By PAUL ROUPE
At Nothing Bundt Cakes in Modesto, the best-selling flavor is chocolate chocolate chip, but lemon is a close second, and it doesn’t take a food critic to see why.
One day before Thanksgiving, there is a line of people waiting to either pick up their cakes or order them at the counter.
Placed just inside the entrance is a bubble-dome tray of lemon cake samples, with a dot of butter cream cheese frosting on top.
The patrons gladly grab these inch by inch squares, taking them whole or savoring the flavor by gnawing at the edges.
They’re so luscious you don’t even need teeth to eat them. The cake dissolves on the taste buds almost as quick as cotton candy.
Even though there are 245 locations across the country (with one in Canada), the operating manager Wendy Stuart affirms that the quality is consistent from bakery to bakery.
“We have a small menu, and we try to do it really well,” she says. “The cakes are so moist, not rich, but they have the right combo of flavor and moist cake.”
Though their recipe remains a guarded secret, Stuart does say that their cakes “are made with the finest, premium ingredients, including fresh eggs, real butter and cream cheese.”
At the center of the wall behind the front counter is a framed list of their flavors and what they offer. The simplistic choices make it easier to produce high-quality bundt cakes without an unnecessarily expansive menu.
There are nine standard flavors—red velvet, chocolate chocolate chip, marble, white chocolate raspberry, lemon, pecan praline, carrot, cinnamon swirl and classic vanilla–and the seasonal one is switched out as needed. For the days leading up to Thanksgiving it was pumpkin spice, but in December it’ll be peppermint chocolate chip made with Andes mints.
As far as the style, there are only three ways you can go: an eight or ten inch cake, a mini bundt cake called a bundtlet, or a smaller version called a bundtini (sold by the dozen), which is like a bundt version of a cupcake.
They’re baked fresh daily, and the ovens are running between 6-8 hours a day.
“We try to make sure everything moves within 24 hours,” Stuart says. If any of the frosted cakes don’t leave the store after 48 hours, it’s not uncommon for them to be donated to homeless shelters.
Twenty years ago, Dena Tripp and Debbie Shwetz opened the first location in Las Vegas, and about 10 years ago they started franchising.
The Modesto store opened in August of last year. There are currently 18 employees, but they have retained roughly half that number since last summer. Stuart attributes the low turnover rate to the work atmosphere and closeness of the staff.
“They’re like a big family. It’s a blessing that they like to be around each other,” she says.
They toss jokes around in the kitchen, quote the movie “The Sandlot,” hang out together, dress up like elves for Christmas. One employee, Judy, enthralls children who come in with her Mrs. Claus outfit. They ask her about Santa and she delights them with a few words and some candy canes.
They seem to really enjoy their work, all smiles and taking pride in the pleasure they give to people’s palates. Extreme care is taken in producing the signature pedal-like frosting design that’s spread across each cake.
“We bake with love,” Judy says.
In addition to the steady foot traffic at the store, they can also bake for anything from a small party to a large corporate event. They once made 60 cakes for a church group and cooked up 1,500 bundtinis (125 sets of a dozen) for a large party.
But if you don’t want to leave home, they do deliver. Of course, the cost depends on miles traveled, but they’ve gone as far as Los Banos, Patterson and Merced.
There are also some extra decorations they offer: birthday cakes bearing sports themes, pom-poms bursting from the center in various colors—pink with a princess hat, a light blue and pink mix for baby gender reveals—and one with a coffee-colored pom-pom and a card that says “Real Men Don’t Eat Square Cakes.”
There are dozens of different styles, but with all of the visual additions, the flavor is still what moves these cakes out the door. Their product fosters a feeling of companionship between those who partake in it, and like other good foods, brings people together, if only to try and get the last slice.
“We’re here to celebrate occasions with people,” Stuart says. “To make someone’s day, that means the world to us.”