers of a trio of berries. Her menu doesn’t stop with selling cakes. She offers cookies, cupcakes, pies, tarts, brownies, bars, and cheesecakes, as well as custom and wedding cakes.

Lockhart believes her eclectic services and quality products attract clients, and what started as a hobby for her has grown into two stores in primetime California locations: Hollywood and Santa Monica. On weekends, Lockhart said Sweet Lady Jane sells hundreds of cakes.

“We got a reputation for having wonderful quality products in what they look like and how they taste,” she said.

The competitive L.A. market is an ideal arena for those wishing to be in the restaurant business, but grabbing the public’s attention is necessary for success.

“It’s word of mouth, we never really advertised,” she said. “It was the first wedding cake that served 100 people and maybe those 100 people spread the word,” she said.

“I just wanted to be put on the map as having very fine desserts and a very European looking shop where people could come and find some sort of a little escape from their usual run of the mill eating place,” Lockhart said.

Niki Tehranchi, chef and owner of EATZ, a cooking school in Los Angeles, has seen the industry’s competitiveness first-hand. She grew up cooking alongside her mother. After attending law school in New York she decided to get back into the culinary business by attending culinary school. She opened EATZ in 2008 after years of experience in the restaurant industry.

“There are some restaurants that just stay and have been around forever, and a few pop up and close down in a year, and I see that a lot,” she said. “It’s scary there are no guarantees, and I feel like in L.A. every week there’s something new opening.”

Businesses with their doors open for more than 20 years, like Sweet Lady Jane, show Tehranchi that in L.A. only the best of businesses survive.

“That tells me that person has a very solid client base, there’s something about that place that can’t be replicated,” she said. “It has to be something so unique that a person remembers that the only place they can get it is there.”

Tehranchi hasn’t shied away from Lockhart’s creations.

“I’ve been there a couple of times, and it’s one of those places where it’s a cute little store front on Melrose, but you hear about it because it’s so special,” she said. “It’s a little hotspot for people.”

Lockhart’s unique products keep customers coming back.

“It’s grown into kind of a landmark in Los Angeles,” Tehranchi said.