Jenne Vailoces' passion for baking emerged young. Growing up in the Philippines, her mom would take her into the kitchen while she baked.
"I remember, when I was left to my own devices at home, I would take a bowl, take my mom's facial creams, baby powder, and mix it together, and then I would pretend to put it in a baking pan and put it in the oven. I would bring cake pans to the beach and make sand cakes. Who does that?" Vailoces laughed.
But employment with a chance to come to the United States dominated Vailoces' career options, and so she trained as a physical therapist. She never stopped baking, though, and her cakes earned rave reviews from friends. A few years ago, she started planning a physical storefront and, now, Jennivee's Bakery ( at 3301 N. Sheffield Ave. ) is due to open shortly.
"I like to use the word luxuriate. It's a place where you can indulge and take your time," Vailoces said about the space.
The cakes sound equally luxurious. As a fan of classic cakes like the American layer, Vailoces bucks the trend of single-serve cupcakes and macaroons. "You don't see a lot of actual slices of cake prettily served on a plate," she said.
She also describes herself as more chemist than cake decorator. "You have to understand how certain ingredients work and how and why," Vailoces explained. "I love simple, classic clean flavors. I like a really good vanilla cake, but it has to be made with the best ingredients. I use French butter, I use Madagascar bourbon vanilla. I like simple things made really, really well."
Yet the cakes she makes are traditional in a different sense. Vailoces wants to introduce Filipino flavors to the Chicago dessert world. Some flavors, like mango, coconut and papaya, might not be a stretch for a Chicagoan, but then there's ube.
"Ube is like a purple yam. It has a very mellow, almost like a vanilla flavor. It blends really well with a lot of Southeast Asian desserts. You can see it in a lot of pastries and ice creams and puddings," Vailoces explained.
Unique for Chicago, the bakery's hours will start in the afternoon, and continue until midnight during the week and two am on weekends. Vailoces is a night person, and she got her vision of her dream bakery from visiting New York City.
"They have a lot of these really cool quaint little dessert shops and they're open until three in the morning. It's packed with people, actors, artists, musicians, they would all flock there and hang out and have dessert," she said.
Jennivee's heart-of-Lake View location seems positioned to attract a diverse crowd. Depending on the time of day, families with kids, young professionals on their way home, and bar crowds from Wrigleyville and Boystown might all pass by the bakery. And Vailoces wants to appeal to all of them.
As a transwoman, Vailoces was stunned by stories of bakeries around the country refusing to serve LGBTQ clients. "Why would you want to deprive someone of as simple of a joy like a cake or a dessert? I wanted to create this bakery to welcome everyone. I think everyone deserves good cake, and everyone deserves to have that in their life," she said.
Vailoces hopes to connect with the LGBTQ community, particularly at-risk youth, through offering internships in baking, decorating and customer service. She knows how her community can be discriminated against and victimized: though she considers herself fortunate, she's often aware of having to work twice as hard as others to be taken seriously. Yet she doesn't want the trans storyline to dominate her business's narrative.
"I'm a baker opening a bakery first, [and I'm] trans second," Vailoces said.
She's also a very busy woman who is still working full-time as a physical therapist, a job she calls "gratifying". Occasionally, it feeds her passion.
"I have patients that are African-American grandmothers from the South. They talk to me about how they used to love to bake, and I'm, like, 'Oh my god, I want to take notes,'" said Vailoces.
For the near future, Vailoces will juggle both careers, relying on her team of bakers and decorators to maintain the bakery when it opens.
And she absolutely can't wait any longer for that day. "I want this to be the bakery that the Chicago LGBT community can proudly call their own," said Vailoces.
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