The Brooklyn Baking Barons are Taking on Taste Buds One Bundt Cake at a Time

Written By: Brian Shane | Photographer: GRANT L. GURSKY

When a couple from Brooklyn booked tickets for a taping of the foodie talk show The Chew, it wasn’t just to be in the audience. They had guerrilla marketing plans for their new business, so they showed up at ABC Studios on the Upper West Side with their secret weapon: a moist, golden cupcake-sized Bundt cake made with honey and whiskey.

They started handing out the confections to people in line. It quickly created a buzz, and the show’s production assistants zipped over to see what was going on. This was make-or-break time.

Not only did the crewmembers love the sweet treats, the Honey Whiskey Cakes were a huge hit with the show’s hosts. Cohost and celebrity-chef Mario Batali even came up to them and asked, “Why aren’t you guys on TV? I promise you, I’m going to get you on TV.”

That moment of stealthy self-promotion set in motion a chain of events that led to partners Tony Lanuza, 28, and Chris Poeschl, 27, running their own global mail-order cake operation as The Brooklyn Baking Barons — and all in less than 18 months. Today, they split their time between their home base in Brooklyn and their commercial bakery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. 

“We took a chance, and it’s paid off in spades,” Chris said. “Who thought all of that would have happened just by showing up with cake?”

After that September 2014 taping of The Chew, cohost Daphne Oz shared the cakes with another television personality — Ree Drummond of Food Network’s The Pioneer Woman. Drummond went on to select Honey Whiskey Cake as one of her “Gifts for Foodies” in the Dec. 7, 2015 issue of People magazine.

“I received a box of these little wonders at Christmas, and I still dream about them,” Drummond wrote. “They are the booziest booze cakes I’ve ever sunk my teeth into.”

There was, however, one problem. Tony and Chris were still baking out of a tiny galley kitchen in their Brooklyn apartment. If the cakes made a splash, there was no way they’d be able to keep up with demand. Even a mention in a national publication could flood their small operation with orders they couldn’t fulfill in that limited space. But renting a commercial bakery in New York City was not an option at that stage. With the clock ticking down to the first week in December, the Barons were forced to look elsewhere.

Tony’s family has always vacationed at the Delaware beaches, and it’s where his parents make their home now, in Ocean View. When the Barons started looking for a commercial bakery to rent, Tony’s mother searched her area. Through a connection she had with a local caterer, she put Tony and Chris in touch with the owner of a 5,000 sq. ft. wholesale bakery outside Berlin in October 2015. The new facility gave them a 300 percent increase in baking capacity compared to their kitchen back in New York.

It turned out they needed every bit of that space. With the publicity from People and subsequent online buzz, the Barons got so busy, they needed to hire 15 part-time staffers, to help bake and ship nearly 3,000 mail orders through the 2015 holiday season.

“Brooklyn will always be a part of who we are and what this company is,” Tony said, “but for us, coming here when we did was perfect timing. It allowed us to come to a place where we could focus.”

It’s not hard to understand the popularity of the luscious and luxurious Honey Whiskey Cake. A single bite of the impossibly moist yet dense confection yields flavor bursts of honey, butter and booze. But don’t think you’re going to pry the recipe from the Barons anytime soon. Not only do Tony and Chris refuse to divulge the ingredients or their recipe, even the brand of whiskey they use is top secret.

Whatever they’re doing, it’s working. Michele Obama has enjoyed their cakes aboard Air Force One, thanks to a friend who works as a makeup artist for the First Lady, and Oprah has sampled them as part of her famous annual “Favorite Things” collection. 

Honey Whiskey Cake put them on the map, but it won’t be their only product. In 2016, the Barons are launching two new products: a limoncello poppy-seed cake and a cinnamon-sugar-rolled Caribbean rum cake. They’re focused on building upon their mail-order business by getting their products on the shelves of national retailers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

“Cake is just the beginning of us,” Chris said. “We’ve come up with a lot of great partnerships with different companies around the country. We want this to become a lifestyle brand. This cake is getting us into everybody’s home, and now we want to stay there.”

Look for the Brooklyn Baking Barons to be back on the set of The Chew in the near future — but this time, it’ll be as guests.


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