Travelers Rest pastry chef finds sweet success

By Nichole Livengood, Contributing Writer:

Pastry Chef Holly Whatley watches the world wake up every morning. Before most have had their first cup of coffee, she is adding the final touches to the day’s pastry selections at Caviar and Bananas Greenville. The smell of croissants, almond cake, and chocolate chip cookies waft out of her kitchen. Even after decorating thousands of cupcakes, she still has to keep herself from dipping her finger in the rich icing before they make it to the pastry case.

Whatley had no aspirations of being a professional baker during her days playing basketball at Presbyterian College. She majored in Business and minored in Spanish but found joy with a mixer in her hand whipping up cookies and cakes for birthdays and “White Trash” for Christmas baskets.

As a kid, her mother taught her to bake, and Whatley learned that you didn’t have to wait to go to the store to have cookies. Whatley remembers she was watching Magic School Bus one day and they made a chocolate cake. “I legit wrote it down and my parents let me make it," she says.  It was salty and tasted terrible, but it was building her confidence in the kitchen.

“At 11 years old, I was chilling in the kitchen making a hot mess,” Whatley says.  She mastered her family favorite chocolate icing on chocolate cake.

After graduating from college she made a snap decision to pursue pastry at the Art Institute of Charleston, and for two and a half years post graduation churned out Ultimate Coconut Cake at Charleston’s Peninsula Grill. 

“We were baking, assembling, packing and labeling cakes to go out all over the world,” she says. She enjoyed the work, but didn’t think pastry would end up being a long term career. It seemed like an industry where you had to put in too much time, and there didn’t seem to be much upward movement.  She was thinking about a career change, and moved back home to Travelers Rest.

“I put my resume online emphasizing my business degree,” she says. Then, serendipitously, the phone rang with a cake order for a friend’s son. Whatley borrowed a mixer from Upcountry Provisions in Travelers Rest, but she received a lot more than a helping hand. Cheryl Kraus, who owns the bakery, inspired Whatley to stick with her passion. Not long after, Caviar and Bananas Charleston called.

Whatley worked at Caviar in Charleston for several years, and then returned home to help open the Greenville location as their executive pastry chef. Downtown Greenville had grown substantially since the days she and her friends from Travelers Rest High School would all pile in a car and drive all around Greenville County.  

“Back then you knew everybody. It was a small town,” she says. Now the empty buildings that lined Main Street Greenville are award winning restaurants, boutiques, offices and residences.

Whatley says Caviar and Bananas is the best thing that could have happened. She has the freedom to create, design and test flavors and products. She fills the case daily with Opera Cake, a almond sponge cake with dark chocolate ganache, coffee buttercream, chocolate glaze topped with toasted almonds (pictured above), Blueberry-Lemon Cake with lemon mascarpone mousse, lemon cream cheese and vanilla bean buttercream topped with glazed blueberries and candied lemon, and Peanut Butter Pie Bombe, a chocolate shortbread base with peanut butter mouse and chocolate mirror glaze.  

She’s pursuing a sweet dream, she never thought possible.

On the Web: Caviar and Bananas Greenville

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