Meet the Baker Behind Philly’s Dreamiest Cakes

Dreamworld Bakes’s Ashley Huston talks about making the move from micro-bakery to cafe, the importance of representation as a Black baker, and her love of edible glitter.

Ashley Huston of Dreamworld Bakes / Photograph by Mike Prince

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.

You’ll know a Dreamworld Bakes cake when you see one. Exploding with color and festooned with flowers, fruit dipped in glitter, and maybe a mini disco ball or two, Ashley Huston’s cakes are celebrations unto themselves.

Huston has spent years developing her signature style, first baking birthday cakes for her family and friends before fielding requests from their family and friends. Then, in 2020, Huston turned what was then a casual side hustle into her micro-bakery, Dreamworld Bakes. By 2022, it had become a full-time operation.

Now, the baker fulfills custom orders and sells her cakes all over Philly at pop-up events and stockists like Riverwards Produce. And later this year, she plans to open her own space in Kensington at 2400 Coral Street, once home to Franny Lou’s Porch. Huston hopes to open sometime this summer and plans to operate as a cafe, bakery, and cake studio, offering savory and sweet breakfast and lunch items — and, of course, cake.

Here, Huston shares more about her plans for the brick-and-mortar Dreamworld Bakes, the importance of representation as a Black baker, and her love of edible glitter.

I was born in … Arizona, but my family was from here so I moved back when I was fairly young. I grew up in Philly for the most part — raised in different parts, mainly the Northeast and North Philly. I call myself a Philly girl for sure.

I learned how to cook from … my dad. He was like, “You’re gonna be self-sufficient and we both have to work,” but also food was an important way he connected with his mother, and he taught that to us. I wasn’t really encouraged to pursue food. It was like, “We cook food because we have food. Don’t get a job and do that — it’s not practical.”

Before I began my culinary career, I thought … I was going to be an artist but that was very impractical, too. I stopped [doing art], but now I see that baking is my art. That sounds cheesy, but that’s honestly the way I see it.

I went to school at … Temple.

I studied … finance because I was good at math and that seemed like what I should do. I was 18. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t want to do that.

When I graduated … I got into the Peace Corps and was a teacher for a few years in Tanzania. It was a great experience, but I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher either.

I did some hopping around after, and then I was like, “Okay, now you actually have to make a decision.” I was a little older, a little bit wiser, a little bit more independent, and able to speak with my own voice at that point. And I said to myself, “Just go, try to cook.” I came back and told everyone I was going to try to do this.

Dreamworld Bakes cakes / Photograph by Mike Prince

I got into baking because … I love sweets. I have a sweet tooth. My family also grew up with a lot of sweets in the house. Probably more than there should have been, so I always had that interest.

When I was in high school, I was always the one who wanted to make everyone’s birthday cake. I wouldn’t even say I was a cake person per se, but cake has always been what you use for celebration. So it was a great way for me to learn how to make things from scratch.

I started cooking in Philly as … a line cook at South Bowl then North Bowl and from there I found myself always going back to the sweet side. It’s more my speed. I wanted to learn more about coffee and working in a bakery or cafe, which was always my dream. So then I became a barista. I wanted to get a full map of the food industry. I was still making cakes on the side for people, and at that point it was just a hobby for friends and family. But from there, their friends and family would ask, “Can you make me a cake?”

Dreamworld Bakes began as … a little side hustle. Then, in 2020, I guess I had more time on my hands. So I was baking a lot more. That’s when I started Dreamworld as the brand. But even then I didn’t really pursue it until 2022. That’s when it became my full-time job because I was out of a job. I needed to make money. My relationship was ending. My dad had just passed. There were all these crossroads popping up in my life, and I asked myself, “What are you going to do?” And if there’s any time to try and see if this would have some legs, it would be now. That’s when I started doing more pop-ups and markets and using all my connections with people I know in the industry and being like, “Let me come sell cake.”

I have always looked at cakes as … an empty canvas to fill out. When I first thought about cakes this way, I thought, “Is this crazy? Am I putting all these crazy things on top of cakes?” And then I realized no, it’s not that crazy. People have always put plastic toys on kids’ birthday cakes.

One cake I’ve made that means a lot to me is … the Baby Spice. It was for my former neighbor, Emma, and my first-ever wedding cake. We did a few tastings, and I came up with this idea. It’s my most popular cake now. Everyone says, “I want that Baby Spice thing” — which essentially is a cardamom cake with passionfruit curd and mango chai mousse, and a tonka bean buttercream.

My vision for the cafe … is to expand what Dreamworld can offer. I want it to be a good place for the community — where people can come in and have breakfast or lunch and make good memories.

On the menu … we’ll have some sweet stuff, savory stuff, options to get you throughout the day, as well as cake. I want more people to be able to get Dreamworld on a regular basis. Eventually I want to do some Sunday brunch and some dinners as well — maybe not all the time, but a few here and there.

The vibe will be … very Ashley for sure.

Inside you’ll find … a green kitchen. I love green kitchens. I plan to have a really sick bathroom that you can do a lot with. I really like to liven up small spaces. Green tile, lime-washed walls. Dark walnut is up there in that color palette and then probably some sage green. I don’t want to do too much with it because I think my cakes do so much. I don’t want to clash with that. We’ll just wait and see what happens.

Ashley Huston outside of where she plans to open her brick-and-mortar. / Photograph by Mike Prince

Opening a start-up is … very tricky. I secured partial financing from the Business Accelerator Fund, an emerging CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution) based in Philadelphia, and still need more. Right now, everything I get in goes toward paying for overhead and tackling little things.

My advice to other business owners opening their own place … this is probably very cliché, but if you have a dream don’t give up, especially at the hardest parts. Nothing worth fighting for comes easy.

I feel like I’m very much in it now. I’m losing a lot of sleep and I’m crying all the time, but I feel like I’m so close. I think that’s when a lot of people choose to give up or have to for other circumstances. Hopefully, I don’t have to be one of those people.

My advice would be just to keep going. Keep trying. Get through the hurdles. Go through the different renditions of something. But also give yourself space, and probably get some sleep.

What excites me the most about having my own place is … realizing my dreams. Since I was a little girl, it has been my dream to have a place where people can come and enjoy my food.

I had a really hard life. I mean, I grew up in Philly. Philly is pretty rough. I grew up in the hood — the hood is even harder. It’s really hard, I think, for people to have the opportunity to chase their dreams and then be successful. So if I’m able to do that, it’s proof that you could get out and make something of yourself.

I want to be seen as … a Black woman known in the food and baking industries. There are definitely Black people and Black women in food, but I feel like society always boxes us into one group. Like, you have to cook one type of food. There’s an archetype of what a baker looks like and, no offense to anyone, but they’re white women. If you don’t fit that type, you’re not going to get something good. I want to show people that’s not true, especially other young Black women who are like, “I want to be a baker, but I don’t see anyone on the TV that looks like me.” That’s probably my biggest motivator.

Also, I really do enjoy feeding people. I love it when people say this cake was the best cake they’ve ever had. It makes me feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose here — like I was meant to cook.

My signature move is … throwing flowers and glitter on everything. When I found edible glitter, I said to myself, “Oh my god, this is dangerous. I’m going to put it on everything.”

See what goes into a Dreamworld cake in the video below and follow Foobooz on Instagram for more.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.