Bella Dolce has a new bakery location on De la Guerra, and owner Eileen Randall Cook happily celebrates the realization of her longtime dream.
Paul Wellman

Eileen Randall Cook unashamedly says she’s proud to have made not just a man, but an 80-year-old man, cry. While offering her food at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s ARTwalk, she recalled, “He was just blubbering, eating my banana pudding. He kept pulling people over to my booth to try it, telling them, ‘This was like what my mom and aunt made, and I haven’t had it since they died.'”

Eileen Randall Cook
Paul Wellman

Of course, that her terrific desserts would move a person so greatly shouldn’t come as a surprise to area residents, as Randall Cook-a Santa Barbara native-has been making delicious things here since 1992. But the even better news is that her longtime catering service bakery, Bella Dolce, has just at long last-more on that saga in a minute-opened a downtown retail bakery and cafe. There, Randall Cook will be able to make and sell even more edible art, for, as she puts it, “The best part is the feedback. People are so excited and gratified. If you make a painting, one person buys it and puts it in their house. But if you make a wedding cake, 150 people get to enjoy it and talk about it.”

Randall Cook is ready to talk about the long process of opening the retail operation, too, a tale of losing financing three times in two years and working for months on a location (at Arlington Plaza where Renaud’s now is) that she and her husband and business partner Don Cook had to give up. “I’ve been comparing it to being in labor, but with a gestation worse than an elephant’s,” she joked. “You think you want to have a baby, and then you get pregnant and say, ‘My god, what have I done?’ And then when you’re in labor, you say, ‘I’m never going to have sex again.’ But when they hand you the baby, it’s all forgotten.”

Boston cream pie cupcakes
Paul Wellman

Randall Cook admits that owning a bakery had been a goal since she was 15, and was one reason why she trained not just as a pastry chef but as a full chef at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. She explained, “I had a well-rounded education, as it all kind of goes to the same place.” But then, for 10 years, she ran Bella Dolce as “basically a catering company-you had to know me, find me, call me, and special order.” People did, of course, as she’s made hundreds of wedding cakes alone throughout the years, but she still dreamed of a bakery “where everything wouldn’t have to be custom-made, and you wouldn’t have to schlep everything you made somewhere.”

“We didn’t start with a chunk of money, which is what you should do,” she explained. “We had a chance to get out and we did it, but my heart was broken as I thought that was my only chance.”

The Arlington Plaza spot seemed like a dream come true for her, as she claimed, “What could be better than to be in a neighborhood like that? It’s so Santa Barbara, and you look at the Arlington Theatre every day.” But things just couldn’t come together in the tanking economy, plus, “We didn’t start with a chunk of money, which is what you should do,” she explained. “We had a chance to get out and we did it, but my heart was broken, as I thought that was my only chance.”

Fortunately, the De la Guerra Street spot, formerly occupied by Saffron, opened up two months later. While others made proposals to rent the space, Randall Cook believes it’s hard to beat a bakery and coffee shop (she’ll be selling Green Star organic, btw): “You just say ‘chocolate,’ and people are there.” Ultimately, she asserted, “As painful as the experience was, it made everything stronger-the business plan, me. And this location is perfect, as there’s twice the space, and I love the vintage San Francisco look. It couldn’t be cuter.”

The avocado green mixer that Randall Cook used to make her first cake at age 7
Paul Wellman

True enough: It’s an enchanting spot filled with Randall Cook’s own collection of vintage kitchen items, from what she thinks is a 1948 Magic Chef stove (in pristine condition) to a collection of hand-mixers, including the avocado green one with which she made her first cake at age seven. But it’s not the charming location that will bring people, it’s Randall Cook’s scrumptious cookies, cakes, and cupcakes-don’t miss the amazing pineapple upside-down and maple bacon varieties. “It’s amazing what people are used to in baking now,” she lamented. “They can’t even pronounce the ingredients. Look at the ingredients on a cake mix and you realize they’re scientifically made to be moist. What I do is take a really simple base and twist that to make it mine, using good ingredients like local and organic Meyer lemons, for instance.”

She insisted, “I absolutely eat, sleep, and drink pastries and chocolate. People always ask, ‘What’s your favorite?’ when I have five items at a foodie event to sample, and I reply, ‘This is as far as I can narrow it down : today.'”


Enjoy much beautiful desserty sweetness at Bella Dolce, located at 113 West De la Guerra Street. Call 962-CAKE or visit


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