by: Rebecca Taylor
Anyone walking into the Semi-Sweet Bakery would want to stay there forever. It smelled of perfection, of love and holiday dinners. It looked unlike any other bakery. It wasn’t just a display case stocked with unending pastries, breads and fancy salads. No, it invited the customer to stay awhile, to choose something different, something special for their day and to relax. It was also a thoughtful place filled with wisdom, joy and happiness. Colourful posters were in frames on the walls featuring quotations, quirky sayings, and advertising slogans. Antique wooden chairs surrounded tables that held wooden recipe boxes with a list of items available. It was the realization of a dream for Shelley Vanslatner. She had worked extra jobs in college in order to pay her tuition so that she could start saving for her own place when she was done. Fifteen years after graduating, she made the down payment on her own shop and decorated it based on her ideas and her passion. She wanted her bakery to be something special, something that made people want to stay awhile and to keep coming back. Shelley had a staff of four working for her full time along with some part time employees who filled in so she could stay open seven days a week.
Shelley had a recipe for all of life’s special moments and she offered this to her customers. She took extra care to figure out ways to package happiness. Not only did she and her staff bake and serve customers in their bakery, they also researched innovative ways to give their customers more. This meant taking chances, trying new ideas and being willing to fail in order to eventually succeed. Making proposals and baby announcements special were two of the bakery’s favourite things. They could make cakes that people enjoyed but they could also take people past the experience of the beauty of the cake and the delicious taste to the mystery that it unravelled. Hiding a ring, a rattle or miniature baby bottle in a cake were not good ideas because they could be missed and accidently choked on. Instead of a square cake, Shelley often made hers round using a bunt pan so that she could hide a spice pouch in the hole, ice over it and affix a little design that said open me on it. Sometimes instead of the spice pouch, the words “Marry Me” or “Congrats Dad” would be lettered in the opening. These ideas worked especially well around holidays or birthdays when a cake would be used anyways. A birthday or Christmas cake could be the disguise for an even bigger celebration.
Shelley and her team didn’t just believe in celebrating special occasions, they believed in celebrating life. And it was through this philosophy that Shelley had met her fiancé. Drake Shanihan had been angry at the world when he had first walked into the bakery, Shelley could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice as he abruptly ordered two dozen chocolate raspberry pinwheel cookies. Shelley knew it wasn’t an order a man often made, at least most of the ones she had met – they found the name pinwheel cookie far too girly and wanted something more substantial like the oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies.
“Anything else?” asked Shelley packaging the cookies.
“No, not for now but chances are my mother will have me back here by the end of the day. She claims your cookies are all she needs. If it were up to me, I’d hit the road and go after him not be ordering some darn cookies.”
“Do I know your mother?” asked Shelley as she rang up the sale.
“I don’t know but she knows you and your cookies. Her name’s Beatrice Shanihan, although I suppose now she’ll take back O’Connor.”
“I know her, she’s a regular. I’m sorry to hear that things are not working out for her; she seems like a nice person. Always orders the chocolate raspberry pinwheels and a cup of peppermint tea.”
“That would be her, but cookies and tea don’t save you from your husband quitting his job and leaving town with a younger woman. I don’t understand her,” said Drake hitting his hand against his leg, “where is her fighting spirit, her fire, some gumption, at least some tears, but no she calls me at work and says she got home to find a note on the table, thanking her for the good years and saying he’d send the divorce papers and asks me to bring her some cookies from this bakery. Seriously, I left work to get my mother cookies; I should be going after him and bringing him to his senses.”
“Oh,” answered Shelley, “talk about a surprise and not the kind I enjoy selling either, I wish there was more I could do to help you out than sell you cookies. Don’t take this the wrong way, but maybe your mother is in shock and looking for something she can control right now. Having a treat like the cookies might be one way she can do that.”
“How much do I owe you?” asked Drake not commenting on Shelley’s take on the situation.
“Four dollars,” she answered handing over the cookies.
He paid and left without saying a word. Shelley continued working but the thoughts of Mrs. Shanihan stayed with her. Not for the first time did she think about her bakery and the difference that she hoped it was making. She knew that some people found what she did a waste of time – cooking sweets and pretty things wasn’t going to solve world hungry or end any wars, her grandfather had told her. She had argued that maybe it wouldn’t, but that didn’t mean that if someone was hungry they couldn’t go to her for a hand up; or that if men in battle sat down to something that she had made, that they couldn’t have a civil conversation and come to terms. She remembered these discussions well, how her grandfather had scoffed at her ideas but she had continued on, refusing to let his skepticism deter her. And wouldn’t you know it; it had been her marmalade cookies that her grandfather had asked for to serve at the funeral reception for his wife – her grandmother. “She loved those,” he had said sentimentally.
Drake Shanihan didn’t return to the bakery that day but the next morning he was there waiting when Shelley turned over the open sign on the door.
“Hello Mr. Shanihan,” she said, “what can I get you this morning – more pinwheel cookies?”
“No, thank you, we still have some of them left, although not many, they are quite good, I must admit. And please call me Drake.”
“I’m Shelley, this is my bakery.” She observed that the anger and the hurriedness were gone from his face. He looked tired and sad, maybe even a bit defeated, but he had tried to smile while complimenting her cookies.
“I told my mother that I would get her a cup of peppermint tea before I left for work. She isn’t feeling up to going out just yet. We spent a lot of time yesterday talking and eating your cookies. Things hadn’t been good in their marriage for a long time; I don’t know why I didn’t see it. She’s upset but she knows that this is a second chance for her.”
“I hope that she finds happiness,” said Shelley pouring the tea into a takeout cup.”
“That smells really good,” answered Drake, “and I’m not one to drink tea.”
“My grandmother’s favourite. As a little girl, we had so many tea parties. Now, I take the time to brew it properly. Tea like special moments in life is meant to be savoured, whether it is in a china teacup or a to-go cup.”
“I don’t think my mother came here just for the cookies and the tea,” he answered, “I think she came here because she felt safe, and cared about.”
“I want my customers to feel that way here, I don’t want them to feel like they are just sales being rung up. I want them to feel like this is a place they can come and enjoy and stay a while and visit or meet friends – old and new.”
“You are full of wisdom, Shelley. I’m sure that your husband appreciates that.”
“He might, if I had one,” answered Shelley, laughing. “Single ladies can be wise and business minded too,” she said teasingly.
“I don’t doubt it,” he replied.
Shelley handed him two cups. “On the house today, you should try the tea. Like the cookies, it might surprise you.”
That was how a series of changes occurred in Shelley’s life and Drake’s as he became addicted to her peppermint tea, beautiful smile and easy charm. When asked how she landed herself a man, she replied,” “There’s a recipe for everything, “cookies, love, life and all that goes with it.” On the menu for the wedding reception – amazing delights from the Semi-Sweet Bakery including chocolate raspberry pinwheel cookies and peppermint tea.