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Fewer king cakes to go around: Some bakeries cut production & online sales grow

If king cake is the reason for your Carnival season then you may want to get a head start. There may be fewer this year than most.
This Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011 photo shows a Mardi Gras King Cake by pastry chef Jean-Luc Albin stuffed with cream and strawberries at Maurice French Pastries in Metairie, La. Pastry chef Jean-Luc Albin certainly can turn out a delicious traditional king cake _ one with a premium brioche dough, rich with butter and eggs. But these days it's his inspired variations on that classic that he's most passionate about. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NEW ORLEANS — For a city whose people have effectively fasted from social contact to slow the spread of COVID, it seems like many New Orleans residents have already begun mourning Mardi Gras

After shutting down bars and leaving many New Orleanians without a job, COVID has forced residents to give up parades, getting together for large parties, and letting the good times roll.

Perhaps, the king cakes can be the feast to help us through the fast, but some bakeries aren’t making as many this year, which could mean fewer cakes to go around.

We've talked to a few other bakeries that are telling us that they are having lower demand, so they're producing fewer cakes.

Perhaps busy helping those who need it the most, the Second Harvest Food Bank isn't selling king cakes this year.

"With everything going on, we're not doing the king cakes this year," spokesman Jay Vise said. Vise said volunteers at the food bank hope to get back to that next Carnival season — when things are relatively more normal.

Emily Hergert, one of the cake designers at Haydel’s Bakery, said she anticipates fewer sales.

“With the pandemic, I imagine much fewer people will be coming to buy cakes in person because fewer people from out of town will be visiting the city overall this Mardi Gras season,” Hergert said. “Online sales are definitely going to go up, I think.”

King Cakes are topped with colored sugar at Haydel's Bakery. (AP Photo/Judi Bottoni)

Haydel’s sells a shipper-size king cake — somewhere between a medium and a large — online at https://haydelsbakery.com/ year-round, but during Carnival, the bakery offers more variety.

“The price you see online is the price of the package, so it includes the shipping costs,” Hergert said. “Everything ships overnight.”

Haydel’s Bakery is giving up something else this year: A long-standing tradition of creating a new porcelain figurine for their cakes every year.

Hergert said for decades, Haydel’s has created a new porcelain figurine for every single Carnival season, inserting one into each of their cakes before they go out the door and on to party tables, school teacher desks, break rooms benches, and kitchen counters in the New Orleans area and all over the country.

“Yeah — people always come in and ask for highly sought after years,” Hergert said over the phone. “They’re collectibles.”

Credit: haydelsbakery.com

Because of the pandemic, Haydel’s won’t be making a figurine for Carnival 2021, Herget said.

But that’s when she said something about a “retro haul.”

“So, we’re still putting a porcelain figurine in the cakes. There just won’t be a Carnival 2021 one,” Hergert said. “We’ll be using vintage porcelain figurines from as far back as 1991.”

If you happen to collect the figurines from Haydel’s Bakery’s king cakes — or if you’d like to — here are the years from which figurines will be used:

  • 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998
  • 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008
  • 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2020

Hergert said customers who are thinking about ordering online should do so quickly because orders for busy days like Lundi Gras are much sought after.

“Haydel’s Bakery limits the number of cakes orders we take for Lundi Gras to about 3,000 or 4,000, but they sell out fast,” Hergert said. “So, place your order soon.”

In New Orleans East, the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. Fewer king cakes and no long lines at Doung Phuong's Bakery is new, but if you want the much sought after Carnival treat then you'll still have to beat the masses — online.

Still, Linh Garza, the president at the bakery, said she has lower expectations this year too.

“Our average sale was 3 king cakes per transaction, but now it’s only one. No parades, no parties, and no festivities,” Garza said. “I think people are still going to want that Mardi Gras flavor, but we’re not seeing people who typically come to New Orleans for the parades. ”

Dong Phuong's: 14207 Chef Menteur Highway, New Orleans. (504) 254-0296. The Dong Phuong bakery, with their freshly baked king cakes and restaurant next door, makes the trip out to New Orleans East worth it.

Not that people can come into the bakery for king cakes at Dong Phuong's in person, anyway. No walk-in orders there this year — “for social distancing.” 

“Typically, we have a long line of people out the door, waiting for king cakes — every year,” Garza said. “We felt that that was unsafe for our customers because of the pandemic.”

In 2018, people waited in line for as long as 45 minutes at times, and that year, the bakery would often sell out of king cakes.

You can buy Dong Phuong king cakes online at https://dpbakeshop.com/ for curbside pickup or to be shipped anywhere.

Orders can typically be fulfilled within two days, but like Haydel’s, Dong Phoung is also seeing more online orders.

“We’re seeing an uptick in online orders due to the pandemic,” Garza said. “The cakes are only available for purchase online.”

It seems bakeries are making fewer cakes because their anticipating fewer sales, but they’re also making them more available with pandemic-friendly curbside pickup and shipping. 

On the West Bank, Antoine's Famous Cakes in Gretna won't be baking fewer cakes, Sarah McCoy, a manager at the bakery said. Mccoy said sales are "on track" compared to last year.

"I mean I don't want to jinx it, but we're selling about as much king cake as last year — so far," McCoy said. "We're actually having trouble finding help to keep up." 

Customers looking for Antoine's King Cakes this year are a few clicks away. Like Dong Phuong's and Haydel's, Antoine's is letting customers order online this year.

"Online, you can either order for pickup or delivery — that would be shipping," McCoy said. "If you're picking up, all fillings are available, but we only ship medium, traditional or cream-cheese-filled king cakes."

Hoping for the best, McCoy said, as of Jan. 5, Antoine's is making the same number of cakes as last year, but excess isn't an issue.

"We donate the most cakes we don't sell," McCoy said.

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