Walking into Valerie Confections on Glenoaks Boulevard in Glendale is a multisensory treat. The delectable aroma of chocolate and sugar wafts through the air of the light-filled shop, and the eye is immediately drawn to colorful goods on display: ribboned chocolate boxes, floral- and fruit-topped cakes, and beautiful petit fours and truffles. Then a smiling staffer offers you a sample.
Above Valerie’s Fallen Fruit Cake with fresh seasonal fruit and flowers
Every part of this experience is intentional, says owner Valerie Gordon, a San Francisco native who has always loved the anticipatory feeling you get when entering a favorite bakery or chocolate shop. For Valerie, Fantasia Bakery in San Francisco’s Laurel Village was one of those places. So was See’s Candies—the sample you’re handed in her shop is a direct homage to that California brand. A box of See’s was omnipresent at holidays throughout her youth, from Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day to Christmas. Recreating the sense of joy that came with that box has become her life.
Her route to becoming a confectioner was circuitous. The glitz and glam of Hollywood drew Valerie to Los Angeles in 1998. She was a cinephile, obsessed with celebrity, awards shows and everything in between. As fortune would have it, her dream of being on screen extinguished quickly.
“There was something about watching them slice and eat that cake. It was so fantastical. What a moment of joy.”
“I was an actor when I arrived, and I realized soon after that I was a bad actor,” Valerie shares with a laugh. “I learned that I didn’t really like acting. I just wanted to be myself.”
Petit fours, a mainstay among the company’s confections
A gravitational pull drew Valerie to the kitchen instead. Her first job in LA was at celeb hangout Les Deux Cafes in Hollywood. She managed a staff of 50 and happily watched impromptu sing-alongs with artists like Joni Mitchell, Boy George and Grace Jones go down at the bar.
As wild as it was, cafe life also felt familiar. As a child, she spent a lot of time cooking and baking for her family, which included her parents and three older sisters. A latchkey kid, she would come home from school and bake from cookbooks. Eventually she became skilled enough to make toffee and other chocolate-based confections. She was partially driven by the visual aspect of baking, at one point even spending hours after school recreating the “perfect yellow cake” that transfixed her in the 1960 film Pollyanna.
“There was something about watching them slice and eat that cake. It was so fantastical. What a moment of joy,” she recalls.
Valerie with her husband, Stan Weightman Jr.
When Les Deux Cafes closed in 2004, Valerie immediately started recipe testing for her own shop in the apartment she shared with her husband, Stan Weightman Jr. (also a former actor). They launched Valerie Confections as a duo—she’d helm the kitchen and he’d manage the business. They were scrappy in the early days, hawking their chocolates wholesale to high-end stores on both coasts. Big early scores included Dean and DeLuca and Takashimaya in New York, The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica’s Le Sanctuaire.
Buoyed by those successes, the couple opened their first store on 1st Street in Koreatown in 2007, which included a teeny cafe front where guests could buy treats. They survived the 2008 recession by expanding their menu with pastries, jams, and seasonal dessert offerings and selling in farmers markets. Next came a second outpost in Echo Park in 2013, a full-service daytime cafe that still does a robust business with bestsellers like breakfast banh mi, smoked salmon banh mi and shitake scrambled eggs.
“Almost all of these recipes are things I make at home,” says Valerie. “It’s like I’m a perpetual home cook. I’ve just turned it into a business.”
As the business grew, so did the need for more space. The 1st Street location became a 4,000-square-foot patchwork enterprise as they took on adjacent spaces, carrying giant sheet pans out of one shop and into a neighboring one. Parking was a nightmare. Soon after a search for a new home base began, Stan stumbled on the perfect location in Glendale, and they closed the original.
The new shop was once an owner-operated bakery, which Valerie took as an auspicious sign. With easy parking, there’s space for a cafe/bakery, a sprawling commissary kitchen (with two walk-ins, she points out happily), and plenty of room for hosting events. A small house on the same lot is now their headquarters. That’s where you’ll often find Stan, as he manages sales to national chains such as Cost Plus World Market and Williams Sonoma. There’s a “garden,” where tables and chairs are surrounded by nascent passion fruit vines and vertical farm stands brimming with produce. Guests order at the counter and seat themselves. Among the menu items are crème fraiche scones with house-churned salted butter and lemon curd, tea sandwiches on house-made milk bread, quiche, ham and jam sandwiches, and a house-made granola bowl with seasonal fruit.
Valerie not only cooks at the new space; she teaches, too. Think experiential lessons on summer pies, cakes, chilled desserts and jams. Saturday afternoon teas in Glendale have caught on big-time. They must be reserved in advance, and they sell out fast. What’s included? An array of treats like those listed above. What’s not? Fancy tiered trays and doilies, typical of traditional seated teas.
“It’s intentionally casual,” Valerie says of the teas. “We’re taking the precious out of it. It’s supposed to feel modern, easy, come-as-you-are.”
Nearly 20 years in the game, Valerie is still drawn to the art of making unique and decadent creations. The Fallen Fruit Cake is one example: a three-layer vanilla bean cake with passion fruit buttercream crowned with seasonal florals and fruit. The Blum’s Coffee Crunch Cake is another. Valerie aspired to recreate the iconic cake sold by the historic Blum’s Bakery, which had locations across California (all closed by the ’70s). It took Valerie 10 or so tries to resurrect the cake, which features two layers of chiffon cake, a light coffee whipped cream frosting, and big chunks of honeycomb crunch on top. Her version is a bestseller, and she ships it all over the country.
“It’s such a unique cake—the texture, the flavor composition. There’s something completely wabi-sabi about it—it looks like the desert, and it’s totally imperfect. This, to me, is such a great lesson: Something doesn’t have to look perfect to be delicious.”
The celeb hang-out of the 80s.