At some point in the last century, craftsmanship fell out of fashion. Handmade goods have had something of a renaissance lately, but Kim Yelvington, owner and pastry chef at Chocolate Pi Vintage Confectionery, yearns for the days when every neighborhood had its own butcher, carpenter and cobbler. With her new location on Florida Avenue, she hopes to help recultivate a culture of craftsmanship in Seminole Heights.
“Every neighborhood needs its own bakery,” Yelvington says. “Baking is almost a lost craft. It’s a patient process. It’s not all glamorous like you see on the Food Network.” But, she says, the final product pays off.
A longtime Tampa favorite, Chocolate Pi opened the doors to its new location in February, serving cakes, pies, coffee, ice cream and other sweets. Chock full of salvaged goods — tables and chairs from British pubs, shutters from Clearwater’s historic Belleview-Biltmore Hotel — the bakery might be mistaken for an antique furniture store if it weren’t for the congregation of colorful macaroons lining the counter. Traditional flavors like pistachio share shelf space with more inventive ones like Fruity Pebbles. There’s something here for dessert purists and adventurous sweet teeth alike.
“I realize not every [flavor] can be beet and goat cheese,” Yelvington says, referencing one of her signature macarons. “But when you’re an artistic person, it can be hard to find that happy medium between being creative and making money.”
Yelvington has operated Chocolate Pi in one form or another for 18 years. She got her start in bakeries as a teenager, but it wasn’t until she visited Paris in 1998 that she decided to truly pursue her passion for pastry making.
“Once I saw what a pastry shop in France looked like, I knew that this is what I wanted to do,” she says.
In the years that followed, Yelvington frequently returned to Paris as an intern — or, as the French call it, a stage — at places like Fauchon, a popular gourmet food shop. Inspired by her experience, she opened Sugar Cube, a short-lived gourmet pastry shop in Tampa in 2001. “It was just too high end,” she admits.
The following year she started Chocolate Pi while working as the pastry chef at Bern’s Steak House, where she was employed off and on for two decades. Chocolate Pi served wholesale and wedding cakes primarily to customers in South Tampa. She later set up shop in various locations around town, including a stint at the Epicurean Hotel (a Bern’s property), which ended in 2018.
Shows like Food Network’s Wedding Cake Challenge may have taken the novelty out of elaborate cakes for the general public, but it was how Yelvington made her name. She’s baked thousands of cakes for special events over the years, at one point creating up to 25 wedding cakes per month. But, Yelvington says, she doesn’t miss the pressure of folding dozens of sugar flowers one after the other or delivering multiple wedding cakes on the same day.
Today, Yelvington runs the reinvented Chocolate Pi Vintage Confectionery with her daughter, Jade, an uncompromising coffee connoisseur who manages the front of house and serves as head barista. Jade’s coffee concoctions include latte ice cream floats and The Brushed Suede latte, “a galaxy in a cup” made with activated charcoal, vanilla and edible sparkles.
“Jade is as passionate about coffee as I am about pastries,” her mother says.
Yelvington’s route to Seminole Heights hasn’t exactly been smooth. She has relocated so many times in the past 18 years that she’s practically on a first-name basis with the movers. But in 2013, Yelvington bought a century-old bungalow in Seminole Heights and says she has since dreamed of walking to work. Now that home and office are so close, Yelvington says she’s here to stay.
“Seminole Heights epitomizes the movement of support for small businesses,” she says. She made a promise to the movers when they finished unloading her things at the new location.
“This is the last time.”