‘You had me at whiskey’ is what I was thinking as the charismatic and charming duo that is more formally known as ‘The Brooklyn Baking Barons’ handed me their signature Honey Whiskey Cake to sample. I’m admittedly not much of a sweets person (I know, bizarre yet sadly true) but I am a whiskey kind of girl and a firm believer in researching what I am writing about so I took one for the road. A few bites later I was delightfully sinking into Honey Whisky Cake bliss, so when The Barons offered up a plate of their Caribbean Sand Cake during our interview this week, I certainly wasn’t going to decline. Further bliss ensued of course, but what really fueled my sugar high was the conversation that followed suit. If you’re a regular ShoreBread follower than you know that I LOVE a good entrepreneurial story, and boy do these guys have one. From their early days in their tiny kitchen in Brooklyn, to their move to the Eastern Shore to increase production, to their upcoming guest appearance on The Chew, I quickly devoured every piece of the story behind The Brooklyn Baking Barons, and I suspect you will too…
Chris and Tony got their start in – you guessed it – Brooklyn. The couple was trudging their way through the entertainment world; Chris as an aspiring actor and Tony as a freelance costume designer. Between gigs, the duo would often turn to the kitchen for a creative outlet. One particular year, Tony decided to be frugal and bake up a birthday present (if you’ve ever lived on a budget in NYC, you know all about saving a buck by making gifts…trust me, I know). “I said I would like a rum cake but not a rum cake,” explained Chris. What resulted was the Honey Whiskey Cake, which from the first bite tasted like gold. “I even said that this cake will make you a million dollars,” remembers Tony fondly.
Fast-forward a few months to Chris and Tony’s trip to a viewing (this time as audience members) of The Chew. The pair had the ingenuous idea of baking and bringing along several Honey Whiskey Cakes for the hosts and the staff to enjoy during taping. It was a long shot, as it’s not often that the hosts or the crew accepts culinary gifts from eager audience members, but the fates aligned and their cakes were accepted on the spot. “We figured it certainly can’t hurt to show up with cake and see what happens,” said Chris. The key was not to overlook the crew, pointed out Tony. “As a costume designer, I knew that everyone always forgets about us.” One thing led to another and before they knew it, Chef Michael Symon was tweeting, “holy crap…my best sweet bite of the year,” which was later followed by a nod from Mario Batali who exclaimed, “I tasted them, now I dream of them.”
If this is starting to sound like the pilot episode of a TV series, that’s because it really was one of those ‘made for TV moments’ for Chris and Tony. “It was unbelievable,” said Chris. “It was such a New York moment because it was one of those things that could only happen in New York.” Before long, The Chew’s Daphne Oz was ordering 30 cakes, one of which was destined for Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman. From there, the snowball continued, with Drummond passing along the good word to People Magazine, heralding the Honey Whiskey Cake as one of her “Gifts for Foodies” in the December 7, 2015 issue. Within just two weeks of the People Magazine issue, 3,000 orders had been placed. Expansion was on the horizon…
Chris and Tony are no strangers to Delmarva, or Maryland for that matter as Chris is a native of Howard County. Both have spent summers enjoying the Delaware beaches and Ocean View, where Tony’s parents own a home (and where Chris and Tony are now homeowners themselves). They knew their 500-square foot Brooklyn kitchen was severely limiting them – as Tony pointed out, “we couldn’t even face each other that’s how tiny it was.” A local connection put them in touch with Crack of Dawn Bakery in Berlin, which soon led to a larger and more accommodating space to bake up all of their delicious – and now wildly popular – treats. “We came down in October and did a test bake,” explained Chris, noting the importance of finding the right ovens for the job. “We figured out that we could bake our cakes at the same level in this kitchen and we started turning out beautiful cakes.” What’s more, what once took them an entire day’s worth of work in Brooklyn was now being produced in one round of baking in Berlin.
The transition from the hustle and bustle of city life to the more relaxed pace of beach living has been a welcome one for Chris and Tony, who have both enjoyed the outdoor adventures that Delmarva has to offer. Small-town life in Berlin is another part of the move that Chris and Tony have been relishing. “We really appreciate how welcoming Berlin has been,” said Tony. Becoming an entrenched part of the community has been a priority for the pair, who have plans to collaborate with several local businesses. The Baking Barons are also eager to one day open a storefront along Main Street in Berlin. Don’t worry local sweets connoisseurs, in the meantime you can order from their website. You can also enjoy the local’s discount, which includes free shipping and delivery (a $9 savings) by entering the code LocalsOnly when you order online.
But back to the heavenly desserts! “We wanted to be known for the Honey Whiskey Cake,” said Chris. As a result, they focused on their signature product for a year and a half before switching gears and introducing new products like the Caribbean Sand Cake. So where do they get their culinary inspirations from? In addition to both being from families with a sincere passion for food, the pair truly love experimenting with flavors to create something unique yet recognizable. “It’s all about nostalgia. We are trying to recreate a moment,” said Tony. “We find that in the world of dessert, people crave what they know and we try to tap into that by creating it and then giving it our own special touch,” said Chris.
Moving forward, The Brooklyn Baking Barons are focusing on expanding their brand, their product line, and their local presence. Look for a spice blend and a tea line in the near future, along with those local business collaborations that we teased you with earlier. Of course, their next big splash comes by way of their television appearance on The Chew (this time as featured guests!) on April 15, which will be proceeded by a local appearance on Ocean 98 that same morning.
From hopeful entrepreneurs sitting in the audience of The Chew to featured guests, it’s a Cinderella story to say the least for Chris and Tony, and one that isn’t even close to being complete (although I suspect ‘happily ever after’ is inevitable for these two). What is certain is that Chris and Tony will be calling Delmarva home for many years to come. “We are really excited to grow here,” said Chris. All I can say is I am excited to have them and their tasty creations in the neighborhood. Until our next bite…thanks again Barons!