Tracy Rogers and Carolyn Reilly purchased Sugar Blossom Bake Shop days before Governor Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order. It’s not quite the auspicious beginning they had in mind. So what’s it like to open shop during a pandemic when everyone else is closing? It’s sweeter than you may think.
Sugar Blossom Bake Shop | 204 Avenida Del Mar Ste. F, San Clemente | (949) 429-5555
Tracy Rogers and Carolyn Reilly are wildly talented cake artists. You know those show-stopping wedding cakes with delicate, gold-tipped ruffles and cascading flowers? And those impossibly adorable baby shower cakes with pastel unicorns and floating rainbows? They make that. They are masters of edible art that look almost too pretty to eat. For years they’ve created magical centerpieces for celebrations throughout Orange County. This year a little magic happened for them. At the turn of the new year, they had the opportunity to branch out from the cake design studio where they both worked, to open their own bakeshop in downtown San Clemente. It was a dream come true. Then Covid-19 happened, and they were stopped before they even got started.
Opening a business comes with all the feels— joy, excitement, worry, anxiety, self-doubt. Opening a business during a pandemic amplifies those emotions. And for Tracy and Carolyn, it forced them to reprioritize their mile-long to-do list in ways they could never have imagined. They found themselves applying for a small business loan (after being open for less than a month) and tracking down needed supplies stuck on a barge in Long Beach— all of a sudden, life seemed to be in a twisted game of freeze.
Back in early March, I couldn’t wait for their opening day. I knew they’d knock it out of the park. But then in mid-March, when Governor Newsom issued his statewide stay-at-home order, my chest tightened. I knew that so many of my friends in the industry would be devastatingly hurt. Tracy and Carolyn’s bake shop rely on celebrations and gatherings, and yet weddings and parties were already being canceled at a nauseating rate. Would there still be a need for cake?
And then, like everyone else, I found myself at the grocery store, peering into the dark regions of shelves where flour and sugar should have been. Turns out, people were baking … a lot. All of a sudden, yeast seemed as valuable as gold. I found myself exchanging text messages with friends that said things like, “The Cellar in San Clemente is selling yeast!” And, “Sprouts has flour, but you have to get there early because it sells out quickly.”
Social media went berserk with all things baked. My Instagram feed erupted with scrumptious images of cookies and bread and cake. At first, it all seemed a little absurdist. We were amid a pandemic, right? And yet, we all seemed to be eating cake.
The truth behind our collective sweet tooth speaks to the fact that cake is the ultimate coping mechanism. Cake making fills time in a visceral way that distracts us from the current state of the world in ways that not even Netflix can. The Atlantic’s Amanda Mull describes “stress baking” as a salve for ambient anxiety— it’s the great distractor.
But, not everyone enjoys baking, and certainly, not everyone does it well. And despite time feeling static, there’s still reason to celebrate and slice into a big, festive cake. Father’s Day is around the corner, graduations still need ceremony and celebration, and it’s always somebody’s birthday. Which brings me back to Tracy and Carolyn.
“We’ve been busy,” said Carolyn. “And that gives me confidence that everything will be ok. “More than ever, people want to create special moments for the people they love,” Tracy added, describing the sushi roll cake they made for an 18th birthday. His mom wanted to surprise him with something special to cheer him up for a not so great ending to his senior year.
It’s so true. Celebrating with cake is more important than ever. When I went on a “socially distant tour” of the bakery, I was surprised to witness a steady stream of customers. A mother and young daughter clad in homemade cloth face masks with kitty whiskers came in for cupcakes. “She’s been really good today and deserves a treat,” the mother mentioned. I imagined that they had just wrapped up a day of homeschooling, and their short trip to Sugar Blossom Bake Shop was the highlight of their day.
Shortly after they left, the chef from the restaurant next door stopped in to let Carolyn know that he was heading out early. That morning, the electricity temporarily went out at Sugar Blossom, and in a bad stroke of luck, their fridge went on the fritz as well. The neighboring restaurant offered space in their walk-in to keep their ingredients from spoiling. The camaraderie was heart-warming. People are still decent, I thought. And a sweet treat from your local bake shop is still the perfect reward. Despite the world feeling upside-down, I felt that everything was going to be ok at Sugar Blossom Bake Shop– and that’s not at all a sugar-coated premonition.
Small business owners— especially small business owners in the restaurant and bakery industries are resilient people who have an incredible advantage over bigger businesses. That advantage is the ability to quickly pivot, rethink, retry, and reimagine. Creatives, like cake-artists, are especially good at this. Any cake-maker can relate to a design element not working and having to fix it on the fly. Adaptability, a Teflon back, and an unwavering desire to live your dreams are prerequisites for those in a biz notoriously known to be grueling— pandemic or not.
For now, Tracy and Carolyn are using this strange time to get to know their customers, streamline their systems, and complete a remodel. Life returning to normal will be the icing on the cake of their dreams. And I, for one, can’t wait to celebrate— I know their celebration cake will be fabulous.