When I was a little girl, I begged my mom to take me to the restaurant in the bright pink house covered with whimsical hearts and smiling gingerbread men. Little did I know that menu items such as squab cassoulet, jambalaya, and sautéed quail were what awaited me at T.J.’s Gingerbread House. I made do with endless refills of lemonade; simply happy to be inside the pink oasis, self-described as “a fairytale come true”. While the pink exterior is long gone, this well known corner on the edge of West Oakland is bringing the fairytale back in the sweet form of cupcakes, Angel Cakes to be exact.
Jen Angel is the brainchild behind Angel Cakes, a baker and caterer who has been supplying her mix of traditional and unique flavors to the Bay Area commercially since 2008. With a background in marketing and public relations, Jen slowly began a side business, baking cupcakes for parties and weddings. Eventually she was able to turn it into her full-time career. With a specialty niche of custom flavor profiles and combinations, Jen has the ability to meet even the most unusual cupcake needs. Just last week, Angel Cakes opened as a retail space on the corner of 5th and Brush Street.
With Bicycle Coffee at the ready, welcoming flowers from nearby WOW Farm, and a comfy couch to enjoy a moment of quiet bliss, Angel Cakes is posed to turn this well-known corner into a fairytale again, in 21st Century form. Flavors at the ready on the day of my visit were temptations such as chocolate salted caramel, Meyer lemon with raspberry, and an old-fashioned cocktail. Angel Cakes offers West Oakland a sweet spot to stop in for a bit of indulgence, a last minute dessert, a treat for your co-workers, or on the day I was there, a few dozen for the local firemen on duty.
Paying homage to the history of the space, Jen has kept touches from T.J.’s Gingerbread House intact. A mirrored wall, heart shaped embellishments above the doorways, and remnants of colorful paint still exist on the ceilings and walls of the back hallway.
T.J.’s Gingerbread House was an iconic spot in Oakland for 36 years. At the helm of the cajun restaurant, tea store, and gift shop was Tommie Jean Robinson, a Louisiana transplant who arrived in Oakland at the age of 12. Bringing her love of creole cooking to the area with the opening of the restaurant in 1974, T.J. affectionally became known as “Mama” to many, from local city council members to well-known jazz musicians such as Chuck Mangione.
A frequent diner at the restaurant, Chuck Mangione became so enamored with Mama Robinson and her staff, he wrote a song about the restaurant, titled “T.J.’s Gingerbread House”. I couldn’t resist sharing the lyrics…
There’s a place I know
Where wonderful feelings of pleasure
Will touch your heart
And delight the senses of your mind
Come with me to T.J.’s Gingerbread House
As the door opened I was hypnotized
By the warm eyes and sparking faces
Of lovely Noelle and handsome Dupree.
As they recalled for me the enchanting story
Of T.J.’s Gingerbread House I began to feel
Intoxicated by the mystical smells floating out of the kitchen
Where Mama T.J. herself was busy performing her magic…
And smiling gingerbread men danced
With beautiful handmade dolls
To the happy sounds of pots and pans bubbling over with
fabulous Jambalaya, sassy corn bread
and Cajun come-back-dirty-rice
I too became a believer…
Dreams do come true at the Gingerbread House.
T.J. Robinson closed the doors to the restaurant and shop in 2007 due to health problems. She passed away at the age of 76 in 2011. The exterior was stripped of its colorful facade, but as I wandered outside I found that a few hints of pink still exist.
As old buildings are being given new life throughout Oakland, it is wonderful to see even the quirky ones getting a sweet filled facelift. I walked away with a half dozen at the end of my visit, with a delicious chocolate salted caramel devoured before I even pulled away from the curb. I encourage you to take your own trip to Angel Cakes; whether it takes you down memory lane or not, I can promise it will be a sweet trip.
Angel Cakes is located at:
745 5th Street, Oakland CA 94607
Custom orders can be picked up at other times by appointment. More information about custom ordering can be found here.
Information about T.J.’s Gingerbread House and its owner sourced via Inside Bay Area.
Lyrics to Chuck Mangione’s song “T.J.’s Gingerbread House” quoted with permission from Dynamic Recording.
All photos by Adrienne Schell