King Cakes of St. Charles Parish
With the Mardi Gras season officially getting underway a few weeks ago, one thing that unites families and community alike for the holiday is king cake.
The pastry, whose history goes back centuries, is now a common sight on break room tables at places of employment often with a little plastic baby awaiting inside one of the pieces that will dictate who should be responsible for buying the next cake. The braided dough glistens with icing, inciting one and all to come take a piece.
The king cake not only serves as a sign of the season, but as a community gathering point and part of the tradition surrounding Mardi Gras. Fittingly, many in St. Charles Parish have their favorite king cake bakers and we have spoken to a few of them about their craft.
Dawn Loyd, owner of Two Sisters Bakery in Boutte, has been baking king cakes for locals since her shop first opened its doors two and a half years ago.
Without Mardi Gras, Loyd said she does not know if her bakery would be in business.
“I think it would be very, very hard without a large season. You’d have to promote a lot and market a lot and have a very unique item. Especially in southeast Louisiana, Mardi Gras is the busiest time for any bakery in southeast Louisiana” she said.
It is her third Mardi Gras in business and she said business continues to get better.
“It increases every year. I can’t complain,” she said. “We are small, I’d say we do 2,000 (king cakes) a season and we are pretty excited about it.”
Two Sisters has been thinking about potentially branching out, either by selling through other locations or developing an online marketplace where they could ship their king cakes to other parts of the country.
“I’ve got lots of plans in the works,” Loyd said.
For now though, plenty of locals are happy to make their way over to the bakery on Melonie Street in Boutte to not only buy their king cakes, but also king cupcakes that come in numerous varieties.
Mary Granier lives nearby Two Sisters. She said she makes her way over to the bakery on a regular basis.
“I’ve been coming since they opened. It is really convenient. I live right around the corner. It is just one of the best bakeries I’ve ever been to and I know them all because I love my sweets,” Granier said. “The king cake is really, really good.”
To call Two Sisters king cake the best in the parish would undoubtedly open up a debate. Everyone has their favorites and for many that is just down Highway 90 in Boutte where Raj and Renu Jain, owners of Takeaway Donuts, have been making king cakes for nearly three decades.
The Jains began baking king cakes when they opened up Takeway Donuts 28 years ago. During that time they have seen the community grow. However, the way they go about their business has stayed much the same.
“We have the same recipe, we never change our recipe,” Renu said.
Renu said the donut shop’s king cakes are so well known at this point that people come from all over just to pick them up.
“They are coming from everywhere. Golden Meadow, Mississippi, Alabama…you name it – just for the king cake,” she said.
While the Jains do not have an accurate count on how many king cakes they make each year, it is enough to keep them busy during their work hours from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.
“We bake a lot. As much as we can make we do, from morning until evening,” Renu said.
Takeaway Donuts offers king cakes in a variety of sizes and flavors and for Valentine’s Day they even have a heart-shaped king cake. Also, the Jains do not just make king cakes, they have a king cake donut that is very popular at this time of the year.
Overall, the Jains said they are happy with their success, and despite the potential to expand, they do not have any plans to increase the scope of their operation. Renu said just seeing the same people coming back year after year is enough for her.
“Sometimes we find it is a challenge, but we are doing the best we can for our customers and ourselves,” Renu said. “It is worth it in the end.”
Boutte resident Betty Morales has been coming to Takeway Donuts since it first opened. She said her family is crazy for the shop’s king cakes.
“It’s good. My grandchildren love it,” she said. “I’ve got a sister, she is from Chackbay and every year she comes and gets a king cake. She says, ‘I don’t know what it is about those king cakes.’ This year we bought her one and brought it to her when the season first started. She was so happy!”On the East Bank of St. Charles Parish, another bakery has been in the king cake business for decades as well.
The bakers at Gre’aud Fine Foods in Norco have been making king cakes for years.
“They’ve been doing king cakes as long as I remember,” head cook Renee Hawkins said. Hawkins, who receives help from baker Holly Brooks, is involved in every part of baking the cakes.
“We have just the regular king cake sugar. We order everything and we bake them, rise them and fill them out,” she said.
Hawkins said the proximity of Mardi Gras to other holidays keeps the bakers at Gre’aud busy.
“We go from one holiday to the next holiday to the next holiday. So it is like, is Mardi Gras here yet?” she said. Much of Gre’aud’s business comes from those living close by in Norco, but people come in from other communities as well just for the king cakes.
“The majority of our business will be from the people who have been in the area for years and probably have watched us grow up. I’ve had people say, ‘I come all the way from LaPlace to get your king cakes here.’ So we get a pretty positive impact on our king cakes,” Hawkins said.
That kind of dedication keeps the bakers working hard and selling nearly 30 king cakes per day seven days a week for the entire Mardi Gras season.
Some of the business comes from those working within the store. Stevie Ackerman has been an employee at Gre’aud for the past 18 years.
“I have a sweet tooth,” he said.
He said he buys king cakes from the store each year and that lemon is his favorite.
Those who like other varieties are in luck though as there are ten in all and the king cakes can be made to order.
“You can order any size you want and any filling we carry. They are made to order as long as you let us know the day before and you will have your king cake the next day,” Hawkins said.
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