Internationally renowned Lady M, a boutique bakery known for its multilayered cakes made of crepes, is making its way to San Diego County.
The company, which first opened in 2001 on the upper east side of New York City, has grown to more than 60 sites with 1,500 employees around the world, and plans to open its first San Diego area location this fall.
Lady M will set up shop in Westfield University Towne Centre, where Godiva chocolatiers had its space.
The bakery is known for its Mille Crepes cake, which alternates 20 layers of French crepes with soft cream. The mille cakes come in various flavors – including tres leches, tiramsu, pistachio and chocolate. It also has other specialty cakes, including a “green tea checkers” cake that when cut, resembles a checkerboard on the inside.
“We take a lot of pride in the uniqueness of our cakes and pay attention to flavor combinations and presentation,” said Lady M CEO Ken Romaniszyn. “I like to say that one of my favorite things is the saying, ‘You’ll always remember your first Lady M.’ It’s all about the sensory moments.”
Lady M has been in Irvine since 2016 and has a bakery on West 3rd Street in Los Angeles as well as a factory in Culver City, but there are only three other locations throughout the rest of California.
During the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Lady M’s delivery servicers Federal Express having some challenges, Romaniszyn said he and his wife, Sumera, had to pick up some of the slack.
Romaniszyn, who recently moved his family to Las Vegas but was living part time in New York and part time in L.A. in 2020, said the couple would drive down to San Diego for Lady M cake deliveries far more than they had ever anticipated.
Many San Diegans Fans
“We had a lot of orders in San Diego,” Romaniszyn said. “FedEx was having issues and our cakes were not being delivered on time. So, what we ended up dong was delivering the cakes ourselves. We’d get in our SUV with coolers, wrapping the cake boxes in blankets and using dry ice, whatever it took.”
Romaniszyn said during the pandemic, people weren’t venturing out of their homes while at the same time many Lady M’s had to follow government mandates and close their doors to in-person clients.
There was a large demand for Lady M goods, particularly in the area around UTC, he said, “and that really opened up our eyes.”
He said the San Diego area store expects to employ about a dozen people.
Kevin Camarena, the company’s construction manager and designer, also played delivery driver during the pandemic. Camarena, based out of both San Gabriel and New York, recalled the number of San Diego County orders hovering in the 40 and 50 range per day during the summer of 2020.
“While Ken and Sumera were doing deliveries to San Diego, I was delivering to Los Angeles and Orange County,” Camarena recalled. “That’s how we spent our summer.”
Camarena said he’s always been a fan of UTC, and that the demographics of the area as well as mall stores like Gucci and Louis Vuitton being there will make for the kind of neighbors Lady M can succeed with.
“We see foot traffic in the mall as a very good generator for revenue,” Camarena said.
He said the current façade of brown panels will be switched out to “Lady M standards,” although the trademark heavy-on-milky white store colors will probably not manifest itself at UTC.
“Every store is white there,” he said. “It would drown us out.”
Camarena said his favorite Lady M menu item is the checkers cake, but that is also a fan of the mimosa and sponge cakes.
Romaniszyn, on the other hand, said his No. 1 Lady M choice is strawberry shortcake. He said it reminds him of summers spent eating homemade strawberry shortcake with his grandmother, who lived in Japan.
The son of a Japanese mother and a Ukrainian father, both restaurateurs, Romaniszyn has deep roots in Southern California. After his family left Pennsylvania, he grew up in El Toro and graduated from UCLA with a degree in international economics.
Romaniszyn said he grew up a “restaurant brat” and was working in restaurants “since I could walk.” He said growing up in the food business with “the hospitality gene I tried to deny,” he promised himself he wouldn’t go the restaurant route.
It almost worked.
Working in sports marketing, technology and financial fields after college, he moved to Hong Kong for 12 years. He returned to the U.S. in 2008 when he said his mother, an investor in the original Lady M business, said the company needed help.
By 2009, he was running Lady M, and had made peace with that ever-present “hospitality gene.”
“Cakes make everybody happy, so now I like to say, ‘I’m in the happy business,’” Romaniszyn said. “We’ve had a very fortunate run making a product that makes people happy and keeps them coming back for more. I’m very fortunate that we’ve been able to expand all over the world.”
Lady M Boutique
CEO: Ken Romaniszyn
HEADQUARTERS: New York City
CONTACT: (212) 452-2222
NOTABLE: Lady M was started by Emi Wada as a wholesale bakery delivering Japanese-style cakes to restaurants and hotels in New York.