Santa Maria Sun / Eats
Father bakes best: Meet the man behind the scenes at Gina's Piece of Cake
BY WENDY THIES SELL
Spend any time in a successful, full-service bakery and you will quickly see that getting everything mixed, baked, frosted, and decorated is anything but a piece of cake.
But Lloyd Jones, head baker at Gina’s Piece of Cake, could probably get the job done with his eyes closed. This marks his 45th year as a baker.
“He’s the man. He’s amazing! He’s the backbone of this place,” exclaimed his daughter, Gina Martin, who owns the bakery, which is located in the Santa Maria Town Center mall.
“He’s the hardest worker that I’ve met in my whole entire life. He works, and works, and works, and works,” Martin said. “Even if there’s nothing to do, he’ll find something to do because he loves what he does so much.”
The 67-year-old great grandfather, who shows no sign of slowing down, arrives in the middle of the night to start his 12-hour shift.
“I come in around 2:30 a.m. and I get things going,” Jones explained. He surveys what needs to be baked each day and then gets it done; any number of cakes, gourmet cupcakes, cookies, breads, pies, muffins, rolls, and Danishes.
“We have people coming from Solvang to get his Danish pastries because my dad rolls his all out by hand,” Martin said. “He takes a sheet of dough, he rolls it out and spreads butter in it, he folds it, he rolls it out bigger, puts more butter, folds it. It’s like 21 layers of buttery deliciousness. Then he fills them and tops them, and rolls them out into little snail shapes or whatever.”
Another big seller, and understandably so, is Gina’s scrumptious strawberry cream cheese muffin, which seems more like a cupcake.
Gina’s also makes gourmet cupcakes multiple times a day: champagne, black forest, triple chocolate with chocolate filling and chocolate icing, and the trendy red velvet, just to name a few of the flavors in the display case.
But Martin believes that the fresh cakes, made by her dad, set the bakery apart.
“They are so moist. He’s just got the touch,” Martin said. “His white cake is super moist. Everything is so fresh and delicious!”
Gina’s menu has more than a dozen cake flavors such as pink champagne, almond poppy, confetti, carrot, and also sugar-free, gluten-free varieties, but, according to Martin, the most popular is, “White cake with fresh strawberries, by far! Top seller.”
After a little prodding, the modest Jones shared some secrets to his success: “Follow the instructions. If your instructions say, ‘Mix for one minute,’ don’t go three or four. Go one minute. It pays to follow the instructions,” he said.
Jones also weighs all of his ingredients.
“It’s not like cooking,” he said. “Cooking is more of a pinch here and a pinch there. You can’t do that with baking. [With] baking, you want to be consistent.”
Jones adds his ingredients in the same order, every time. If something doesn’t turn out just right, he throws it out and starts over.
Plus, he pulls anything out of the bakery’s display case that isn’t fresh enough for his high standards.
“We donate [baked goods] to the battered women’s shelter; we donate to the Salvation Army,” Martin said. “At the end of the day, when things don’t sell, they come and pick up.”
The fair prices also keep customers coming back to Gina’s.
“We haven’t raised our prices in two years,” Jones said—even though walnuts and chocolate chips have dramatically risen in price the last few years.
“You don’t want to chase people off,” Jones said. “I’d rather have repeat customers than a one-time shot.”
Those loyal customers and mall-goers alike can watch Jones in action through the large windows overlooking the whole kitchen, watching every move he makes and every cake he bakes.
“At first, I didn’t like it, but now I’ve gotten used to it,” Jones admitted.
His daughter added, “He’ll wave to people sometimes, and he’ll write notes and hold it up for them. He’s silly.”
Added Jones, “When they want to get my attention, they’ll tap on the window,” but he can’t hear through the thick glass window.
“So I’m thinking about putting in an intercom system there,” he said, half jokingly.
Chimed in Martin with a chuckle, “I think that would be cute! We should look into that. It really makes his day when he has old customers from Lompoc come and visit.”
Gina was just two weeks old in 1969 when Jones got his first job as an apprentice baker at the old Safeway on South Broadway in Santa Maria.
“Not knowing I was going to be a lifetime baker,” Jones said. “But I liked it. It worked out real fine.”
He stayed with Safeway for 12 years before buying The Bakery in Lompoc, which he owned for 22 years.
“When you buy your own shop, you’re working 14 to 16 hour days, if not more, and sometimes seven days a week, but that’s OK. Family is more important than my social life,” Jones said. “I took care of my family. I wouldn’t change it.”
He enjoys the “slower” pace working for his daughter at Gina’s. She takes care of the business side and he can focus on the baking, with help from their 11-person staff.
“It’s fun,” Jones said. “It’s a mom-and-pop shop. My wife works here, too.” He has no plans to retire, adding, “I still enjoy doing what I’m doing.”
Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell also has a pretty darn great dad. Contact her at email@example.com.