When Sara Brook was at the University of Texas, it seemed like she couldn’t have been further from becoming a dessert-maker extraordinaire. She studied Computer Science and Sociology as an undergrad and was beginning to prepare for the LSAT and law school. The cherry on top: Sara was just 21 years old and a single woman. But when the cookie crumbled, Sara ultimately defied the status quo and became the dessert gallery aficionado her sweet tooth had always wanted her to be.
While law school may sound like a step in the plan of someone who has life figured out, law school was a detour for Sara. She was unsure of what she wanted to do and a three-year delay from the “real world” seemed like a great evasion for answering that question. But as soon as she began to work at a law firm the summer before applying to law school, Sara quickly realized that becoming a lawyer was not for her.
Dessert was never ‘in the plan’, but it was always in my heart!
While law school wasn’t right for Sara, computer science was. There is semblance in computer science and baking- computer science teaches you to think in a logical way, and baking requires a similar mindset. Both are a relaxing and creative endeavor. Baking, like computer science, is a scientific process. Sara believes this is why many of those that like to cook, hate to bake. Baking demands proper calculations and amounts of ingredients, or else it won’t be right (or taste right). Baking is the best of both worlds for Sara, as she thinks it is very methodical, but it also has some fairy dust and sparkles.
Sara was born loving dessert. In preschool, she remembers how she looked forward to stirring the cake batter when her class would make a cake for the week’s birthdays. Her Easy Bake Oven was one of her most cherished possessions as a young girl. Girl Scouts even foreshadowed to her unrealized future aspirations. With the combination of cookies and business, Sara was the top Girl Scout Cookie seller in the San Jacinto Council two years in a row.
So instead of studying for the LSAT, Sara Brook created her first dessert catering business at age 21, inside of her parent’s house. Sara sold this company and later on, opened her second business. This second dessert business specifically marketed her signature chocolate sauce, with buyers including Crate and Barrel and farmer’s markets around the country. She sold this business when her daughter was in preschool, and it was twenty-one years ago this September when Sara opened her third (and her favorite) business, Dessert Gallery Bakery & Café.
Dessert Gallery Bakery & Café
The initial location of Dessert Gallery was essential to the name of the business. Since the first location was in the Gallery district of Houston, and Sara loved the idea of having desserts displayed as if they were in a gallery, the name of Dessert Gallery was born!
When creating the concept of Dessert Gallery, Sara wanted customers to walk in and feel like they’ve gotten a kiss and a hug before they even get to the eat the desserts!
More Than A Piece of Cake
For Sara, dessert will always be sentimental, and she believes it is this way for her customers too. She loves old-fashioned, homemade desserts just as much as you do-and she makes them taste even better than grandmas.
At Dessert Gallery, every cake is “the most important cake”, whether it be for the person hosting the party or the birthday celebrant. To ensure that every cake and dessert lives up to its role once it leaves the bakery, the employees of Dessert Gallery strive to make every confection the best. So whenever Sara sees a review of her desserts that is less than satisfactory, she takes it personally, even after thirty-three years in the industry.
During the holiday season, Sara is always wondering if her desserts are making a difference in the recipient’s holiday or if everyone likes the desserts. She can’t help it. Her desserts are her passion, and she knows what a difference good cake makes for an event.
The employees of Dessert Gallery also add to the business’s uniqueness. Sara deliberately hires immigrant workers, because she finds them to be so inspiring and hardworking. She admires their journey and search for a better life and wants to show her encouragement of their accomplishments, especially in these times. Her employees’ backstories make Sara think about her immigrant roots and the circumstances she was born into.
While Sara may be a fifth generation Houstonian, her daughter Jennifer is a first generation American from her father’s side. Every day, Sara sees the hardworking nature that seems to come with being a first-generation American manifest in her daughter and employees.
They are going to a strange country with a strange culture and trying to raise a family without their own family at home…Just- what an incredible accomplishment.
Inside The Bakery
After a 2015 rebranding, Dessert Gallery is tres chic and sleek! White tables and chairs, touches of teal here and there, and an understated amount of purple are just a few of the new additions to the restaurant.
Every single dessert you see is made at the Dessert Gallery commissary. What is the commissary? The commissary is an off-site location that is 5,000 square feet with the Dessert Gallery offices. The kitchen there is 3,000 square feet alone and opens for baking at 6 in the morning. Inside the kitchen, there are several departments that work on different aspects of the desserts. Some departments include makeup, batter-depositing, and finishing. One department is considered “the fun one,” because it’s all about putting the sprinkles and finishing touches on desserts!
From the commissary, the desserts go straight to the retail store at 8:30 AM daily. Even though the Dessert Gallery opens at 11 AM (12 PM on Sundays), the employees are already setting up at 8:30. If you’re eating at Dessert Gallery, you might even be lucky enough to see the delivery of the desserts from the commissary which happens several times a day.
So, no, there is not a kitchen behind the Dessert Gallery counter!
Dessert Gallery Menu (And More!)
The most popular cake of Dessert Gallery is the Old-Fashioned Diner Cake, but there was once a time when it did not exist on the menu. Before it existed, customers would ask Sara, “Don’t you have a yellow cake with chocolate frosting?”. It’s such a simple cake that goes to show customers of Dessert Gallery like their desserts simple, homemade, and nostalgic. Almost 17 years ago, Sara finally added the Old-Fashioned Diner Cake, and it’s since been a cult hit ever since!
Another instance of an updated menu item include the Pokemon cookies that were created to coincide with the rapid popularity of Pokemon Go. You have got to try them all!
Moral of the story: If the customers request it, they will eventually be served their cake. That or you can order a custom made cake-the latest Dessert Gallery feature!
Dessert Gallery has only just begun its foray into custom desserts and has no intention of looking back. Sara hired an in-house artist that helps design the cakes because every custom order ultimately ends up being a work of art. Some seeking a custom order don’t realize the level of dedication and attention it takes to make a specialized cake. On average, a custom cake requires ten to fifteen hours alone.
Social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram are double-edged swords for the custom dessert industry-the pictures give inspiration to those wanting a custom cake, but the photos never seem to hint at how much effort is required to create these elaborate cakes. As a result, custom cakes are also pricey. Some customers are shocked when they see how much it costs to create the cake of their dreams; others are just ready to have their cake and eat it too. Every custom order is an artistic creation and has the effort and price tag of a piece of art. Sara says that going into custom desserts has been a learning curve for Dessert Gallery and its customers.
If you’re feeling guilty about only eating dessert, worry no more.
People are always so surprised when they find out we have a savory menu!
Balance out your brownie, cookie, and slice of Old-Fashioned Diner Cake with a salad or sandwich. You’ll feel better about the sugar splurge!
Over the years, Dessert Gallery has also created special diet orders. For instance, Sara has always served flourless desserts for Passover, and these desserts have become so popular they are now on the menu regularly. This was long before “gluten free” ever became a national trend. There is also a non-dairy cake and a sugar-free cake (both are special order). More than half of the desserts are nut-free. These desserts were all created years ago before there was a prevalent demand for them. Already looking ahead, Sara says that special diet desserts will become even more included at the Dessert Gallery in 2017.
Like Mother, Like Daughter
When Dessert Gallery first opened, Sara’s daughter Jennifer was turning five years old, so it’s almost as if Jennifer and Dessert Gallery grew up together. After a hard day’s learning at River Oaks Elementary, Jennifer would get to go to Dessert Gallery and have whatever slice of cake she wanted (eventually she moved on to the Brownie Batter Blowout Sundae). Fast forward to 2015, when Jennifer is in charge of the total re-branding of the Dessert Gallery. Dessert Gallery got a facelift, complete with a new logo and interior design.
Sara smiles when talking about how Dessert Gallery has benefitted from rebranding, but she beams when thinking about how the entire process was created and thought out by her daughter.
The whole effort was spearheaded by her [Jennifer]. I give her all the credit, because she did it all.
Jennifer continued working remotely for Dessert Gallery for a year and a half but left to attend grad school at NYU. While Jennifer is creative (she did reinvent Dessert Gallery, after all!), she is working with computer programming…like mother, like daughter, huh?
There are so many things that keep mothers and daughters connected. The older she gets, the more ways we’re connected!
It’s Not A Piece of Pie, But It Might Be If You’re A Guy
Sara has been a single woman in business for thirty-three years. She’s been part of CEO groups where she is either the only woman or one of few. When getting loans, she always has to give more documentation, because she is a single female business owner. For years, her father had to cosign loans. Because of how finance and business are for a woman that fits that description, Sara feels like she must always be a little bit better and prove herself more than someone who isn’t a woman. Has this dilemma diminished at all over the past decades?
Absolutely not. And anyone who thinks it isn’t a problem, well, they’re kidding themselves.
Sara Brook is a fifth generation Houstonian. She attended Bellaire High School and after graduating from the University of Texas, came back to Houston to create her first business (which led to her second business and her third). She’s seen her fair share of struggles, -her father says she has an honorary MBA from the school of Hard Knocks- but has also seen her fair share of sparkles. With 33 years of business, Sara Brook is still in love with it and desserts and has no intention of slowing down.
So go ahead. Head out to Dessert Gallery, get a slice of Old-Fashioned Diner Cake and reminisce.