If you lived in New Orleans between 1953 and 2021, you might remember Baker Maid Fruitcake. It was made here, and in its earlier years was hugely popular.
But tastes change. Somewhere along the line fruitcake became relegated mostly to the holidays.
In 2009, when Greg Sorensen took over his family business as its 4th generation co-owner, he reasoned if they’re going to make cakes for special occasions, why make a cake people eat once a year? Every day is someone’s birthday. Why not make birthday cake?
That simple decision – along with a few others that pivoted the bakery toward other everyday items – has transformed Baker Maid. Today they’re a wholesale business that supplies layer cakes, cupcakes, and petit fours to grocery stores across most of the eastern half of the US.
The company has a staff of 70 here in New Orleans churning out cakes. On a typical workday, 20-30 of those folks are cake decorators.
Here’s another great New Orleans story. Luka Cutura grew up on the Northshore. His dad was a Croation immigrant who went into oyster farming, and following in his father’s shrimp-boot footsteps Luka got his commercial captain’s boat license right out of high school.
That meant he was licensed to carry passengers. Luka started doing swamp tours for a company called Cajun Encounters. Cajun Encounters is owned by Jeff Rogers. In 2016 Jeff and his wife Mary Anna decided to open a distillery and call it Seven Three Distilling, after the 73 neighborhoods of New Orleans.
One of Jeff’s boat captains, Luka, had spent his childhood summers in Croatia where he’d learned to brew his Croatian family’s traditional Balkans fruit brandy and wine. With a few courses at the American Distilling Institute to get up to professional speed, Luka hung up his boat captain’s hat and became the Head Distiller at Seven Three Distilling.
Today, under Luka’s leadership, Seven Three Distilling makes award-winning gin, vodka, rum, and a bourbon that’s so popular they literally can’t keep up with demand.
When politicians, economists and pundits are fond of telling us, “The key to growing the national economy is manufacturing.” they’re typically thinking of things like aircraft, automobiles, steel, electronics, and clothing. But because this is New Orleans, we do things differently. We’re manufacturing birthday cakes and bourbon.
Baker Maid Products and Seven Three Distilling company names might not make it into national politicians’ speeches or onto economists’ charts, but their contributions to the local economy are not insignificant.