Wednesday, December 2, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 39
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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Gina's Piece of Cake took to social media for a helping hand to make it through the pandemic

CAMILLIA LANHAM

One day, Gina’s Piece of Cake was open, baking, and cranking out the cakes. And the next day, it wasn’t. 

“When the pandemic first started, obviously, the mall just closed our doors,” owner Gina Martin said. 


Back to normal
With the Santa Maria Town Center Mall open again, Gina’s Piece of Cake is back to its pre-pandemic schedule. The bakery is open from Tuesday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 307 Town Center East in Santa Maria. Find Gina’s on Facebook and Instagram @Ginaspieceofcake.

DAILY SIX-PACK
Because the Santa Maria Town Center Mall was closed during much of the pandemic, Gina’s Piece of Cake started advertising a handful of specials on social media for curbside pickup each day, such as half a dozen gourmet cupcakes.
PHOTO COURTESY OF GINA’S PIECE OF CAKE

The saving grace? Because the shop is just inside the Santa Maria Town Center’s entrance, Martin said they had a side door that they could use to access the bakery from outside the mall. 

“Without that, I don’t know that we would still be open,” she said. 

It took a little while to figure out how to make things work, but with the help of social media, a Paycheck Protection Program loan, and a little outside-of-the-box thinking, Gina’s made it through two rounds of COVID-19 mall closures and was back to full operating hours as of Sept. 3, when the Town Center reopened again. 

Initially, in March, after a brief closure, Martin said they opened for minimal hours twice a week, offering specials and selling them out the side door. As other food establishments began selling to-go orders, Martin said they decided that Gina’s could do something like that, too. 


MAKE IT LIGHT
Incorporating a little bit of humor into baking, Gina’s Piece of Cake started making toilet paper cakes at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
PHOTO COURTESY OF GINA’S PIECE OF CAKE

Cake decorator Ali Wilson, who now manages the bakery’s social media feeds and decorates cakes, put the word out on Gina’s Facebook and Instagram pages. 

Martin said she never really paid attention to how many people followed the business on those platforms because the bakery didn’t need it. After being open for 16 years and in the mall for nine, Gina’s stayed pretty steady with a good reputation in the community. However, as the pandemic picked up steam, people canceled their orders for big events such as weddings, and with the mall closed, customers couldn’t peruse the glass case for their sweet tooth fix. 

Gina’s was forced to figure out how to reach customers in a new way and keep them updated on constant changes. Martin said it made her realize how important it is to stay connected with the community. 

“Social media is really the only thing that kept us alive,” Martin said. “All of those people who click ‘like’ or make a comment or share our post, they’re really responsible for helping us be successful during this time. … I’ve never really been a huge marketing person on social media, but gosh, it really works.” 


COVID SURVIVAL KIT
Cookies, cupcakes, brownies, cream items, and a loaf of bread from Gina’s Piece of Cake could help get you through the COVID-19 pandemic—or at least satisfy that emergency sweet tooth.
PHOTO COURTESY OF GINA’S PIECE OF CAKE

Gina’s offered up a COVID-19 survival box, “a sampler box on steroids,” Martin said—cookies, brownies, mini cakes, cream items, and a loaf of bread.

“There was a huge bread shortage for whatever reason. It was the weirdest thing,” Martin said. “We were desperate; we just needed to pay some bills.” 

And then there were the toilet paper cakes, which Martin said was Gina’s way of trying to make a heavy situation a little bit lighter. Everything was so dark, heavy, and scary, Martin said, so they were trying to be humorous and still stay afloat. They were a hit just like the survival kits.

The bakery came up with daily specials—a six-pack of gourmet cupcakes or French macarons, mini cheesecakes, liguiça rolls with jalepeño and cheddar cheese, mini cream puffs and chocolate eclairs, croissants of all flavors. They’d advertise those specials on social media, people would order, drive up to the side door, and either hop out to grab their orders or get it delivered to their cars. 


SAUSAGE ROLL
Gina’s Piece of Cake offered a number of daily specials during the pandemic, including the linguiça roll—French bread filled with Silva linguiça, cheddar cheese, and jalepeño—and a drink.
PHOTO COURTESY OF GINA’S PIECE OF CAKE

“When we’re a normal operation, we bake a lot,” she said, starting with cakes first thing in the morning, then breads and pastries, then cookies, brownies, and muffins. “So throughout the day everything gets made every day. So when we got shut down, we would just have designated items we would bake, otherwise we would be wasting it all. … Two or three items on special, and that’s all we would make.” 

It’s been rough, Martin said, but thankfully, Gina’s also received a Paycheck Protection Program loan that paid the staff. It gave the bakery the momentum needed to keep moving forward, she said.

“If you don’t have the revenue coming in and you don’t have the money to pay your employees, you just kind of have to shut down and wait until the storm passes. So we got really lucky,” Martin said. 

Eventually, Gina’s had enough business to open up four days a week. Then they started offering individually wrapped baked goods from a pink pop-up tent outside that side door on Fridays and Saturdays—advertised via social media, of course. Now, since the mall is open again, Martin said the bakery is back to six days a week. That beautiful glass case is once again full of treats, and sales are pretty good so far, she said. 


SCRATCH THE ITCH
Satisfy that sweet tooth with a strawberry cheesecake from Gina’s Piece of Cake, now open daily.
PHOTO COURTESY OF GINA’S PIECE OF CAKE

On the same day that the mall reopened, Gina’s also participated as a pop-up at Birchwood in Nipomo—something Martin said she’s never really done before. Located off Tefft Street, the Birchwood Beer Garden opened on Sept. 3 with food trucks, beer, and a bright pink pop-up tent full of baked goods. 

It was great, Martin said, and Gina’s Piece of Cake is heading back out to do it again on Sept. 10. 

“We sold out,” she said. “The kids can go, and the parents can go, and it’s just a really cool place. It was just chill, it was fun.” 

With the success of that, Martin said, Gina’s could start doing more of the outside stuff. The bakery is looking into expanding and possibly purchasing a trailer they can take to events. 

“Now, we’re really kind of thinking outside of the box and kind of making it come to fruition,” she said. “We’ve had so much positive feedback from our customers, and we’ve gained tons of new followers.” 

Editor Camillia Lanham is salivating from scrolling through Gina’s Piece of Cake’s Facebook feed. Send your food pics to clanham@santamariasun.com










Weekly Poll
Would a second stay-at-home order be effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19?

No, pandemic fatigue is too high to get people to follow a stay-at-home order.
Yes, we need it, otherwise our hospitals will be in rough shape.
Local governments should get a say—not all purple tier counties are the same.
It would be bad news for the economy.

| Poll Results






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