Chi Lives: Chuck Campbell says it with icing | Calendar | Chicago Reader

Chi Lives: Chuck Campbell says it with icing 

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If an image can be formed from batter, Chuck Campbell insists he'll bake it. A sample book he keeps on the front counter at Campbell's Cakes & Catering, which anchors a run-down commercial strip in Brainerd, shows cakes in the shape of a beer bottle, a crib, a pair of lips, a machine gun. "The gun was for some kind of gangster," he explains. "That envelope there was done for a guy who worked at the main post office." A podiatrist was delighted by an outsize toe, and an employee at a mortuary evidently got a kick out of an iced casket.

Campbell did a Chucky doll from the Child's Play movies, with blood dripping from its mouth, for a police union official. "The next year the same guy wanted a cake with a rose on top. A string went into the rose, so that when he pulled it, out came a box with a diamond ring inside. That's how he proposed to his girlfriend."

Campbell has done a cake in the shape of the Soft Sheen corporate offices and a replica of the White House for Jesse Jackson during his presidential campaign. "We do Jesse's birthday every year. We did a guitar for B.B. King, a piano for Ray Charles, and a state seal for Mayor Daley when he was state's attorney." Campbell even has a $20,000 machine that can scan your picture into a computer and then reproduce the image in frosting.

Then there are the X-rated cakes. "We work from 52 different drawings," he says. Santa Claus taking a leak ("perfect for Christmas"), circus animals having intercourse, all sorts of human bodies. Trade is so brisk that Campbell started a sideline, gifts like a mug with a grip in the shape of a penis. "We got a lady who buys five or six of those mugs at a time. What for, I don't know, 'cause she's no young chicken."

He also does catering--chicken's the specialty--and sells party favors, occasion cards, and wedding accessories. If people want other wedding services--a photographer, flowers, a limousine--he refers them to other small African-American businesses.

The 54-year-old Campbell opened his bakery in 1970, armed with a cake recipe given him by Bob McNair, a mentor with his own south-side bakery. For a few years Campbell sold a full line of goods--doughnuts, sweet rolls, bread, and pies--but in 1975 he started to concentrate on specialty cakes. "The X-rated stuff came with one order for the body of a lady," he recalls. "I took a stab at it, and my head baker said it looked like shit. So he went with it, and the result was the body of a lady." Now patrons regularly arrive from as far away as Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Madison, Wisconsin. He says proudly, "Someone flew in from Houston just for one of our X-rated jobs."

Campbell's, 8915 S. Loomis, is open 9 to 5:30 Monday through Saturday, 881-1414. Eight-inch cakes, yellow or chocolate, topped with a simple "Happy Birthday," begin at $10. Complicated designs can run to more than $500.

--Grant Pick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.

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