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Ken Stephens & MiraBella Confections: A Labor of Love

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/MiraBella Confections

/MiraBella Confections

/MiraBella Confections

    Weddings are all about love.  The happy couple professes their love for one another and the family and friends who love them as well. But there is much more than the wedding day that goes into a wedding. Choosing the location, the dress, the food, the photographer, or what color the flowers will be can be extremely stressful.  Those thinking of popping the question this Valentine's Day can rest assured that their wedding cake, if ordered from MiraBella Confections, will be a labor of love.
     MiraBella Confections is co-owned by Ken Stephens and his partner Alex Lovelorn.  Although the business is relatively new, open less than three years, it is steadily becoming known as the premier bakery for the most beautiful, elegant, extravagant cakes in West Michigan. According to Ken it has been a “wild ride.”
     Ken is the confectionary genius behind each of the cakes from MiraBella. When first approached by his mother to make a cake for his Grandma’s 90th Birthday party, Ken went above and beyond the typical Betty Crocker mix and produced a made from scratch chocolate cake with handmade chocolate pieces and frosting. Soon after, he saw a televised Cake Challenge and realized, “I could do that for a living.” Despite skepticism from his family and friends, he did it.
     Ken did not go to Culinary School or study under a pastry chef. He is self taught, studying with the help of recorded baking/cake shows every detail of the products and tools used in bakers’ techniques. Ken fell in love with cake making and is truly passionate about it; he stopped at nothing to follow his love and passion.
     Before baking, Ken had several successful careers. He worked for designer Kenneth Cole in New York City, and then moved to Michigan to be closer to his family.  He attended Grand Valley State University and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Master’s in Social Work. He ran a successful counseling practice for six years, but eventually got burnt out in the field. Ken took time off and began working as a nurse tech at Spectrum Health. While exploring his options after counseling, Ken met his partner Alex. Ken needed help moving an oversized extremely heavy coffee table that was only worth about $50, and Alex was there to help him. As the two men moved the coffee table to its new location, Ken felt that Alex was a good person with a good heart. They met over fourteen years ago and have maintained a successful loving relationship to this day.
     While Ken was working at Spectrum a co-worker’s daughter needed a wedding cake for about 250 people. Ken delivered a “very pretty cake, with lots and lots of flowers,” the first sale for MiraBella Confections, and the business was born. Realizing you cannot easily run a business out of your own kitchen, Alex and Ken were driving one night and spotted Main Dish Kitchen on 29th Street in Grand Rapids. Main Dish is a large kitchen where people come into bake meals to take home. Main Dish seemed like the perfect place with enough space and tools for Ken to bake. Alex and Ken inquired about renting space and two and a half years later MiraBella Confections is still at home at Main Dish.
     With his first sale and a location under his belt, Ken developed Mirabella’s signature style cake. He was thinking of a fake cake to put on display at a bridal expo, but instead created an edible over the top, elegant, high end, truly unique cake that no one had ever seen before. The signature cake was put on display and sparked quite an interest. Business really started to take off.
     From that first signature cake and a sole proprietorship, MiraBella Confections, 2661 29th St. SE, has grown in many ways. In the busy season (Spring/Summer) MiraBella employs up to twelve employees, though in the off season (winter) they are down to four. Ken and Alex feel that, together with the employees, MiraBella is more like a team. In their words, “The more we succeed the more they have the opportunity to succeed.”
     Even with the extra help Ken consistently works twelve hour days or longer.  Everything they make from MiraBella goes right back into the business. Besides the growing number of employees, MiraBella also has grown creatively. Currently Ken is working on a chocolate wedding dress for the Wedding Expo at DeVos Place February 19-20. The dress has an under-frame with a corset and skirt coming to the model’s knees. Yes, a real-life model will don this extravagant cake dress. The skirt is made of panels of chocolate with chocolate flowers, the bustier is made of chocolate with chocolate scrolling and tons of Swarovski crystals, the bouquet is full of chocolate roses and even the crown, bracelet and shoes have chocolate accents. All of the chocolate pieces will be attached with Velcro once the model is in the under-frame. In Ken’s own words he “loves the high from watching yourself make things happen.”
     Ken is definitely making big things happen.
     Although the chocolate wedding dress is sure to create quite a buzz in the wedding planning community, most couples don’t come into the store asking for chocolate wedding dresses; they want a beautiful wedding cake that represents them, thus a formal tasting is scheduled. When Ken and Alex got married they had a tasting from hell. They went to a bakery owned by a woman who resembled the “Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld more than an enthusiastic pastry chef. The bakery had tacky cake designs and they felt rushed and unwelcome. Given his tasting experience with Alex, Ken’s main concern is the client. MiraBella tastings take about two hours. Time is spent getting to know the couple and what they would like, then designs are drawn. After some preliminary designs, the couple taste from some of the MiraBella’s twenty five cake flavors and twenty different fillings:  Chocolate Passion, Pink Champagne and Almond Butter Crunch with everything in between. Finally, pricing is discussed. Ken is very clever with the timing of the price discussion; once the cake is tasted, customers can’t say no regardless of the price.
     MiraBella Confections has brought joy to many couples on their wedding day thanks to Ken’s beautiful cakes. MiraBella is more than a bakery to Ken, it is his passion and he loves it. When others doubted him and his ability he did not let their fears get it in the way of his goals and dreams. As Ken says, “Inside your soul you deserve it, fight for it, fight for yourself and don’t let anything beat you down.” Ken’s hard work, dedication and passion have paid off.  MiraBella is his passion, business is successful, and he loves his job. Personally he’d like to have more time to spend with Alex, more time to enjoy restoring their house and they would like to travel anywhere there is a bar and a buffet. Professionally he would like to gain national attention and open a store that is truly an experience with elaborate chandeliers and painted cakes on the floor.
     The next time you have a bite of wedding cake, savor it. That cake represents more than just a decadent dessert. It represents a couples’ love and commitment as well as the love and passion of a cake designer, especially if it’s a MiraBella.

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