The Cake Bake Shop by Gwendolyn Rogers is a new table service restaurant at Walt Disney World that’ll likely open in 2024. It’ll offer sit-down dining and a bakery, replacing ESPN Club at the BoardWalk. This post shares details about what’s on the horizon, including current construction photos. (Updated January 29, 2024.)
Per Walt Disney World, the Cake Bake Shop is one of many additions as part of a major reimagining of Disney’s BoardWalk Inn. Over the next few years, Walt Disney World is adding and reimagining elements of the beloved turn-of-the-century promenade and inside the Deluxe Resort, including a charming new lobby design, nearby coffee bar, delectable dining options, refreshed guest rooms, and other special touches.
The Cake Bake Shop Restaurant will offer both savory and dessert menus, along with afternoon tea service, in a whimsical atmosphere that complements the magic of the idyllic charm of Disney’s BoardWalk Inn that guests know and love. This new concept will serve up storybook sweet treats and dreamy desserts, as The Cake Bake Shop by Gwendolyn Rogers makes a “seaside splash” at Disney’s BoardWalk.
Since the original announcement, Walt Disney World has released new concept art for the Cake Bake Shop, and how its exterior will be redesigned as it takes shape from the closed ESPN Club. As shown in this concept art, there will be two entrances.
The existing entrance will become the bakery, and another will be added for the restaurant. In addition to that, large french doors will open to the outside, keeping the space light and airy–a stark contrast to the ESPN Club.
January 29, 2024 Update: The Cake Bake Shop by Gwendolyn Rogers was previously slated to open late last year, but updated its official website to now simply says that it’s “Coming Soon.”
This should be of absolutely no surprise to anyone who has watched construction “progress” (and I use that term very lightly) on the Cake Bake Shop over the course of the last year. This project has somehow moved even slower than CommuniCore Hall in EPCOT, which is impressive, in a way.
The Cake Bake construction photos in this post are new as of late January 2024, and there’s not much difference as compared to ones from 6 months ago. The structure of the former ESPN Club has been taken down to the studs, and the cupola atop the building has been entirely rebuilt. The process of enclosing the building is now starting to begin.
In Disney Parks Official Opening Timelines vs. Predictions, we indicated that there was no chance that the Cake Bake Shop would open last year, and that the most likely target is now Summer 2024. Honestly, if the current pace is maintained, it wouldn’t surprise me if it opens in Late 2024 or even 2025.
Presumably, they’ll speed up the pace at some point, but it’s been anemic for the last year or so. At this point, I wouldn’t count on dining at the Cake Bake Shop on your 2024 Walt Disney World vacation if you’re visiting in the first half of the year.
Part of me wonders if there’s an issue funding the project or some sort of impediment to finishing. Labor shortages for construction projects in Central Florida does remain an issue, so perhaps that’s it? From everything we’ve heard, the Cake Bake Shop’s current locations in Indianapolis are money-printing machines, and it seems like this will be a smash success.
On a more positive note, the company led by Gwendolyn Rogers just completed a new 31,200-square-foot commercial bakery in the Trinity Industrial Park in Osceola County, per GrowthSpotter. The offsite bakery is critical to the Cake Bake Shop, and is the only way to produce the volume of baked goods necessary for the restaurant while ensures quality. The BoardWalk restaurant kitchen will focus solely on the savory menu items.
The Cake Bake Shop is best known for its colossal 3-layer cakes, each of which takes up to six hours to complete because they’re all hand-stacked, hand-decorated and hand-cut. The Cake Bake Shop sells 12 varieties each day. Due to the number of cakes, anticipated volume of the BoardWalk location, and labor-intensive nature of the desserts, the commercial bakery was necessary. Perhaps Rogers first focused resources on the commercial bakery, and now attention will be redirected to the BoardWalk restaurant?
We’ve also heard from family and friends who have dined at the Cake Bake Shop in the last couple of months, who have been told that various servers and other staff at the Indy locations are part of the opening team for the Cake Bake Shop at Walt Disney World. This is good news because there are also labor shortages facing restaurants around Orlando; at the very least, having an experienced opening team means the turnaround time from having construction finished to actually opening is shorter.
In any case, hopefully construction speeds up and the Cake Bake Shop opens by Summer 2024. We can’t wait to eat here!
Whenever Cake Bake Shop does open in 2024, it’ll face a little less competition on the BoardWalk. Big River Grille & Brewing Works permanently closed in early 2024. First opening in 1996 with the rest of BoardWalk, the restaurant ended its nearly three-decade run this year.
Nothing has been announced as a replacement, which is unsurprising given that Big River going out of business was quite abrupt–they only gave employees a few days’ advance notice that the restaurant was closing. For now, Walt Disney World has added food trucks at BoardWalk for lunch. A permanent replacement probably won’t be revealed for several more months–maybe not even until 2025.
In actuality, it’s unlikely that Big River (a microbrewery) and the Cake Bake Shop would’ve been direct competitors despite both being located on the BoardWalk. More than anything, this just underscores how difficult it is for restaurants on the BoardWalk to fill tables as compared to counterparts in the parks or Disney Springs. Cake Bake Shop is “destination” dining, so hopefully it won’t have that problem.
As for the look of the Cake Bake Shop location, I’m of two minds about this exterior concept art for the Cake Bake Shop. On the one hand, the bakery entrance reminds me of a faux storefront of a high end shop inside a ritzy mall. That’s not meant as a positive.
On the other hand, the restaurant side softens up the blocky and uninviting exterior of the former ESPN Club, which never looked quite right as compared to the rest of the BoardWalk. (It was simply more familiar to most fans, since it had always been there.) I don’t expect this to be a perfect fit, either, but it should be better than ESPN Club.
Additionally, a permit was filed for the “buildout of the Cake Bake Shop at Disney” with work to be completed by Johnson-Lancaster and Associates, a company that bills itself as the “proven food service equipment team.”
This permit is actually signed by Gwendolyn Rogers, which is rare direct involvement at this level of a project. You don’t see Bob Iger’s signature on Imagineering permits! (Obviously, the Cake Bake Shop is much smaller scale–but it’s nevertheless nice to see personal involvement. BoardWalk has been home to uninvested celebrity chef concepts in the past.)
With this new table service restaurant and sweet spot on the horizon, the BoardWalk Bakery has become BoardWalk Deli, a “new” sandwich shop for guests to enjoy a bite along the water’s edge. This joins other food and beverage locations, like BoardWalk Ice Cream, which replaced Ample Hills (another BoardWalk venue that went out of business).
Inside Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, light and airy touches will reinvigorate the lobby, lounge, and guest rooms. Just off the lobby, a new coffee bar with artisanal beverages and quick bites will be available to-go or in newly refreshed seating spaces inside or outdoors.
In a perfect world, Disney would relocate ESPN Club to former location of the short-lived NBA Experience, giving the company’s flagship sports brand an even larger location–and one that’s easier to access for locals. There’s a lot from NBA Experience that could presumably be reused and repurposed, with the venue becoming a hybrid interactive experience and sports bar.
I would not expect that to happen–that move is simply too logical. More likely, Walt Disney World is satisfied with the number of small sports bars in other resorts (and large third party ones at Disney Springs) and ESPN Club will fade away.
Now that Big River has been vacated, perhaps Walt Disney World will opt to revive ESPN Club there. Stranger things have happened!
We are vaguely familiar with the Cake Bake Shop as it’s incredibly popular in Indianapolis, where we used to live. Neither of us have ever been there (it’s my understanding that it books up months in advance), but all of our friends and Sarah’s family rave about it. Locally, Gwendolyn Rogers is an aspirational success story.
In fact, between the time this news broke and we prepared to publish the story, Sarah has received multiple cake photo-filled text messages from family and friends, some of whom are not even Disney fans, who are excited about the news. Word travels fast in Indy, I guess. The Cake Bake Shop’s second location in Carmel, Indiana is enormous, so that should explain how they’re going to fill a space as large as ESPN Club.
Personally, I was hoping that would be turned into a themed escape room, but world-class cake shop is a nice consolation prize. I’m always looking for new and innovative excuses to eat cake, and this should fit the bill nicely.
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Excited for the Cake Bake Shop by Gwendolyn Rogers or will you miss ESPN Club? Think this reimagining will work with the hotel theme, or is it unnecessary? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Other thoughts or concerns? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!