Watching in awe as her Southern aunt baked cakes and confections, an 8-year-old Chrysta Wilson wanted to use the oven like a "big girl." When her mother and aunt gave her an Easy-Bake Oven that year, Wilson began her love affair with desserts.
These days, the owner of Kiss My Bundt makes all of her confections from scratch, using hand-selected ingredients from the local dairy and farmers markets. The sassy 30-year-old also gets a kick out of giving the students in her baking academy one mischievous piece of advice: "Go say bundt hole to someone you know tomorrow," she tells her class.
It is everything except the hole, however, that keeps customers coming back to the Mid-City bakery.
"It has sexy curves like a woman, and the glazes hug those curves," Wilson says. During one of the 22 classes she teaches each month, named "Bundts and Booze," one student fumbled with an ingredient. "Inventions are created by mistake, right?" he jokes.
"God knows, that's how this store was created," his instructor responds.
In the past year, the statuesque baker has taught roughly 1,300 people how to bake a proper bundt. And since her bakery opened, in August 2008, Wilson has been commended for her nontraditional cake flavors, such as maple-bacon, Tecate and lime-basil.
Wilson came to Los Angeles from Jacksonville, Florida, more than a decade ago, after her mother had decided that a move to California would be a good investment for her 16-year-old daughter's future. Wilson attended undergraduate and graduate school at USC, where she studied public policy. She worked for nonprofit organizations to help improve inner-city communities and reduce gang violence, as well as for the Department of Mental Health.
Those jobs showed her that people were not so interested in attending meetings. But she found a trick. "Any community organizer knows and will tell you that you've got to feed people. Food makes people feel comfortable, and it instantly warms up a meeting and warms up people. They'd see that red velvet and maple-bacon in the corner and stay till the end to get the cakes."
When her mother died, in 2006, Wilson realized that life was too short not to do what you love. She decided to open the bakery.
The connection between cakes and people is still at the core of what Wilson does. "I'm invested in the community like I live here," she says. By all appearances, she does live there, arriving at the shop at 8 a.m. and leaving at midnight every night. It has been a struggle. In November 2009 Wilson held a "Save the Bakery Campaign," hoping to raise $12,500, but she only met 45 percent of that goal. "It helped us buy more time," she says. "We're still here."
Last year, a couple who had moved to L.A. from Boston walked into her bakery and befriended Wilson, and shortly thereafter attended one of her baking classes. Recently, she received a letter from the couple, thanking her. "I know part of the reason you wanted to start Kiss My Bundt bakery was to build community, and you have certainly created that feel for us," the letter read.
For Wilson, the bakery "has been an insane ride." But she continues to offer a welcoming space where she can use her skills and customer base "to build a community on West Third Street, one bundt at a time."
This story is from the current People Issue. To read more, see our cover story.