Cakes that make people feel good
By Stacy Thacker
Special to the Times
Armed with a facemask and creativity, Malcolm Willie enters the bakery ready to accept the next cake design challenge.
“I know a lot of people wanted me to make toilet paper cakes,” he said with a laugh. But the 30-year-old bakery manager and his team at Bashas’ Diné Market in Crownpoint had other ideas. It was about a week after the virus appeared on the Navajo Nation that the team found their next design. “We came across a facemask cake,” Willie recalled.
It was around Easter and a Bashas’ store in Phoenix posted a picture of a cake with an Easter Bunny wearing a facemask. “I was, like, wow, that’s a good idea,” he said. “Immediately after that we were, like, ‘Hey, we can put a facemask on a unicorn.’” A few hours later the cake sold and Willie knew they were on to something.
The unicorn facemask cake became a quick favorite and Willie said they sold three in one week. “It’s something we kind of need,” Willie said of the themed cakes. It brings a little light to a hard time. Customers really enjoy the cakes and give a lot of positive feedback. Some have even put in orders for the facemask-themed cakes. It’s the enthusiasm the community shows for the cakes that makes Willie and his team strive to continue doing their best.
“We put out cakes that make people feel good,” he said. “You don’t want to put out a plain cake.” Because the unicorn design was doing so well, the bakery team decided to add more cakes to the rotation. They made a cake with a sheep wearing a facemask and a hogan shaped cake that says “Stay Home, Stay Safe, Save Lives.”
“I’m pretty sure the sheep will take over next,” Willie said. With his cakes Willie hopes to send a message of hope and safety to the community. “We are so proud of the beautiful works of art Malcolm creates on a daily basis,” said Ashley Shick, director of communications and public affairs at Bashas’.
“His creativity, as well as his support and commitment of his fellow members and his community are a shining example of leadership. “Malcolm has been a valued part of the Bashas’ Diné family for years and we are honored to help showcase his incredible talent and thank him for continually bringing joy and inspiration to others,” Shick said.
With support from the company, the bakery team tries to keep up with what’s popular so they can give customers a unique experience in their rural town. “At least people don’t have to travel so far and it’s really special for them that they can get those cakes here,” Willie said. “I’m not sure how many other Bashas’ do it but I’m happy to be exclusively out here in Crownpoint.”
Due to COVID-19, Bashas’ has created customer traffic flow to help insure the safety of customers by having them enter the building on one side and exit another.
The new flow takes customers right next to the bakery, making the cakes visible in an otherwise invisible situation. “People probably don’t see bakery items as essential,” Willie said. “Nobody is going to pick a doughnut over ground beef.”
So when they do see customers, Willie tries to make sure their time in his section is worthwhile. The biggest change for the bakery is the 57-hour weekend curfew. The weekend used to be a busy time for the bakery with back-to-back cake orders.
It’s an adjustment Willie’s had to make but he knows that one day his bakery will have its busy weekends again. Until then Willie is staying positive and busy. “We’re really appreciative of people continuing to shop not only in the bakery but at our stores as well,” he said. “There’s a lot of people involved in keeping the stores open and keeping them going, especially as far as keeping people safe, the public and the people who work in the stores.
“We’re really thankful for being able to continue what we do and provide service to our community and we appreciate their business and cooperation,” he said. Willie said even though the virus has changed a lot for him professionally and personally, he’s glad he can come to work and looks forward to creating more themed cakes for his community. “We’ll get through it,” he said.