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Birmingham Mother, Daughter Embrace the Sweet Life Together

Evelyn Sherard, left, and daughter Kenya Pickens, owner of Velvet Kake LLC, with a slice of their popular cake. (Amaar Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

By Sym Posey | The Birmingham Times

Evelyn Sherard and daughter Kenya Pickens are having fun inside Velvet Kake LLC, owned by Pickens, at 2466 Old Springville Road in Clay, Alabama. As Mother’s Day—Sunday, May 12—approaches, the two pose for a photoshoot and talk about a range of treats the shop offers.

“My main thing is to help,” said mom Sherard. “I get a chance to be creative and do my own thing as well. I have my own identity in it. She has her thing; I have my own.”

What started as just a hobby for daughter Pickens has turned into a business, officially licensing Velvet Cake LLC in 2016 where the two come together to create a wide variety of delicious baked goods that range from cake slices to fried pies.

“We have some people come in and help from time to time but basically, it’s both of us,” said Sherard. “I work here but she’s the one that really started it, it was her brainchild, but I did help create the name. I understand that it is her thing. However she wants it to go, I just follow along …”

Pickens, 38, said the business used to be called Mary Cakes, which came from an ex-boyfriend. “I didn’t like it because I felt like it was little girl name,” she said. “Grown women would approach me and say ‘aw, how cute.’ Prior to my mother moving here, one day we were on the phone and I was telling her how I’m always making a lot of red velvet cakes so she said call it ‘red velvet cake and you can put the k in front,” said the daughter.

The shop offers cake slices, cookies, key lime pie, banana pudding, strawberry shortcake, bread pudding, cupcakes and fried pies on Saturday. Flavors include vegan strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, lemon and red velvet and for cakes those flavors are in addition to vegan German chocolate and caramel.

Evelyn Sherard, and her daughter, Kenya Pickens, inside Velvet Kake LLC. (Amaar Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

Savory Or Bakery

Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Pickens got her inspiration to cook not from her mom but watching videos of Emeril, the famed chef. After graduating from high school in 2004, she moved to Birmingham where she attended Virgina College.

“I went to Culinard, the Culinary Institute of Virgina College. At the time, it was a new program. I graduated May 23, 2004, and I was [in Birmingham] by June of that same year. School literally started a few days after I moved.  I came here with no money, but I told myself I was going to figure it out. They had these student apartments right next to school and I stayed there. I made sure that I got up every morning. “

She continued, “When I got to Culinary School you could pick between savory or pastry. I ended up choosing savory. I didn’t have a baking bone in body.  After graduating in 2007, I had a baking job, at a bakery and started working at [a restaurant] at night. In 2008 I left that baking job and I told myself, I could do this. I can be a baker. It was probably the craziest thing I’ve ever told myself.”

Pickens, 38, who has an 11-year-old son, said she also moved to Birmingham from Atlanta because she wanted to get out on her own.

“I knew people that lived here in Birmingham, and they looked after me. They made sure I was okay. I’m glad that I chose to come here because Atlanta is so overpopulated. Everyone is pretty much doing the same thing. Everyone has a hustle. If you are doing something, you can find a hundred other people doing the same thing. Even if they are doing it, a different way, there are doing it too.”

Evelyn Sherard, left, and daughter Kenya Pickens, owner of Velvet Kake LLC, with plate of bread rolls. (Amarr Croskey, Fo The Birmingham Times)

‘Knack For Cooking’

Sherard, 72, followed her daughter to Birmingham after retiring from the Shepard Center, a private non-for-profit hospital in Atlanta, Georgia in 2015. It was there that she started her cooking journey.

“In 1982 I moved to Atlanta and went to work has a computer operator. I did that for almost 14 years. After the tech crash of 2002, I landed a job in the health care system in food preparation.  I aways had a knack for cooking but I never baked, expect for cornbread. I think I picked up more of my baking skills from [Kenya] than she did from me. When she decided to turn it into a business, I said I was ready to retire” from her job in Atlanta and be closer to her daughter and grandson, said Sherard.” said Sherard.

Unlike her daughter Sherard comes from a big family. Originally hailing from Selma, North Carolina, she grew up, “a farm girl.” Most of her family still live there today.

“When I would come and visit before I moved here, [Kenya] said she’d never come back to Atlanta because she liked it here and I’ve grown to like it too. It has a North Carolina feel to it. Birmingham is the next best thing to it,” said Sherard.

Arriving in Birmingham Sherard said she found out that farmer markets were pretty popular “and so I started doing different things and one of those things that I took on was fried pies. It’s a challenge but I really enjoy doing it. I enjoy the challenge. All the customer that supports us at the markets are some good loyal customers. They come every year to support us and it’s just been so good. It’s like getting a chance to see old friends that you haven’t seen in six months. Everybody is so friendly,” said Sherard.

Even though they work together Pickens said she and her mother are never in the kitchen at the same time. “She is usually here one day out of the week. We take turns.”

However, when they do have free time they love to explore what the city has to offer. “I like to go to other farmer’s markets when I do have the chance, “said Sherard.

In addition to Farmer’s Markets their good can be found at The Barking Bee coffee shop in Pinson, Alabama.

Mostly recently, Velvet Kake participated in Birmingham’s Vegan Feast 2024 at Cahaba Brewing in April.

“We do our pastries there. I make a puff pastry. It’s like a hot pocket. I also make cookies Kenya supplies the cakes for them.

Velvet Kakes is open Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturdays 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and can be reached at 205-407-4330.