A Minot couple has turned decades of experience in the food industry into a full-service catering and cake-decorating business.
Bella Catering & Cakes, which opened in February 2010, is owned by Kevin and Amy Ripley. Between them they have 25 years of catering and cake decorating experience to draw upon.
"It kind of was just a no-brainer for us to pull those two together from our backgrounds," said Kevin Ripley. "Amy has an extensive pastry and pastry chef background, and I have experience in running full-service kitchens, fine dining, hotels, stuff like that."
Both are classically-trained chefs and graduates of the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Scottsdale, Ariz., where they first met. Kevin has been a restaurant chef and executive chef for over 15 years. He was an executive chef for Redstone American Grill in Minneapolis and Chicago, as well as a corporate chef for J. Alexander's, overseeing restaurants in five different states. He also worked for Hilton Properties in Phoenix.
"The last 15 years we've been really submersing ourselves in pretty much all aspects of the hospitality field," Kevin said.
Amy was a corporate pastry chef for Hilton Hotels in Phoenix, and also a franchisee consultant for Cold Stone Creamery.
"I had about an 11-state region where I travelled to put quality controls in place, that kind of stuff; the corporate side of the restaurant industry," Amy said.
Kevin also mentioned Amy was involved in much of the research and development for Cold Stone's new cakes, ice cream cakes and cupcakes.
In addition, they both have business management degrees - Amy from Minot State University, and Kevin from Texas Tech University, which is about two hours away from his hometown of Midland, Texas.
The two travelled extensively during their time as corporate chefs, opening new stores and doing a variety of other things. Once they had their daughter, Bella - who was the inspiration for the name of the business - they knew they wanted to settle down and give her a stable childhood.
"This is the time, this is the opportunity, let's go back to Minot," Kevin said. "I think there's an opportunity there to do some things that were really kind of missing in the area, and I think that people over the last year and a half definitely appreciate the variety and the different spin that we put on things."
"We really always knew we'd be doing something on our own," he added. "From day one when we started our careers and started our education, that's what we worked for, and we really spent the last 15-plus years preparing ourselves for that."
Minot is Amy's hometown, and while being close to family was definitely a major draw for the young couple, there were other reasons they wanted to settle in the Magic City as well. Kevin said they lived in many different cities before having Bella - Phoenix, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Baton Rouge, La., right after Hurricane Katrina - and none of them compared to Minot when they looked for good places to start a family.
"Minot really shines as a place to raise a family and settle down and really get to know your neighbors, which is really hard in larger cities like that," Kevin said.
They left lucrative careers to move to Minot at the end of 2009, and decided to start their own business right away rather than continue working for someone else.
Kevin said they knew they could bring something different to the Minot catering scene because of their vast experience. Bella has no set menus; everything is custom-created for each event. He noted they have a very loyal group of customers who are all friends with each other, so a new menu at every event keeps things exciting and fresh.
"The client really has something that's special, uniquely made just for them," Kevin said. "It also helps because you're not seeing the same thing over and over again."
He also wanted to stress that everything is made from scratch. They don't even own a fryer or microwave.
Bella takes that same creative mind-set when it comes to cake decorating. Kevin said they make cakes that are every bit as amazing as those seen on the cake decorating show "Ace of Cakes."
"We really bring kind of a unique spin to the cake decorating world," Kevin said. "We go big, bold, beyond. ... Clients come to us with ideas - some of them are absolutely crazy, off-the-wall stuff - and we turn them into cakes."
So far things have been going well. Kevin said they had to stop taking reservations six months prior to graduation this year because they were booked solid.
Their customers seem to be enjoying the experience just as much as the Ripleys. Kevin said a lot of their clientele really like the big-city feel they get from the food, which is something that's not easily found in Minot.
"And that just comes from our experience from living in larger cities and doing those types of things," he said.
Their area of operation is quite expansive. Bella has done events in Bowbells, Westhope, the Bismarck area, and has even delivered a wedding cake to Minneapolis.
Another aspect of the business they are working on is a full-service restaurant. They had planned to open it at their location in Oak Park Shopping Center, but the Souris River flood has put those plans in flux. Bella is still open and taking orders, and can be reached at 839-0688. More information can be found on the website at (www.bellacateringandcakes.com).
While they aren't sure if they will eventually move back to the Oak Park location or go someplace else, the Ripleys do know they will continue running their business in Minot and plan to open their restaurant in the near future.
Although they've had quite a few surprises along the way - some good and others not so much - the Ripleys are already invested heavily in Minot and plan to be here for a long time. They love running their business and couldn't be happier with how things are going so far, the flood notwithstanding.
"It's been unbelievable, really. We've obviously not known what to expect, when you come into something like this," Kevin said. "I think that the amount we've grown and the short time that we've done it has kind of exceeded both our expectations."