Generations ago, women on Smith Island in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay created cakes consisting of eight to 10 1/4-in. layers of golden cake filled and iced with fudge icing. They sent the cakes with their husbands on their crabbing and oystering excursions.
In 2008, the Smith Island cake was designated as Maryland's official state dessert. Brian Murphy opened the Smith Island Baking Co. in June, which began producing cakes in a renovated 3,000-sq.-ft. facility in Ewell, one of the island's three small towns.
According to Bakery Manager Kristen Manzo, about 1,500 sq. ft. of the bakery is dedicated to production and retail/café area where customers can purchase 6-in. or 9-in. cakes filled and iced with chocolate, chocolate and peanut butter or cooked coconut icing. Presently, the bakery is equipped with 12-qt. and 15-qt. mixers, an oven that accommodates 36 9-in. layer pans, a few burners, a refrigerator and a freezer. Murphy sends supplies to the island bakery via the ferry at least once a week.
Seven local women-the entire island is home to only about 280 people-are employed in the bakery. Each super-thin layer is baked individually, and it can take up to one hour to produce one cake.
During the recent holiday season, eight additional island bakers were hired to fill the 1,000 cake orders, mostly received by phone or through the bakery's website, for shipment to 40 states. Murphy predicts that orders will double during the 2010 holiday season and, in anticipation of year-round gift orders, has recently introduced custom-designed gift tins that are available for an additional $10 for a 9-in. cake and $7.50 for a 6-in. The logo tins represent another step toward positioning the Smith Island Baking Co.'s cakes as a national premium dessert brand, which will eventually be able to go head-to-head with other large bakeries' cakes, he explained.
For now, Murphy and Manzo are looking forward to summer when cake-craving tourists will once again make their pilgrimage across the Chesapeake Bay to stock up on this sought-after sweet. They also foresee continued growth that will allow them to provide employment for at least 20 percent of the islanders.
Murphy is confident that the Smith Island Baking Co. will be a $1 million company. He plans to transition ownership of the company to its employees.