800 graduation cakes. 12 schools. 5 weeks.
That’s what it will take for Hanisch Bakery and Coffee Shop in Red Wing, Minnesota, to fulfill the graduation cake orders they received after a not-so-small act of kindness.
“Our seniors are going to be missing out on so much, so many opportunities and events, that I just felt like I needed to do something. And cake makes people happy,” owner Bill Hanisch said.
Hanisch was thinking of the 200 graduating seniors in his town’s high school whose traditional commencement ceremony was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The thing “to do,” he decided, was to make each of them a free cake: a two-layer, round, 7-inch cake, decorated in school colors — purple and white.
“I have a lot of crazy ideas, and sometimes they’re really good,” he said with a booming chuckle. “You can still celebrate with your immediate family and what’s a better way than with cake?”
A small-town bakery and a family tradition
Red Wing is a rural town on the banks of the Mississippi River with a population under 17,000. Hanisch Bakery is a staple of its quaint downtown area, lined with historic brick buildings and green public spaces.
Hanisch was born and raised there and is a member of the Red Wing High School class of 1998. He began working at his parent’s bakery when he was 15.
“I think back to my graduation party and the cake that I was given by the bakery staff. It was a cake made out of sponge. The graduation cake is one of those things that was always important. To have a graduation cake and celebrate what you’ve accomplished in the last 14 years,” he recalled.
Over the 25 years he’s worked at the bakery, he’s seen a new generation grow up on the other side of the counter. Many of the graduating seniors and their families often come in for a cookie or a pastry.
Hanisch said, to him, it’s about putting a smile on their faces.
A community celebration
Word quickly spread outside Red Wing to neighboring Minnesota towns and across the river to towns in Wisconsin. Soon Hanisch was fielding calls from private benefactors, area businesses and school districts wanting to buy cakes for high school graduates in both states.
Hanisch is only charging for labor and ingredients; he’s not making a profit.
The farthest call came from Blooming Prairie, a town an hour’s drive away. Its bakery burned down back in January. Hanisch took the order to heart.
“It’s right up there with being able to provide cakes to my hometown, being able to provide cakes to this town that lost a bakery to a fire. That one hits home.”
In all, 12 schools and 800 graduates were sponsored. Hanisch Bakery will be delivering cakes into the first week of June.
“The emotion didn’t hit until other towns started wanting to do it. To see the support that we got from the community and some donations to help us with this… It leaves me speechless,” he said.
At a time when most gatherings and celebrations have been canceled — curtailing demand for cake — this act of kindness has enabled Hanisch to keep his 21 full-time employees on payroll.
“We’ve stayed busy enough that I have not had to lay off any of my full-time employees,” he said. “That’s what’s gonna make this even more special, to also make sure these people are provided a job. I can’t be that crazy if it’s working.”