On a Saturday morning in May, the Bottom Line Yoga Studio, deep in the heart of the sleepy weekend loop was buzzing with activity, and the smell of fresh baked treats you wouldn’t normally associate with deep breathing and meditation. What emerged from the studio were tables full of delicious cookies and cakes that also happened to be witty and poignant without saying a word. This was Brit M. Ashe and Andrea Wichman’s (and several Chicago bakers) first foray into an international community of cooks and artists devoted to the cause of raising awareness of mental illness: The Depressed Cake Shop.
The Depressed Cake Shop was founded in the UK, back in 2013 by Emma Thomas, who wanted to create a “community of bakers and makers committed to ending the stigma surrounding mental illness one grey cake at a time”. Since its inception, communities have hosted pop-up events and raised money for global charities by slinging cakes, cookies and other stylized treats. Thomas has only one rule: the baked good that you make should be grey, but can have some element of bright color to symbolize hope for those managing mental illness.
At the Chicago pop-up cake shop, each baker put their own spin on the assignment. For instance, baker and organizer Brit M. Ashe stocked the tables with chocolate cupcakes frosted in grey buttercream and dotted with a colorful gumball. Among her collection were vegan sugar cookies depicting a teary-eyed grey cupcake, happy and sad emoji and painstakingly drawn sad superheroes. Never before have I wanted to give Wolverine and Spiderman such fierce hugs. Local baker Laura Neira brought heaping plates of sugary-frosted cookies depicting ladies decked out in mascara and rouge, and dapper gents with swirling moustaches. Also among the offerings were dozens of grey cake donuts, supplied by beloved Chicago doughnut shop Do-Rite Donuts. The event was also staffed by a team of volunteers who worked tirelessly to bake and sell countless amounts of these too-pretty-to-eat cookies
This amazing bake-sale and others like it stand to do more than ply every well-wisher with great amounts of sugar. SPORK! and other charitable establishments that would be benefiting from fund raised such as The Center on Halsted (a community center devoted to providing services to the Chicago GTBQ community) had the opportunity to start the conversation. Part of what Depressed Cake Shop events globally aim to do is to break down the stigma of silence when it comes to mental illness and invite questions and conversation. I spoke to organizer Brit M. Ashe about her hopes for her Chicago-based Depressed Cake shop, and she was enthusiastic about the idea of a brick and mortar Depressed Cake Shop in the Chicago area. SPORK! was proud to participate in this exchange of cookies and knowledge, and for any curious bakers wondering how to get involved, visit any of the links below:
More Info on The Depressed Cake Shop:
Want to get involved with upcoming Chicago based Depressed Cake Shop pop-up events as a baker or volunteer? Reach out to CakesbyBii@gmail.com
Sean Margaret is a Chicago playwright, musical bookwriter/lyricist and storyteller. You can find her on Twitter: @SMargaretWagner