There was an odd, reverse tension in the Urban Nectar gallery room as the 30 or so people who assembled for the Brooklyn Baking Baron’s network television debut watched “The Chew” on the television in their collective periphery, talking with one another, eating from the pot luck buffet and waiting to be called to attention. For entrepreneurs Tony Lanuza and Chris Poeschl, who invented and marketed the Honey Whiskey Cake that caused a culinary buzz that echoed itself to prominence, the time between when host Mario Batali opened the show and when he announced them was an odd gray space. On one hand, they knew how the show went, for the most part. They were there in the studio earlier this year when the show was taped; they already had had their confab of pride and regret over what they felt they said well and what they wished they had said differently. The suspense didn’t come from not knowing what the show would look like.
For that matter, there wasn’t really much of a question about how their assembled friends and family would react. Not really. The cake was as good as the ones that had gotten them on the show, had secured the guys a mention in People Magazine, and had shortlisted the Brooklyn Baking Barons as purveyors of one of Oprah’s “Favorite Things.” As a real world side note more than 3,000 Honey Whiskey cakes had shipped nationwide last December alone. People at the reception were eating it almost too carefully, afraid, it seemed as much of personal overindulgence as of the public perception of greed. The suspense didn’t come from not knowing. These cakes are really freaking good.
Their suspense fell under the category, “Other”
Watching them watch their appearance, I felt like the suspense might be about the deflation. The way it is supposed to work is, you go to culinary school, bust your ass for a dozen or so years in kitchens and make a name for yourself as a pastry chef. Alternatively, you enter the hazy weird world of food R&D, throwing the spaghetti of what hasn’t been done yet at the wall until something you can patent sticks. Certainly you don’t invent a dessert as a present because you’re half broke and half desperate to give something unique.
But then you do.
It’s the stuff of poorly-conceived movies until it turns out to be true and you find yourself in a small room in a tiny, rural town watching famous people drool over a confection you thought might taste nice. The rise of the Brooklyn Baking Barons has been well documented elsewhere, or (to be fair) is being documented in small stories all over the internet written by people compelled as much by the entrepreneurial story as the entrepreneurs. Tony is warm and affectionate; Chris is congenial and personable. Speaking with them together you get all the pleasant you could want at every level. It’s compelling because it’s genuine. Beyond the cake, these are guys you wanna see do well. It is the second part of the story, the one that suggests maybe sometimes the nice guys win, that is just as fascinating as the origin story.
Christie McDowell, who owns and runs Urban Nectar with some partners, had set the date aside for the big show. There was an aisle with a long red plastic tablecloth that was to be the red carpet. The small town of it was sold pretty hard, but without camp. One of the other angles that makes the story compelling is that the Brooklyn Baking Barons got too big for New York and had to come to Berlin to really stretch out. It was luck-ish that they got involved with Berlin, which has enough of a hip factor mixed with enough country warmth that these guys found a clique quickly enough. Tony’s family has had a place on the Delaware coast for years, but their production facility is in Berlin as are many of their new friends.
Among the artists and the farmers in the Urban Nectar collective, Chris and Tony were able to get acclimatized to Berlin life. In fact, although their cake is only available by ordering and paying online, locals can type “Urban Nectar” in the promo code at checkout to arrange to pick their cakes up in Berlin.
Showtime at Urban Nectar
Christ was reenacting what had been going on off stage during the filming as the show ramped up to their part. He was mimicking his jumping around in nervous excitement and hushed tones. As if on cue, when the show went to commercial and he and Tony were called to the set, at the watching party, Chris sprang into action and went to turn up the television. Tony joined him at the set and Chris, thumbed the channel button, switching to The Jerry Springer Show, which nearly brought down the house.
I could feel Chris’ panic from a full 10 feet away but it only was momentary, as he quickly found his way back to the the right channel and adjusted the volume such that it would be appropriate once the segment started. When “The Chew” came back from commercial, there was another segment, which gave the guys the opportunity to head to the back of the store and walk their red carpet, such as it was.
They held their breath for the first part of the segment but lightened a bit as it became apparent they were doing as well as they had hoped. Their jokes landed both in the studio audience and in the room, the host appeared as gracious as he had in the taping and, most important, the cake remained a success. All that was left to do was to celebrate.
They took some photos with fans who had heard about the event and made their way to Berlin; they hugged family and friends, pushed the last of the cake to people who were grateful to have their earlier non-greed rewarded, and came down off their high. There was a little more press to do. Some local TV, another few papers, and then it was up to them to carry that momentum forward.
That in the end is where the suspense probably was coming from. Chris and Tony had already made the most of every opportunity and rode all the momentum they could muster to the next level. The question now was whether they could sustain it. But the cake is fantastic, which is the easiest part to forget. What got them the attention wasn’t their compelling story, or their charm or their warmth. The cake got the attention and justified the story. That’s how good it is, and the Baking Barons already had added a twist. Leaning on their talent got them this far, there is no reason it can’t get them further.