The Little Daisy Bake Shop

~ THE First Thanksgiving ~

It should be of no surprise to anyone that holidays at a bakery are busy. Yet the Little Daisy staff loves the holiday season. We love to decorate, listen to the music, talk about Hallmark Christmas movies, and watch Will Ferrell as Elf on a nonstop loop.

But the holiday season at the bakery can also be a bit overwhelming, to say the least. Around the beginning of November when the orders start coming in and we approach the thick of it, a weird thing happens. The music from Jaws starts in slow. With every step toward the holiday, I hear it.

The Little Daisy Bake Shop

When we posted our holiday menu. I heard it come from somewhere in the kitchen. Duhn nun.

Then customers started to place their orders. Duhn nun.

Our pie tins were delivered and boxes of empty platters were stored in the back. Duhn nun, duhn nun.

As the month progressed, the music got louder and faster until the second week of the month when we realize we are far from shore. And the holiday ripple and pointed fin are headed straight for us.

Thanksgiving is the kickoff holiday for the season and we are generally prepared, but I will admit that our first Thanksgiving was a complete disaster.

The Little Daisy opened its doors in mid-October, 2011, so Thanksgiving arrived just a short month after ringing up our first sale. We thought we were ready, but honestly we had no freaking clue what was about to come at us. At that point there were only two of us, Jessica and I, in the kitchen and between baking the daily offering of fresh goodies for the store every day and decorating custom cakes and cookies for special orders, we were maxed out. Two days before Thanksgiving we hired Christina. She was fresh out of culinary school, and we put her through a pretty tough interview. I look back at that and laugh my head off because all we really should have asked her was two questions:

1. “Can you bake?”
2. “Can you start right now?”

The details of that first Thanksgiving are somewhat hazy. I’ve asked Jessica and Christina to help me recreate it, as well as Selena, our Front End Manager. All three women are still with The Little Daisy today and the fact that they didn’t run out the back door screaming and waving their arms above their head that day is nothing short of a miracle.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving I arrived at The Little Daisy, as usual, at 4am. I spent the day making batters, rolling out cookies, decorating cupcakes and cakes, and talking with customers as they came in to check out the new bakery. Jess was knee-deep in pie dough and filling. Christina did her best to catch on to whatever we threw at her, and she found ways to be helpful with no training whatsoever on our menu and recipes.

As darkness approached during the late afternoon Jess and Christina had to go home. “Just a few more hours for me….” I thought. Jess returned to The Little Daisy at 7pm that night to bake more pumpkin and apple pies. I was baking loaves of seasonal bread, wrapping them in parchment, putting on Little Daisy stickers on and twining the packages to look like festive gifts. When Jess left around midnight I repeated, “Just another hour for me…” I looked at the clock and told myself I’d go home at 1am, sleep for a little bit and then come back early. At 1am I looked at the clock and, knowing there was still so much to do, told myself I’d work until 2am. That scenario recurred again and again. I started --started-- decorating sugar cookies at 4am.

This was a classic example of me not knowing what to expect with owning a new bakery and being forced to learn on the fly. I was Skipper of the SS Minnow, thinking it would be a three-hour tour, and somehow we’d magically be ready for Thanksgiving. But it was 4am, and I was stranded on a desert island far from the coast of sanity.

At 5am, I told myself I’d go home when Christina got in. I began slicing the pumpkin bread and whoopie pies to fill platters and special orders. What Christina saw when she opened the door was not something they prepare you for in culinary school. The kitchen floor and walls were coated in a mixture of flour, royal icing and tinted buttercream. It’s not that I’m a messy baker, rather it’s just that our kitchen measured only about 300 square feet. Put in a walk-in fridge, an oven deck, and a dishwashing sink, and that doesn’t leave a lot of room to move around. The workspace we had to roll out pie dough, decorate cookies, and mix batters was severely limited. So when Christina opened the door to reveal the horror that waited for her inside she had a decision to make: quietly close the door and pretend that this Little Daisy thing never happened, or take that step through the door and and wrestle this Thanksgiving beast head-on.

The Little Daisy Bake Shop

The Little Daisy Bake Shop
I give Christina a lot of credit for choosing to not jump ship.

Christina recalls opening the door and seeing me standing alone in the kitchen, looking uniquely disheveled with buttercream in my hair and icing glazed all over my clothes, which was the same outfit I had worn the day before. I don’t remember speaking to her at all. I was in a deep fog, anxiously waiting for Jackie’s Grillette to open so I could get a breakfast sandwich. I hadn’t eaten in almost 18 hours.

I told myself I’d go home when Selena got in at 8 am. When she walked through the back door, she saw racks and racks of baked goods. She inspected the inventory and immediately asked why the sugar cookies were shiny.

“They’re not dry yet,” I responded.

“Why not?”

“I just finished them.”

“Are they for order or for the store?”

“I don’t know yet. “

“Well we better figure it out quick because there are people waiting.”

I looked out the front picture-glass window and saw 10-15 people lined up and peering in at us as if we were animals in a zoo.

I kicked it into high gear and tried to start sorting what was for order and what we could sell in the store. The trays and trays of sugar cookies that I worked so hard on through the early morning hours were divvied up for the platters. As the realization set in that we had very little to offer walk-in customers, I could feel the air of my life preserver quickly deflate. Duhn nun duhn nun duhn nun duhn nun.

We opened the bakery doors amongst chaos in the kitchen. A business owner down the street was the first one in line. She asked if we had any Thanksgiving sugar cookies. I told her I could give her 12 because at the moment that’s all I knew for sure I had. She eyed the rack with 15 trays filled with sugar cookies and asked what all those were for. “Orders” I replied. “Isn’t this Thanksgiving? Are you a bakery? I would have bought that entire rack. That’s a lot of money you could have had. I don’t think you know what you are doing.

The Little Daisy Bake Shop

She was right. At that point I didn’t know what I was doing, but there was no doubt I was giving it my best effort. The Jaws music was in full force attack and I was sinking.

The Little Daisy Bake Shop
All I wanted to do was to go home. But there was a line of customers, orders still to sort, and we couldn’t stop baking to stock the store for the customers in line and surely many more to come. Somehow, we scrambled through the day. The chatter of the crowd in line and the orders being yelled back to the kitchen made the day feel like it was on time-lapse mode. We were all moving twice as fast as normal and the hands on the clock spun around like a board-game spinner. By 4 pm, there was just one more platter to be picked up. It was for a friend of mine who had just called to say she was on her way. I looked at the platter and told her, “Yes, it’s right here.” A few minutes later when she came through the door I turned to pick up her platter and it was gone. “Where’s the platter that was right here?”, I asked my front staff. “Oh, I thought that one was left over for the store, and I just sold it.”

I took a deep breath. I turned to my friend and said, “Don’t worry. I will put one together for you and deliver it to your house first thing tomorrow morning. “

At 5pm we turned the sign from “open” to “closed”. And we exhaled.

Christina slumped in her car at the end of the day and cried. She called her boyfriend Matt and said she didn’t think she should have gone to culinary school. “I think I made a mistake,” she sobbed. “That was some crazy shit in there today.”

The Little Daisy Bake Shop

Jessica and Selena both wondered if it’s possible to sleep on the couch and drink wine at the same time.

I don’t remember leaving. I stayed after to roll a few more turkey cookies for the platter I had to deliver and bake a few more whoopie pies and breads. I somehow rallied and made it to Egan and Sons bar that night for our traditional pre-Thanksgiving get-together with friends. I had now been up for 44 hours straight.

The next morning I was signed up to run the local 5K Turkey Trot. My alarm went off at 6am and I my legs felt heavy, like wet sand. Andrew warned me not to go. “You’re going to hurt yourself. You just ran a marathon at the bakery the last two days. You don’t need to prove anything by going out for a 5 mile race this morning.”

The Little Daisy Bake Shop
Disappointed, I stumbled out of bed and rallied the kids. It felt good to know the bakery was closed and all was calm. I felt like a real human being again after getting a cup of coffee and walking to Glen Ridge High School and around to the race route to cheer on my friends Kim and Ava.

After the race, we pulled into the Missing Platter Friend’s driveway. We exchanged “Happy Thanksgivings” and handed her the platter that I had created from scratch after we closed the night before. I don’t remember much after that, but Andrew tells me I came home and slept and didn’t wake up until Thanksgiving dinner.

That first Thanksgiving taught me a lot, but most importantly:

  • Preparation is key.
  • A pressure-tested, orderly system, is imperative.
  • A good team is invaluable, and I'm thankful that The Little Daisy Team is beyond amazing.

The Little Daisy Bake Shop
I’m thankful for so much this Thanksgiving. After writing this blog and reliving that holiday, I’m so thankful for Christina, Jessica, and Selena, and I’m super thankful to our customers for not giving up on us that first Thanksgiving.

We’re back this year for our fifth holiday season, and I couldn’t be more excited. There is much more to come in this last month and a half of the year. Don’t be surprised if you hear us belting out Christmas Carols while we’re in the midst of a long holiday baking session. Because, like Buddy the Elf says, “the best way to spread Christmas Cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” And besides, the louder we sing the less we can hear the Jaws music.

The Little Daisy Bake Shop