Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Business Review April 2008.
By Craig Smith
Cake Plate, at 1000 Main Street in Napa (near First) had only been open a few weeks when a cab pulled up and a woman disembarked. Blind, she walked into the store with her dog and asked, “Am I in Cake Plate? I’m in my eighties, and my niece is getting married. I would love something special.”
Cake Plate owner Lindsay Kroll began showing her dresses. Kroll described the colors, drawing attention to those that would look good on the woman, as both explored the designs with their hands, feeling for fabrics, necklines, buttons and special features. They picked out four, and the woman began trying them on. She herself knew when something wasn’t quite right. Likewise, she and Kroll both knew instantly when she had found the perfect outfit. The woman loved the dress, but was worried that the cost of the dress and the turtleneck that complemented it perfectly were just out of her price range. Kroll had a solution.
“It was early in the day and she was my only customer. I locked the door, and she and I took the dress across the street to Mervyn’s, where she found a great piece that brought the outfit together for her. She looked fabulous,” she said.
Kroll had a slightly different twist on playing dress-up as a little girl. She’d organize everything, get her friends and sisters to play with her. Kroll always played storeowner. She’d pick out dresses for everyone else, and then ‘sell’ them to the other girls.
Kroll opened Cake Plate on October 1st, 2007, and is now living her childhood fantasy. Asked to describe the business, she smiled. “You are in my dream. Cake Plate is for women who appreciate classic, contemporary, sophisticated fashion.” Kroll herself has a great sense of fashion, and doesn’t believe in selling a dress unless the woman “looks fabulous and feels pretty” in it. But that’s just part of what Cake Plate is.
One of Kroll’s goals was to create a comfortable place for women who might not have anything particular in mind, or might just want a place to escape. As the mother of two, she appreciates a place where she can just relax. Customers occasionally come in with something older from their closet, asking if they can still wear it or what it might take to make it work. Kroll welcomes them all. If a woman is buying an outfit for a particular function, she and the staff keep track of what the event is so they don’t sell the same outfit to someone else also attending that function. She’s surprised when people remark on her great customer service. To Kroll, it’s just the right way to do things.
Kroll had a couple of forks in her career path to Cake Plate. After graduation, she taught kindergarten and second grade. She left to join Vintage Bank, using her teaching skills to develop training programs in Human Resources.
Kroll wanted to open a store in 2002, but she wanted to open in downtown Napa, but her market research told her it wasn’t the right time. When she found out that Vintage Bank was going through a merger in January of ’07, she looked into it again. “My husband told me to write a business plan. I think he thought that would put me off,” she smiled, “but I bought some software and got started. I interviewed other shop owners, designers I liked – anybody I could think of for research.” When she took the completed business plan to the bank, they laughed. “It was a real corporate approach, kind of overkill. But they approved it immediately.” After a family pow-wow with her parents and husband Erich, she decided to go for it.
Kroll had a two-foot high stack of pictures she had taken from fashion magazines, and made two piles – “fabulous” and “not so fabulous.” She literally called every designer from the “fabulous” stack and asked if she could carry him or her in Cake Plate. The lines she ultimately chose are classic and contemporary, such as Milly. She also carries some new lines, including Kirribilla, designed by two women in San Francisco and offered only at a store there and Cake Plate. She carries a Napa jeweler, Mollymdesigns, (McGraph) of Napa, and Carolyn Rasmussen. New spring lines will include Kate Spade, Orla Kiely, Paul & Joe Sister, and Alice & Olivia. She will continue to rotate lines in and out, always focusing on clothes and accessories that can be worn here in Napa and complement a Napa lifestyle.
As to the name, Cake Plate? “I’ve collected vintage cake plates forever, and gave them as gifts. Cake Plates are what you use to show off your prettiest treasures, and that’s what we do.”
Joining Kroll in the store is Maria Gomez, who has a great sense of fashion and of people. “Maria gets so many compliments. People love working with her.” Stop in and visit – even if just to escape for a while. Cake Plate is open seven days a week. (707) 226-2300.