There’s only one thing to do when your business trip puts you in Cleveland at 10:30 in the morning, and you can’t check into the hotel until mid-afternoon. Head for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Every year, King Arthur sends out crews to do traveling baking demos all over the country. We’re the kind of company that likes to develop relationships, and we think that by getting out and talking to current and future customers about baking, everybody wins. We learn, bakers learn, and everyone has a lot of fun in the process. This fall we sent teams of bakers from all parts of the company to New York and Texas. My mission was to teach the third week of the season: Independence and Akron Ohio, and two days in Pittsburgh.
It started outside Camelot, where Julie Christopher
(the organizer of these and many other events for King Arthur, including our Life Skills Bread Baking Program®, which teaches baking to middle schoolers) handed us our itinerary, our GPS navigation system, and the book that held all of the information we needed to stay on track. We promptly named it The Bible, packed it with our other luggage,
and headed for the airport.
Here’s the core of the crew: Tonya Gibbs, yours truly, (the owner of the well-used Subaru), and Frank Tegethoff.
Once in Cleveland, we had a couple of hours free, so we made a beeline for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the waterfront. It’s next to Brown’s stadium, and a cool windmill.
We had a great time, and can heartily recommend it as a destination to put on your personal bucket list. And you know what? Mick Jagger isn’t any taller than I am, and that’s 5’ 5” on a good day. At least that’s what his white jumpsuit was telling me. It was past the season for it, so we didn’t get to get into Johnny Cash’s bus:
But we toured the Springsteen exhibit and had a great time with the hanging hot dog
and Janis Joplin’s Porsche.
OK, now it’s time to get to work. We need to find a grocery store to buy the perishables we’ll use for our Sweet Dough and Pies and Tarts demos; get some snacks to tide us over for the week. (Our schedules are kind of weird on the road; we can usually get breakfast and an early dinner around 4:30 in the afternoon, but that’s it.) We’re always enthralled by grocery stores in other cities. There are fascinating technicolor baked goods to see:
We always go to the flour aisle to check out the King Arthur facings. King Arthur employee-owners can be found tidying up our facings whenever they go to a store, anywhere.
The Giant Eagle in Seven Hills yielded some items of particular interest. Those of you who remember my TastyKake blog about a scratch recipe to reproduce Butterscotch Krimpets won’t be surprised that I HAD to have a box of the Limited Edition variety called Pancake Krimpets. But we did try to behave, with the carrot sticks and fruit.
OK, about the Krimpets. Here’s the description: “Butter Flavored Cream Filled Sponge Cake With Maple Syrup Flavored Icing.” I’m writing this section of the blog on our second night on the road, and I have to confess that I’ve just polished off a package of the very same with my in-room cup of tea. They’re pretty good, but don’t pack the wallop of the butterscotch variety.
Here’s the van after the shopping trip. We still haven’t rendezvoused with the equipment we shipped to the hotel; later in the trip the van was literally packed to the roof.
On our way back from the grocery store we passed a simple storefront that gave all three of us whiplash: it was obviously a pastry supply store. Despite it being the middle of rush hour, we turned our van around and went back in. Here’s what it looked like from the parking lot.
While King Arthur is all about baking, we can’t always be all things to all customers. But when we find a resource like this,
we’re always happy to tell our customers about it. The place is called Tapp’s Cake Emporium. We introduced ourselves to the person working there, who promptly summoned the owner from the back.
What a paradise. Frank was loving the candy boxes. I loved their philosophy, posted near the cash register:
Al Tapp, who has owned the store for 30 years, came out and spent time with us, talking about the business. We warned him that we’d be sending people his way.
He said, “Anything somebody wants, I can order it for them.” So if you’re a candy or cake fiend, don’t be shy, get in touch with Al or check out their Web site.
Now that we had our supplies in hand, it was time to go find our demo equipment at the hotel. Then it was time for a good night’s sleep before the first day’s demo.
Next morning, time for breakfast, unpacking,
and setup. We were a little bit astonished to see a couple in the hotel lobby waiting for the demo that started at noon. They’d been there since 7 a.m. It was a little intimidating, really. We wolfed down some food, and headed for the ballroom to get to work.
This being our first set of demos as a crew, we were a little less “smooth” with our setup than we might have otherwise been, but the house banquet staff and the hotel’s chef were all amazingly helpful and nice. Frank and I are always comfortable working in hotels, since we’ve both put in our time in the back of the house. We did our best to bond with the hotel crews wherever we went. It wasn’t hard, because we travel with everything we need to hand off fresh-baked treats to them.
David Vaughan, one of King arthur’s regional sales managers, arrived to help, much to our delight. And with his help we got ourselves set up and ready. Tonya’s got the prize table ready to go
Frank is getting ready for the warmup.
This is the view from behind the table where I do my thing. We set up a video camera and project the demo on a big screen, so there isn’t a bad seat in the house. I wear a microphone and everything.
And then the people started arriving. By the hundreds. We ran out of chairs and had to get more. Showtime came, and Frank turned on the mike and warmed up the folks,
telling them about King Arthur, and about me. When I walked in, there were so many people that standees lined the sides of the room. Wow.
After I swallowed the butterflies and started talking about how to make sweet dough, I felt right at home. We do our best to make yeast baking less scary for people; a lot of times we learn from attendees afterward that the demo got them fired up to get back to baking, which we love to hear.
Later, when I started talking pie dough, I realized my rolling pin was all the way across the room, still in its hard-shell case. Frank never missed a beat: here he is, handing it off and saving my bacon at the same time.
There were a few glitches. We had some trouble with the video camera, which kept turning itself off every 10 minutes, despite trying every setting we could think of. Halfway through the second show, the lights in the room started randomly turning on and off. I looked up, said, “All we need now is the disco ball!” and soldiered on. But we were lucky here, with access to the kitchen, and we were able to bake the pie most of the way so people could get a look at it:
After we gave away a bunch of prizes, the questions started.
It was just prior to the holidays, and apparently half of Ohio’s population digs out the family recipe for Nut Roll around that time. We had lots of questions about how to keep the sides from blowing out (too much moisture in the filling creates steam, which expands and causes the sides to tear).
Frank fielded a bunch of chocolate and pastry questions, and I had a bunch of all-around queries to answer. Some folks brought their copies of our cookbooks for me to sign, even.
After the last question was answered, we packed up,
cleaned up, and crashed, since we had an early start the next morning: on to Akron, and the Firestone Country Club.
Wow. What a beautiful place.
Tiger Woods won here this summer. Yes, I know, but at the time it wasn’t controversial. We made friends with the kitchen staff, got done gaping over such things as the beautiful restrooms, and set ourselves up.
The people came in,
filled the room, and kept on coming. And coming. Tonya had to wear the monster strand of prize tickets to keep up with the line.
We added every chair the room would hold, until the crowd was standing room only: 392 people. We even rolled out our hard-shell plastic cases for people to sit on. Apparently some people who’d seen us the day before either put the word out to come and see, or came for the show they’d missed.
The evening class was almost as full: one of the early class attendees was a culinary school instructor, and she came back with her entire class for the evening.
Let me say this. When 300-plus people are watching you make food that may or may not have a chance to be cooked (we are, after all, assembling food in hotel function and ballrooms, not kitchens), they get anxious. Very anxious.
Tonight when I threw a very small handful of pie dough scraps in the trash, the whole front row collectively gasped. They WANTED that raw dough. So you can imagine what they thought of the idea of me sending an entire, beautifully decorated pie away; it was more than they could bear. But we only carry the one pie plate with us, and I would need it for the demonstrations in Pennsylvania.
Knowing we had a long drive to Pittsburgh, we were pretty sure we wouldn’t be around to bake the apple pie. But I also knew that no way was this crowd going to let me pitch the pie I’d just assembled. I’d bought some foil pie pans on our grocery stockup, and thought I’d try to slide the raw, filled pie from one pan into the other. No soap.
So I flipped it over into one metal pan,
then flipped it back into another one. Despite all good sense and reason, it worked.
Once the laughter and applause died down, someone in the audience called out, “What kind of pie is that?”
I said, “It’s somersault pie.”
Now that it was in a pan I could leave behind, we gave it to the hotel staff to bake and enjoy.
After the show was over we cleaned and packed again, and piled into the van for the drive to the next venue. This took a bit longer, since we were down to a 3-person crew; David Vaughan had other stops to make, and we hadn’t yet caught up to Amy Roy, who was joining up with us in Pittsburgh, where we were going to man a 10’ x 20’ booth at Good Taste! Pittsburgh. The Ace of Cakes was going to be there.
Frank took the wheel and got us safely to Cranberry, which Tonya (who was fighting the mother of all head colds) and I (a bit pooped by then) greatly appreciated. We had to be at the convention center at 8 a.m. to set up the booth, and then we’d be “on” all day, from 9 to 5. I’d be doing demos, either in the booth or at a smaller stage down the aisle. When it wasn’t pie time, I demonstrated cookie decorating techniques, which turned out to be a serious draw.
Here’s what Amy had to say about the day:
“As the ‘4th member’ of this traveling road show, joining the roadies halfway through – I have to say the crew was already working like a ‘well-oiled machine’ when I joined up!!! Susan wasn’t kidding when she said Good Taste Pittsburgh was PACKED!!
“Show organizers estimated 6,000 or so attendees. After seeing the crowds and speaking with other exhibitors, I think the crowd could have reached 10,000.
“It was great – Susan was a hit with the cookie decorating, and her pie demos were always full.
“My favorite part of the day was when a woman came up to us, and sincerely asked why she should use KAF. ‘I always use Pillsbury’s Best,’ she says… I put on BOTH my selling shoes and went to work. After a fantastic conversation with her, she and her friend were convinced, and both left with a bag of KAF all-purpose to give it a try. I love that!! ”
After a full day, we broke down the booth, gave away as much as we could to minimize shipping things back, and staggered into the hotel restaurant. One more show to go, in Cranberry township. The audience was once again full of avid bakers, including an elderly gentleman who also went to the Culinary Institute of America (as did I), and a Vermont expat who quizzed us on the names of our hometowns, testing to see if we were the real thing. We passed. Two people came with loaves of bread they’d baked, for us to critique!
When our last class was over and final question answered, we knew we had to celebrate our bonding and our week with temporary tattoos from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Soon, it all begins again, when Frank and I team up with Liz Fairley from our merchandising team and Kerry Pollner from the Baker’s Store and Life Skills program, and we head to Georgia. We’ll be spreading the word all around the Atlanta area from January 27-30.
The locations? Athens on the 27th, Norcross on the 28th, Marietta on the 29th, and Peachtree City on the 30th. Our other demo weeks are in the Salt Lake City, Utah area from February 17-20, taught by Baking Education Center instructor Jess Meyers; and Southern California, March 10-13, taught by her BEC cohort Robyn Sargent.
If you’re within reach of any of these places, we surely hope you’ll come on out and see us. The shows are free, fun, and nobody leaves empty-handed!