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Let them eat cake

Bakers report a flood of orders following a lean 2020

Local bakery owners are feeling like the easing of pandemic restrictions has been like a celebratory declaration to “Let them eat cake!”

Rogue Valley pastry chefs and bakers say they’ve been inundated with demand for wedding cakes, graduation cakes, birthday cakes and other sweet treats.

When the pandemic struck, Sugar Rush owner Tracy Mancuso said, the sheer volume of canceled orders was like the proverbial “icing on the cake” in a world that was all but shutting down.

“When everything shut down for COVID, the phone calls just started rolling in. It was nonstop, people rescheduling or canceling, saying they had to hold off. It all happened in two months time, so it was pretty overwhelming,” Mancuso said. “I probably did three weddings last year, and I usually do 50.”

Mancuso, who lost her retail space during the pandemic, said she moved into a smaller kitchen and figured out how to provide contact-free orders.

Nearly as shocking as losing much of a year’s income, however, has been the “reopening of sorts.” With pandemic restrictions loosening, Mancuso and others say, a flood of orders has swamped local bakeries. Not only are all rescheduled events suddenly “back on the books,” she said, but 2021 weddings and an increased push to celebrate other events are rolling in.

“First off, they all rescheduled to 2021. They had all rescheduled for venues — and because Saturdays were already taken from the regular bookings that didn’t have to cancel for COVID, now we have a bunch of Sunday weddings … and we have Tuesday weddings … and we have Friday weddings.

“My 2021 weddings are trying to book and don’t understand how everything can already be taken. My regulars come in and I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t take on any more.’ I tried posting a list on my Facebook, of the dates I was already booked out, and it kept changing so fast I had to take it down.

“Everybody who didn’t get to celebrate in 2020 is going all out, doing something extra huge this year. They want cupcakes and cookies and cake pops. They want the whole shebang, because they couldn’t have it last year.”

Cupcake Company manager BeJae Mattheisen said the past year was a roller coaster, topped off with a huge loss in available workers.

“As a small business, sometimes people get excited that we opened up again and place orders, but then it seems we would just get restricted again and orders would get canceled. It’s just been this cycle,” Mattheisen said.

“And the employment benefits are so good now that I can’t find anyone that wants to work. When I do find someone, they want way over minimum wage, which is more than ... I can afford. We’re kind of just fumbling our way back from COVID, so it’s been an up-and-down situation, but we’re doing the best we can do.”

Dana Bosgieter, owner of Seize The Cake, said she’s tried to take the changes in stride and be grateful to still be in business.

“During COVID we got a lot of cleaning done, contracts printed. ... I tried to look at the positive. I had time to do things I normally don’t have time to do. I still ended up doing about 30 weddings, which was less than usual but still quite amazing considering it was in the middle of a pandemic,” she said.

“This year, we’ve got over 50 already. I had a handful of brides that rescheduled to this year from last year. I think this year it’s just exploding because we’re in a place now where it’s finally OK to have these events. Nobody knows what 2022 could bring, so everybody wants to celebrate while they can. There’s a sense of, ‘Let’s hurry up and do this.’”

Mancuso offered advice for cake-seekers and others. Patience, she said, is a virtue.

“The ones that have booked with me, for the most part, have been really nice and just happy to be able to have their big day. I had one person go a little crazy on me, and my husband had to deal with her,” Mancuso said with a laugh.

“There are the occasional calls from people who want a cake by tomorrow. I tell them, ‘The only person who can get away with asking me for a cake tomorrow is my husband. … And at this point I can’t even promise he’s going to get cake.”

Mancuso said she hoped the industry would continue to recover — as gracefully as possible.

“We’ve all been through this crazy time together, and we’re all doing our best. I’m just really happy to be able to be part of the celebrations again. Happy for our graduates and our brides,” she said.

“If you know you’re gonna need cake in November, order it now. Just order as soon as you know. And just know that everyone is doing the best they can do.”

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Sugar Rush owner Tracy Mancuso puts the finishing touches Monday on a wedding cake at her home in Central Point.