Kyle Cuffie-Scott on the Perfect Quiche and Getting Philly to Talk About AIDS

The owner of Darnel's Cakes started the project as a fundraiser for World AIDS Day. Now it's a full-blown cafe with a mission to destigmatize HIV and AIDS and a possible second location in the works.

Kyle Cuffie-Scott at Darnel’s on North 3rd Street / Photograph taken and provided by Ted Nghiem

Behind the Line is Foobooz’s interview series with the people who make up Philly’s dynamic bar and restaurant scene. For the complete archives, go here.

Kyle Cuffie-Scott opened Darnel’s Cakes in the middle of 2020 after years of selling his cakes and pastries in regional farmers’ markets. Now, more than two years later, he operates a cafe inside an office building in Spring Garden, serving breakfast and lunch to office workers in the area. Kyle oversees the whole thing with a winning smile and an expert touch with butter that turns out some of the best biscuits in the city. I sat down with him to talk about the cafe’s mission, his struggles with quiche, and the future of Darnel’s.

I grew up in … Springfield, Massachusetts, and then I moved to Philly for college at Temple.

I got into baking … because I did two years of pastry school at Johnson and Wales before I transferred to Temple. It was fun. We had pastry classes, bread classes, chocolate classes, everything. But I didn’t want to really specialize, so I transferred.

A breakfast sandwich from Darnel’s Cakes — served on a buttermilk biscuit with a fried egg, cheddar, parm, and gruyere, plus sausage. / Photograph courtesy of Kyle Cuffie-Scott

The business idea came from … a fundraiser I did right after my cousin, Darnel, died from complications from AIDS in 2013.

Darnel was … from Georgia, and he loved to sing and was heavily involved in the church. I was just getting to know him as an adult when he died.

I first came up with the business concept … as a fundraiser for World AIDS Day at this cafe on the corner of 12th and Spruce. My friend was revamping the menu and I was kind of helping her out and I was like ‘Do you mind if I have a fundraiser here?’ And then Charisse McGill approached me about joining the Lansdale Farmers’ Market. And I realized that would be enough to live on, so I left my other job and started Darnel’s full-time.

I say we’re mission-driven because … we started as a fundraiser, but when I got into the farmers’ market I realized I could actually make a living off of it and leave my job. But we don’t raise so much money that we’re able to significantly contribute to the bottom line of a nonprofit. So I prefer to say that we’re mission-driven.

The mission is … to get people to talk about AIDS. When Darnel died, I was kind of like, “Wait, how did this happen? Why didn’t I talk to him about AIDS prevention? I’m the older gay cousin.” So that was difficult.

We raise awareness by … It’s about fundraising, which we still do some. We usually have one item that is a specific fundraiser for an organization, but we’re also a new business and trying to grow into something sustainable, so it’s not like we’re donating tons and tons of money. Right now, I’m more focused on de-stigmatizing the conversations around HIV and AIDS. We have HIV tests here, we can give someone a test discreetly if they need it. And also we just talk about HIV and AIDS, and hopefully that lowers the stigma a little bit.

Photograph taken and provided by Ted Nghiem

My favorite thing on the menu right now is … the quiche. It’s been challenging to make it the way we make it in a huge sheet pan, so you have to blind bake it, and for a while we were kind of underbaking it. You have to really push it to get a really nice crispy crust, but I feel like we’ve finally gotten it perfect.

The thing that has surprised me the most about running this business is … how loyal our customers are. They have high expectations but then they get so excited and they ooh and ahh over things. And being at the farmers’ market, I’ve gotten to know people over the years and made birthday cakes for people’s kids and seen them grow up and, like, transition genders and it just makes me so proud.

We’re going to grow the business going forward … by doing more wholesale and maybe opening another cafe.

I’m super inspired by … French bakers. There’s this new bakery [in Paris] called French Bastards that I love — they do kind of classic French baking with a modern twist.

My pastries are … not really French, but I take kind of a French approach because I loved that class in school. Like with my biscuits, for example, I don’t make a laminated dough like for croissants, but I do four book-folds when I’m making them, which makes them super tall and flaky.