Love the E9 cinnamon rolls? Check out Tacoma bakery The Cat & Rabbitt Cakeshop
Restaurant work is grueling, but it’s just a little easier once you find your “people.”
You rely on those people to make sure you don’t cut off your finger, get accidentally locked in the walk-in, or fall down the stairs carrying a cambro full of pig fat.
If all works out well, one day you’ll get to open a cool place with a member of your restaurant family. And then you get to spend your days not accidentally cutting off your fingers together.
That’s the story of Julia Brown and Terryn Abbitt, two pastry masters who met while working for X Group Restaurants, the restaurant company that owns Tacoma’s Asado, Engine House No. 9, E9 Brewing Co., The Valley, The Pine Room Event Center and a bustling catering operation.
With the temporary pandemic-related closure of some of the X Group properties, Brown and Abbitt found themselves momentarily out of work.
The duo didn’t panic.
Instead, they turned unemployment into an opportunity to combine their pastry superpowers.
Introducing: The Cat & Rabbitt Cakeshop, a scratch cake bakery from Brown and Abbitt that will open in Tacoma a little later this year inside one of the X Group properties, the Pine Room Event Center at 2811 Sixth Ave.
FANCY CAKES AT CAT & RABBITT
Whole cakes. Cake-by-the slice. Fancy cakes. Cakes for parties. Cakes for weddings. Little cakes. Big cakes.
Cat & Rabbitt are all about the cake.
Their idea is a walk-up cake shop on Sixth Avenue serving cake-by-the-slice with six to eight daily slice choices. Customers walk up, point at the cake they want and take away a slice.
In between serving cake through their cake window, they’ll spend the rest of their time creating specialty cakes for occasions or, you know, random Tuesday cake eating.
“If you see that whole German chocolate cake through the glass, you can order it and take it away,” said Brown, the creator of those famous big-as-your-head cinnamon rolls at Engine House No. 9. And the famous Julia’s carrot cake. And so many of the other delicious desserts at X Group Restaurants. Abbitt has worked alongside Brown slinging pastry for a number of years.
She considers Brown her pastry mentor. The bakery moniker is a combination of their names – Cat is a shortened version of Julia’s middle name and Rabbitt is a play on Abbitt’s last name.
“I’ve always loved baking,” said Abbitt. “I decided to quit my job and go to pastry school.” While still a student, an instructor tipped her to a possible side job. “I remember the instructor told me X Group was hiring a pastry assistant.”
Abbitt added, “I went in and met Julia and we had an interview.” The two synched immediately. “Pastry school wasn’t what I expected,” said Abbitt. “It was a lot of making recipes and the teacher floated around 30ish students. With Julia, she was right there and showed me everything. There was so much different stuff. The things she taught me. Like making bread or shortcuts for things,” she said. “I’m still learning from her. I texted her last night, ‘Can I put this in a recipe?’”
Brown said that she is always pushing to be more efficient and sometimes that means “I teach people that it’s OK to break rules. Just because a French dude 200 years ago told us to do something, that doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do it.”
Brown said the minute she met Abbitt, she knew she’d fit right in at the catering operation.
“Terryn didn’t have a ton of experience. The second I met her, I knew I wanted to work with her forever,” said Brown. During Abbitt’s working interview, “She kept a smile on her face the whole time. You want to work around people you like.”
Brown added, “She accepted the job. She buried her head in the sand learning to decorate cakes. She went from having zero experience to being the best cake decorator I’ve ever worked with. It’s humbling because I like to think I’m good at it, but she’s way better than me.”
A DOOR CLOSES, ANOTHER OPENS FOR CAT & RABBITT
Opening a bakery together was something they previously discussed, but mostly just as a “maybe someday” thing like all chefs talk about.
And then came March. And “maybe someday” became a priority.
“Then everything happened with Covid,” said Abbitt. “The instability of our own unemployment was scary. We said, ‘Hey I think we can do this.’”
The last year has been a struggle for Brown, whose husband had a devastating stroke. Brown also suffered through a health scare. Her father also died. Recently, her husband went back to work, which was so unexpected because his recovery was expected to take years, not months.
The last year has tried her, but also taught her much about resiliency.
“Life is fragile and there’s no sense in waiting for things to happen. You’ve got to make it happen for yourself,” said Brown. “It’s been a lifelong goal to be a restaurant owner. When I was little, I didn’t watch cartoons on the weekends, I watched PBS cooking shows. I have huge commitment issues, but Terryn was able to convince me to do this with her. I wouldn’t do this with anybody else.”
BIG CAKE PLANS AT CAT & RABBITT CAKESHOP
Scrolling through the bakery’s Instagram is a fabulous tour into the world of cake porn. You’ll see pineapple upside down cupcakes topped with pretty brown sugar bourbon buttercream swirls and a towering two-layer cake adorned with fresh dahlias.
The flavors range from straightforward to fanciful. The combinations are lush in flavors and built the way scratch bakeries always make their products: with a lot of skill and high-quality ingredients. You’re not going to see a bunch of fondant cakes in their social feeds. Rather, they’re all about the buttercream cakes built for flavor and beauty.
They have big plans for the cake flavors that will roll through their display case.
“We want to do lemon cake with homemade lemon curd. It’s going to have a vanilla milk soak,” said Brown. “Terryn was talking about a cake that is a play on banana pudding. We are going to make a Nilla wafer milk – you steep Nilla wafer in milk – and it flavors the vanilla cake. Then we’ll make it with fresh-sliced bananas, pastry cream and crushed Nilla wafers on top,” said Brown.
Then there’s this, “Our brown butter apple cake with caramelized apples, and homemade caramel sauce. It’s so good,” said Abbitt.
And then this one. “We’re getting on the pumpkin spice latte bandwagon. My pumpkin cake recipe I made for years at Asado when I started working there – it was on the menu several years – we’re going to bring that back. Since it’s fall now, we’ll be entering that coffee element into it.”
“Oh, and Julia’s carrot cake from E9. We’ll have that,” said Abbitt.
“That’s my mother’s recipe for carrot cake. There’s a secret ingredient that people don’t know about,” she said. One hint: “it’s a healthy ingredient.” And she’s not talking about the carrots.
So about those cinnamon rolls that are as big as your head and are what turned E9’s weekend brunch famous in local food circles. Will they serve those at the bakery? Probably in some capacity, but not likely as an everyday offering because they really want to focus on cake. “We want to do cinnamon roll Sundays or cinnamon rolls on the weekends. It’ll be super limited, maybe 20 or 30 for the day,” said Brown.
John Xitco, co-owner of X Group Restaurants, has been their biggest champion so far. He made space for them inside his Pine Street Event Center where they’re leasing space for their business and they’ll have a symbiotic relationship with X Group Restaurants.
“I love working with Julia and was excited when I heard she wanted to open her own business with Terryn. We were happy to help them and also utilize a part of the kitchens in a new role as a commissary/ghost kitchen,” said Xitco.
He talked about the future cake relationship between The Cat & Rabbitt Cakeshop and X Group Restaurants. “I love Julia’s carrot cake and cinnamon rolls. I am also excited to incorporate their offerings, plus hopefully some of your old favorites, back into Asado and Engine House No. 9 when we reopen. A win win.”
THE CAT & RABBITT CAKESHOP
Where: 2811 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
Opening: This fall, if all goes as planned
More on X Group Restaurants: While X Group put a temporary pause on its catering operation and Asado and Engine House No. 9 in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood (they most definitely will reopen), The Valley and E9 Brewing remain open and operating in Tacoma. Go visit!
NOW OPEN: CUERNO BRAVO PRIME STEAKHOUSE
Have you been hearing about Cuerno Bravo, the prime steakhouse in Tacoma’s St. Helens neighborhood? Get all the details right here.