Brea Gladney pours gold over a fresh batch of vegan fried chicken and waffle tacos. Her pop-up bakery, Treats by B, splits time between Portland and the Bay Area. (Alan Chazaro)
¡Hella Hungry! is a column about Bay Area foodmakers, exploring the region's culinary cultures through the mouth of a first-generation local.
It doesn’t get more saucy than Brea “Slim” Gladney. Walking into her family’s home in San Leandro — where they relocated to from East Oakland over a decade ago — you’ll find the Warriors game playing in the background and all the playerish vibes of someone who cooks up game for a living. Though Gladney currently resides in Portland, Oregon, she regularly returns home to tap in with her folks and distribute baked treats at various pop-ups, smoke shops and private functions through her business, Treats by B.
What makes Gladney distinctive is her passion and creativity in the kitchen: peach cobbler dessert tacos, sherbet ube geode cakes, raspberry cupcakes with rose flower frosting, vegan fried chicken and waffle tacos, cannabis-infused cinnamon buns and more — often with gold flakes sprinkled generously as a garnish. For her, baking and cooking are artforms, which she often freestyles in the moment to make original, one-off goodies. Everything she makes is from scratch — the dough, frosting, butter, oils — and she customizes every detail to the customer’s needs and preferences (see: cannabis optional).
Like one of early her influences, Too $hort, Gladney is “out the trunk” with it, selling from inside her family’s home, posting up with tents in driveways and pulling up to smoker’s events to feed anyone who might have the munchies. “I’m on my Girl Scout shit,” Gladney says about the informal ways she distributes her baked creations to Bay Area treat-seekers.
During my visit to her family’s home, Gladney’s mother — a supportive advocate whom Gladney credits as her “number one fan, for sure” — was nearby, providing space and encouragement. It’s clear that happiness and homestyle comfort are major ingredients in anything made by “Slim,” whose pop-up business has been going for nearly a decade. Here’s what this foodmaker had to say about her journey so far.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
KQED: How did Treats by B start out and what sort of goods do you serve?
It’s a business I started almost 10 years ago, a platform for myself to express my art through food. I have a bit of an art background — I’ve always needed some crayons or watercolors and paper, and I also went to the Art Institute of San Francisco for photography. I’ve always needed to do things with my hands, including baking and cooking.
[Treats by B] is basically founded on me creating outlandish things. I’m a kitchen creative. There isn’t really one thing that I’m limited to doing. I bake, cook, make medicinal products, butter, oils, infusions. It all goes hand in hand and is made from scratch. There’s no limit to what I might make and I’m finding ways to merge things: the chicken and waffle taco, for example. It’s savory and sweet, and dabbles into all my interests.
Edibles also go organically with my treats. I’m intrigued by that industry. I’ve been doing it for about eight years, and it gives me more opportunities to explore. My best friend encouraged me to turn what I do in the kitchen into a business and people started asking me about it, so I hit my cousin up who does graphic design. I’m from the Bay but this kind of got started in LA, when I was visiting down there. My cousin came up with the name, logo and pattern. Here we are a decade later with the same thing.
What’s your approach to baking? It seems fluid and laid-back.
It’s a freestyle for me. I don’t always know what I’m going to make. People ask me to make custom cakes. That’s my style. I like to give people something they might not always see. I’m not saying I’m the greatest cake decorator in the world, but I’m me. Depending on the day and what I have available, I’ll make something off that. Maybe I have matcha, crystals and glitter, so I’ll turn that into something. It’s more fun that way. It doesn’t limit me or give me strict boundaries. When you’re dealing with people’s orders, I like the idea of being custom, making it personal, because I can’t really make a mistake. If something has exact specifications, then there might be disappointment when they get it. I don’t want people to expect something that isn’t me.
You’ve lived in Portland for three years now, but you return to the Bay often. What’s it like to run your business from two cities, and how do you balance that?
It works together, especially when it comes to business. Both places can be booming, but if one is doing better than the other, it gives me a chance to move around. I move where the money is. I initially got up to Portland after visiting a friend. I was making banana loafs at the time and thought it would be a good fit in Oregon after seeing someone already had theirs in store. Within six hours of me being there I was already smelling opportunities. We went around to different food carts and I noticed what was going on in the food scene. I felt like I had a chance to do something different and add to it all. I moved in after that.
My business is heavily based off my social media. Being on a budget and trying to start a business, I was limited with resources, which made me more creative in the kitchen. A lot of my meals might’ve looked extravagant, but they were basic ingredients with a creative touch. Being in two places just helps me spread what I do, which I prefer.
You’re focused on plant-based options and vegan ingredients. What are the benefits of veganism and how did you first get into it?
My good friend Lola has been vegan since high school. She pushed me in this direction. In 2014, I was on Facebook, and she posted a flyer about Vegan Street Fair in LA. I wanted to do it, so I reached out to the coordinators and got set up with that. From there I got accepted and paid my fee. I had never made anything vegan or plant-based in my life, but we’ve figured it out (laughs). I started small, but eventually was making stuff for events for thousands of people in my home kitchen. I’ve made over 2,000 vegan cupcakes in a week using my home oven. I’d go with a hundred cases of 12-count cupcakes to events. That’s a lot for one person in that type of kitchen. But I was passionate. Raspberry, banana, strawberry, green tea, coconut almond. I did it all through trial and error. That put knowledge in my belt for plant-based products. During that time, I started altering my own diet and went vegan myself.
Everything really kicked off and I decided to do strictly plant-based when I moved to Portland. I got connected with Jewan, from Plant Based Papi, and started doing vegan desserts there. The product was softer, sweeter, more moist. It even looked and tasted better. Plant-based products are slightly more expensive, but they last longer. Oat milk can last for about two months. Dairy milk has a short shelf time. It expires faster. Even my butter and frostings, the consistency came out better. I didn’t even tell my customers initially and they were raving about it, so I eventually told them (laughs).
You do lots of custom, one-off treats — like your Pink Champagne Geode Cake (pictured above). Describe some of your favorite items and clients. What makes your creations distinct?
There are two types of cakes I make: buttercream cakes (frosting) and fondant (fun 3D molds). A favorite client I make cakes for is Galore. They’re based in LA. I got connected with them a few years ago, I just reached out and they were totally with it. They gave me free range. They’d throw parties and some celebrities would attend, and they’d ask me to make cakes with people’s names on it and stuff like that. I’d make them in the Bay and take them all the way to LA for a weekend. I’ve worked with outlets like BET. I also did something for Victoria Monét’s birthday after she worked with Ariana Grande, who attended. I made a “Burn Book” cake from Mean Girls and cupcakes that resembled Victoria’s work. I went to the party and met them both, and they were very happy with the product.
Oh, I’ve also shipped cakes from Portland to the Bay. Shipping cakes is a thing (laughs). I wasn’t sure how to make it work at first. This one cake took two full days, hand painted, and I used an airbrush to incorporate pieces that reflected the person’s lifestyle. They wanted guns, money, an eightball, an ashtray and other symbols about where they’re from. They had recently lost a family member, so I added that as well. That’s about $1,000 total. With shipping, labor, ingredients. It’s not cheap.
You’re heavily rooted in the Bay Area, having worked with local figures like Juan Toscano-Anderson before. What’s your connection to the culture here, beyond even just food?
Juan was a client. His mom’s 50th birthday was on June 1, and I was on my way to Portland that day. I finished the cake for his mom right before leaving. She really loved that cake. Overall, I’ve just been around a lot of people here over the years. I used to do photography, so that helped me meet people in the scene. That got me out to shows for people like SchoolBoy Q, when I was working at Converse. I was shooting events and meeting people around the Bay. Shooting shows was a way for me to attend events on a different side of things. I’ve done 2 Chainz at Fox Theater, SZA in the City, Ab Soul, music festivals. It paid off because now I take all my own photos of the food. Staging, lighting, all that.
What struggles do independent foodmakers like yourself face? Do you have advice for anyone interested in this profession?
My 10-year-anniversary is next year. I started this business at my mom’s house in San Leandro. I was talking to my best friend one day, thinking about doing an event in LA. I had no idea about anything. It was about $700 for the permits. That’s when I started to learn about the different types of permits you need.
As far as running a business, you need to get some things to get started, but it wasn’t that complicated. I needed a kitchen, and I found out that I don’t necessarily need all the extra stuff to start off. I share that with other bakers who wanna start. If you go to the health department, you can get started from your house. You can get a permit based on the products you make and income you get. Since then I’ve been doing this for a long time, just trial and error. Self taught. And with my mom as my biggest sponsor.
What events do you have coming up? Where can people find you?
A lot of this happens here in the Bay, but also in Portland. When I’m in the Bay, just follow my posts and reach out. I’ve been doing The Fire Market a few Saturdays a month recently. You can get things there that are [cannabis] infused, or not. I really appreciate that market. It’s very organized, a safe space and a lot of fun. It’s a community. We look out for each other, and it gives me a sort of home base outside of my home. Sometimes you have to be careful about letting everyone know where you’re at, especially as a woman.
Honestly, my goal is to never open anything full-time; I do not like the public like that (laughs). I like creating products and putting it out on my own timeline. I do have cookies that are plant-based, and those are really shipping friendly. You can get things like that at any time. Or you can make requests, and that’s cool, and that’s where the custom orders come in.
I love pop-ups, too. It’s kind of like a shoe release, and I post on my website where and when to get it. If you catch me, you catch me (laughs). I’ll have something really nice for you though. I'm currently working on a Cookies ’n Ube cake for my next event.
Treats by B is available online. Gladney's next Bay Area appearances will be on Friday, Oct. 28 in San Leandro and Saturday, Oct. 29 at The Fire Market in East Oakland. Message her for address information, future events and shipping queries.
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