A difficult story with a sweet ending, Slice almost never came to fruition. Serving the community of Fountain Valley since late last year, Natalie Burke is not only co-owner, but pastry chef. I spend this week learning about all things cake and her love of golf.
What sparked your interest in baking?
Creativity. My grandpa is an amazing artist, and his creativity always inspired me to create things of my own. I considered myself a Jane of all trades and a master of none. That is, until I discovered my passion for baking.
Who taught you how to bake?
There were a few women in my life that baked. But my biggest influence was my mom. I have great memories with her. We were always dancing in the kitchen, regardless of whether or not there was music playing. I Love Lucy was always playing in the background.
If you could design a cake for anyone, who would it be?
I would love for my grandma and uncle to taste my cakes. They both passed away when I was young. I know they would be proud of me.
Where does the restaurant's name come from?
We wanted a name that would lend itself to both aspects of the restaurant - the deli and cakery. From deli meats to our layered cakes, everything we serve is available by the slice, so the name is quite fitting.
What's your guilty pleasure food?
Our chocolate chip cookies! I literally eat one every day. Oh, and I eat In-N-Out at least three times a week.
Tell us about the deli aspect of Slice.
With everything we do here at Slice, our goal is to respect the process. We're passionate about showing people that great things take time. That's why we take the time to do everything in-house. All our meats are cured, brined and smoked in-house. The bread we use for all our deli sandwiches is baked here from scratch every morning. And all our sauces and spreads are made fresh daily.
Our Pastrami Mami is a great example of our culinary philosophy. Our pastry chef Aldo made a marbled rye exclusively for this sandwich. His unique recipe complements the spices in the brisket. It really sets this sandwich apart. Our brisket is cured in-house and smoked in our smoker for eight to ten hours, with two different types of wood chips. We probably went through 100 pounds of brisket just to perfect this recipe. This sandwich also features our house made, chocolate stout mustard, Greek yogurt coleslaw, house pickles and a creamy Havarti.
The opening of Slice Deli was delayed nine months. Tell us what happened.
We had this concept for five years, and wanted to wait until the timing was right to move forward with it. It's ironic because we just were months away from opening when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and we were forced to put the project on hold indefinitely. I went through intensive chemotherapy and radiation. We almost lost everything. It seems like it was terrible timing, but looking forward to a finished Slice is what gave me hope during that time. Today, I am so thankful to be cancer free and to have Slice.
Has your battle with cancer given you any insight to the challenges of owning a restaurant?
I used to feel like I needed to be in control of everything. My battle with cancer taught me that I needed to ride the waves of life, instead of fight them. Through it, I was able to learn the importance of delegating. It also taught me not to let stress effect me physically.
Give us a pro and con of being in business with your fiancee.
Pro: We get to work together every day, and I love that! We're inseparable best friends. We have the same philosophy on business.
Con: Sometimes we find ourselves talking about work at home. It can be hard to detach.
How did the two of you meet?
He hired me as a bartender at Envy Ultra Lounge in Downtown Fullerton. Soon after I was hired, I began managing the day-to-day operations, and we developed such a dynamic working relationship. We worked together for a year before we even started dating!
What are your best-selling cakes?
It's a tie between our lemon rosemary and blueberry coconut.
Tell us about the Everything Cake!
So it all started at a bar (laughs). One night, my pastry chef Aldo Mendiola and I were talking about what to do with all the extra batter we have after baking so many different cakes each day. He came up with the idea of layering the different flavors to create one cake. The result was a six-layer cake with everything from lemon rosemary to chocolate stout. The crazy, watercolored-looking frosting was a complete accident! We just ran with it, and it helped us develop a new signature style. Now, our Everything Cake is our best-selling custom cake order! I don't know what I'd do without Aldo as my partner-in-crime in the bakery!
Most undervalued ingredient:
A great quality vanilla. Here at Slice, we use a house blend of pure vanilla extract and Madagascar vanilla bean paste. Vanilla is the foundation for most of our cakes, and the difference is night and day!
You ran a successful baking business from home; what helped you grow that business?
After baking a cake for someone one day, I had this crazy idea that I'd make it into a business. So I stayed up all night creating a website and starting up my social media platforms. After that, it was all word of mouth!
When you're not in the restaurant, what are you doing?
I'm sleeping (laughs)! I also love golfing. I usually play with my step-father and grandpa, as well as John-Michael and his father. It's a great bonding experience.
Tell us something most people don't know about you.
I can tune a guitar by ear.
What are your top three most listened to artists on your music app?
A Tribe Called Quest, The Fugees and Charles Bradley.
Last thing you looked up online:
I was looking up all the album covers for A Tribe Called Quest. I'm baking a series of cakes as a tribute to Phife Dawg, one of their members who recently passed away.
Who are your biggest influencers/supporters?
My mom is my biggest influencer. She owns her own business and is well-respected in a male-dominated industry. She is just badass.
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My biggest supporter is John; he's my rock— especially during this past year. There's nothing he thinks I can't do, and I love him for that!
Hardest lesson you've learned:
To relinquish control and to have faith in other people.
What would you like to be doing if you weren't in this business?
I'd be a professional golfer! I wish I had joined the team in high school. I bet I could have gone pro, had I applied myself.
Slice Deli and Cakery is located at 8780 Warner Ave, Suite 15, Fountain Valley, (714) 842-1049; www.slicedeliandcakery.com.