Detroit Baker April Anderson Talks Fostering and Sustaining Creativity

Anderson doesn’t just bake for her community—she creates community with her baking.

Photo: George Clarence Photography

An alarm went off at 6 p.m. sharp when I was speaking with April Anderson. “Oh, it’s a reminder to turn off the soup,” she laughed. Even when she’s pausing to reflect on her work, she’s working. The owner of Good Cakes and Bakes, an organic bakery in Detroit, Anderson recently celebrated her fifth anniversary as a bakery owner. Anderson has baked her signature desserts like Gooey Butter Cake and the Vegan Red Velvet Cupcakes for all sorts of well-known people, from Oprah Winfrey to the late Aretha Franklin, but her focus remains on her neighbors. It’s no wonder that the James Beard Foundation recently chose her to be part of their Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, a way for civic-minded chefs to deepen their leadership skills. Anderson doesn’t just bake for her community—she creates community with her baking.

JT: How did you learn to bake in the first place?

AA: From watching and helping my mother. I eventually went to school to officially learn the science behind baking.

JT: Have you always liked making things with your own hands?

AA: I have always loved doing things with my hands. I think that’s why I love working with doughs like yeast rolls, cinnamon rolls, and biscuits. I am a hands-on learner.

JT: You are a born-and-raised Detroiter, the land of so many makers past and present, from the automobile industry to the rise of urban farmers. What do you think it is about Detroit that inspires so many to make things?

AA: I think it has to do with Detroit being a blue-collar, industrial city. Also, I believe it has to do with the migration from the South.

JT: How so?

AA: Southerners were and are makers, growers, and farmers. My grandmother always had a small garden where she grew tomatoes. My neighbors had gardens growing up, too. My father was born and raised in Mississippi but came to Detroit after he left the Army to work at Chrysler. My father talked about how his friends and family members were moving up North for a better living. They were able to get jobs at Chrysler, Ford, or General Motors, able to buy a home, to start a family, and have a better life than they had in the South. But being in the city, they still had that urge to make and grow things. It’s just wonderful that Detroit is so large and grassy that it makes it easy to carry on the tradition of farming in the city.

JT: What’s the biggest challenge you face as business owner?

AA: Staying creative. Because of all the things that go into running a business, it can be hard to stay in that space of being creative. I have learned that I need to bring others into the business to help so I can concentrate on being creative and bringing fresh ideas to the kitchen.

JT: Speaking of others, what does your support system look like?

AA: I have my wonderful wife, my parents, my staff (especially my bakers), my circle of business owners, and the wonderful organizations I’m a part of. I know the success of the bakery is only possible because of them.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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