Kevin Riordan: Sweet end to the Vineland birthday "cake war"

Stephen Wilson and his wife, Jill McClellen, own Sweet Life Bakery. Vineland outsourced a cake.
Stephen Wilson and his wife, Jill McClellen, own Sweet Life Bakery. Vineland outsourced a cake. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 04, 2011

Vineland bakers who felt burned by a decision to outsource their city's 150th birthday cake will get a slice of the action after all.

A sweet agreement will enable four city bakeries to share the limelight with an "official" cake from Hoboken-based Carlo's Bake Shop - home of TV's Cake Boss - during the birthday bash Sunday.

Local confections will be arrayed in a separate tent next to a display of the celebrity cake.

"It's a good compromise and absolutely the right thing to do," says Dawn Hunter, executive director of the Greater Vineland Chamber of Commerce. "We want to support our local businesses."

The "cake war" erupted July 30, when the Vineland Daily Journal reported that Mayor Robert Romano had engaged Buddy Valastro's bakery rather than a Vineland shop to do the honors.

The birthday cake is being paid for by the mayor's Blue Ribbon Committee, the privately funded group behind the celebration.

Nevertheless, Vinelanders cried foul.

"They're very loyal, and that's a good thing," says Robyn Cantoni-Lopez, manager of the Crust N' Krumbs Bakery.

The 150th is certainly a big deal in this sprawling, diverse, and somewhat quirky Cumberland County city, which is home to 60,000 residents as well as the only operating drive-in theater in New Jersey.

Although Cumberland is the poorest county in the state, it boasts some of the region's richest farmland. And Vineland has seen an upturn in its somewhat depleted downtown.

The long-moribund Landis Theater has been beautifully restored and now hosts live shows. Along majestically wide Landis Avenue, new businesses have opened, including the Sweet Life, a bakery and cafe that became unofficial headquarters of "Operation Cake Bomb."

That's bomb as in photo bomb, in which an uninvited individual intentionally appears in a picture. Sweet Life, other bakeries, and their supporters planned to bring baked yummies to the celebration despite the lack of an invitation.

More than 150 participants signed up on Sweet Life's Facebook page.

"We weren't talking about destroying the Cake Boss' cake," notes Jill McClellen, who, along with her husband, Stephen Wilson, owns the Sweet Life. "We wanted to do something positive."

Customers were especially furious that a cake for such a special South Jersey event was being imported from North Jersey.

"When I saw the headline, I was appalled," Vineland sign-company owner Mary Ann Gonyea says as I join her at a table in the bustling cafe. "It was outrageous."

Sitting nearby, longtime residents Roger and Judy Scull, both retired, say they can't imagine why Romano would "go outside" when Vineland has several fine bakeries.

Valastro didn't return my phone calls, and the mayor is on vacation and unavailable for comment. Earlier, Romano told the Journal that local bakeries had not volunteered to help with the celebration and that a Cake Boss cake would bring publicity to Vineland.

It certainly has. A TV news crew arrived at the Sweet Life while I was enjoying my coffee, and media coverage has been extensive.

"It was never a war. It was just a big miscommunication," says Sandra Maniaci, manager of Jim Main's Bakery, which will contribute a simple sheet cake to the celebration.

"We're not competing with Cake Boss," she adds.

Sweet Life plans to embellish a display cake with fruits and vegetables hand-sculpted of fondant sugar. A decorative rooster, chickens, and eggs will commemorate the city's poultry-producing heritage.

Says McClellen: "We want to focus on what people think of when they think of Vineland."


Contact columnist Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@philly news.com, or @inqkriordan

on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at http://www.philly.com/blinq.

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