Apple Valley baker and Food Network alum Ann Alaboud faced her cancer diagnosis—in and out of the kitchen.
Apple Valley baker Ann Alaboud has a resumé full of accolades. Just in the past few years, she appeared on Food Network baking competition shows like The Big Bake and Cake Wars (which she won in 2016), and she makes regular appearances on best-of lists in the local and national wedding industry. “I’ve been baking since I was 8 years old and professionally since 2014,” says Alaboud, who grew up in Eagan. “I loved baking with my grandma, so it has always been a memorable activity for me. My first decorated cake was for my own baby shower, back in 2011.” Alaboud has degrees in arts and business but eventually decided to pursue culinary training in Europe, where she honed her chocolate-making and cake-decorating skills all over the continent.
Ultimately, she and her husband decided to leave their corporate jobs so Alaboud could follow her dream: to run her own bakeshop. She opened Sweet Treasures in Lakeville in 2015, offering cakes and cupcakes for everyday eating and grand occasions alike.
Things seemed to be on an upward trajectory for Alaboud and her bakeshop. But in early 2022—just as she was readying to move Sweet Treasures from Lakeville to its current space in Apple Valley—Alaboud received a diagnosis that would change her life. She found out she had stage 4 adenocarcinoma stomach cancer, which had begun to spread to other parts of her body, and began treatment in April 2022. “Cancer has really given me that wake-up call,” says Alaboud, whose family and friends organized cupcake fundraisers and a GoFundMe campaign to help keep her—and her husband and kids—afloat financially while the bakeshop remained closed. “This has impacted my entire life,” she says, “as this business is our livelihood.”
Sweet Treasures has a few staff members who cashier and manage the front of the house, but Alaboud is still the heart of the baking and decorating operations. “If I have to get a procedure done, the shop just closes,” Alaboud says.
After the first part of Alaboud’s cancer treatment, Sweet Treasures reopened its Apple Valley location in summer 2022. It offers a rotation of a dozen signature cupcake flavors every day (from a total flavor portfolio of more than 279 seasonal flavors), including bestsellers like Raspberry Burst, Salted Caramel, Strawberry Lemonade and Peanut Butter Lava. There’s also a full-service coffee bar, plus macarons, muffins and more. Alaboud says the day-to-day interactions with customers help keep her spirits up. “A simple hello or a stop by for coffee brightens my day,” she says. “I look forward to every single order I make.”
When she’s been out for treatment, Alaboud has had to scale back the number of large, detailed orders—like wedding and birthday cakes—she can take on. She’s missed the creative outlet. “I enjoy baking, and I absolutely enjoy decorating,” she says. “It almost feels therapeutic in a way.”
Her artistic designs and ability to stay cool under pressure certainly helped her take home the prize in experiences like Cake Wars. “The most challenging part of competing on a show like Cake Wars is the limited time!” she says. “It’s one thing to design and create and another to execute. I’m used to having 20 to 40 hours for each cake project, but on the show, you’re only given five hours. There are a lot of moving parts to a decorated cake.”
Alaboud finds inspiration for flavors and designs almost everywhere, from childhood memories of holiday gatherings to suggestions from customers. “I find my inspiration from my own favorite foods and from asking my family to try out new flavors,” she says. “It’s definitely fun to make people happy.”
She’s planning to do as much of that as she possibly can, even as she’s had to give her body time to recuperate. “I’ve learned that my health is the most important thing, that I should stop and take a vacation,” Alaboud says. “I’ve not had a single vacation in the past seven and a half years—I only take Thanksgiving and Christmas Day off.” Going forward, she plans to intentionally close up shop for a couple of weeks each year, “so I can appreciate life a little more,” she says.
She’s also continued to dream about what the future holds for Sweet Treasures. “I hope one day we can open more branches across Minnesota,” says Alaboud. “Once I get back on my feet, I plan on finding the right people to run this one with me.” No matter how busy the business gets, there’s one element Alaboud won’t be delegating any time soon: “Of course, I’ll still make the wedding cakes and custom intricate cakes myself.”