It’s a little surprising to learn that John Hensley, current owner of Lark Cake Shop, isn’t a baker.
It’s even more surprising to learn that he turned to bakery-owning in 2007, after the burgeoning economic crisis led to the laying-off of the entire senior management of the KTLA 5 Morning Show, himself included. Hensley took this unexpected and abrupt end to his previous career as a chance to start afresh: he and his wife had recently started a family, but due to his production schedule, he hadn’t been able to spend much time at home with them. He thought back to the aspirations he had as a younger man of running a business, and started researching a career shift.
And one day, he came across Lark Cake Shop, whose cupcakes he loved the moment he tried them, and whose owner was looking to pass the business on to someone else.
The shop has a history of spontaneity. Jim, Lark’s founder, told Hensley that he apparently started Lark on a lark himself after he and his wife brought a cake to a party and were complimented so highly on it that someone suggested that they start selling them!
But don’t let the name fool you: Lark Cake Shop is serious about cake. All of their cakes and confections are made from scratch from high-quality, gourmet ingredients and hand-decorated daily. Hensley himself rarely suggests additions or changes to their tried-and-true menu. Of course, if one of their bakers has an idea they’re passionate about, he supports their creativity to try a new recipe out—and “nine out of ten times, [they] sell it!”
While he had no prior food industry experience, Hensley’s years in the television industry as an executive producer taught him the value of a good team. “In that way, running Lark is no different from the Morning Show: the people are it. Talented, dedicated, good people are it.” He recognized and valued the hard work that Jim had put into not only starting the business but also hiring excellent staff, and he consequently asked Lark’s original baker and decorator to stay on with him—which they did for about six years or so. For his part, Hensley focused on the business side of Lark, building out the business systems and customer service to help the shop grow, and eventually expand out to their second location in Pasadena.
However, those business systems, like many others, were not prepared for a pandemic. With two locations and everybody stuck inside, the Lark team had to scramble to adapt to the times. Prior to the pandemic, cake orders would be taken by phone or directly from customers who visited the store. In response to COVID, new business systems were built: most notably, an online website and store that allowed for customers to order from home. (Despite the challenges the pandemic brought, that website is now where Lark Cake Shop receives 98% of their orders today!) Hensley himself delivered orders for the first several months of the pandemic, picking cakes and cupcakes up contactless from the kitchen, where Lark’s main baker continued to make their cakes from scratch and fill orders. No matter what was happening, people still wanted cake, and they especially wanted cake as a way to bring joy to the ever-extending quarantine.
And that involvement in people’s joy and celebration is the true calling of the business for Hensley. “Most of the cakes people buy from us are for special occasions: for weddings, for birthdays, for celebrating milestones—like a year cancer-free…a million different reasons to celebrate. And while there’s a lot of pressure that comes along with being a part of those special moments, nothing makes me happier than someone coming in and telling us how much they enjoyed having our cake at their wedding. I’m so glad we can be a part of that in some small way.”
And the quality of ingredients and baking expertise is sincerely evident in Lark’s cakes, which do indeed spark joy. The popular and press-lauded berry shortcake is the perfect fluffy white cake topped with tart berry frosting, and, I think, filled with a pocket of custard. Not too sweet and surprisingly light, this cupcake was way too easy to eat.
One of Hensley’s personal favorites is the carrot cake, which is deeply spiced and kept simple without any nuts or raisins (which I personally appreciate a lot), with excellent cream cheese frosting and a little extra crumble of carrot cake on top. It’s just a good, no-frills, classic cake that feels especially festive during the holiday season.
I was curious to try the vegan Boston banana cupcake because I wanted to know how vegan chocolate frosting would taste. After eating it, I’m honestly not sure how it’s possible that the frosting was vegan. I don’t know what it’s made of, but that chocolate icing was an incredibly decadent pairing with the dense, moist banana bread-like cupcake. If you like banana bread and you like chocolate, you will love this cake, vegan or not.
However, I was not prepared for the showstopper that was the icebox cupcake, which has to be the tallest cupcake I’ve ever seen—with the most gorgeous cross-section of wafer layers, to boot! It’s a not-very-miniature masterpiece. Imagine an Oreo cookie as a moist cake, and without any overpowering sweetness: perfectly balanced chocolate with light cream. That cupcake was magical, delightful, and utterly dangerous. I am absolutely not joking when I say that this is the cake I want for my birthday every year from now on. (My husband reads my stories.)
If you’re not sure what gifts to get your friends and family, why not get an assortment of cupcakes and enjoy a cake tasting together? The holidays deserve all the celebratory sweets!
Peruse Lark Cake Shop’s full offerings on their website; and you can find their two locations at:
3337 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
1355 N. Hill Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91104