Park Avenue Coffee's Gooey Butter Cake Goes Nationwide
Dale Schotte and Marilyn Scull of Park Avenue Coffee act like siblings separated by a mere fourteen months.
That's because they are.
Scull attempts to describe how she creates new flavors of gooey butter cake. "I'm gonna use a word and," she throws a look at her brother, who hasn't said a word. "Shut up. There's a process every cake goes through."
"It's scientific," quips Schotte. His sister rolls her eyes and chuckles.
She may have a process for developing their cakes, but the rest of the family's business model has been far more spontaneous. Even though it's not the path either anticipated taking in life -- Schotte was a computer network engineer and Scull managed a Domino's Pizza franchise -- it has worked.
At the end of this month, Schotte will represent his new venture -- Ann & Allen Baking Company -- at the Summer Fancy Foods Show in New York City. He'll present Scull's three gooey butter cakes and one brownie mix for national distribution.
"I wish I could say it was some major plan I put together, but everything we've done that's been really successful hasn't been planned," says Schotte. "I think you see an opportunity and you go that direction."
The serendipity began when a friend of Schotte opened Perc on the Park in 2004 and hired him to help with her computer system. "I said to her one day, just jokingly, that if she ever wanted to sell the place to let me know.
Robin Wheeler Keepin' it gooey: Dale Schotte and Marilyn Scull of Ann & Allen Baking Company.
"Well, two years later she called me and asked if I remembered saying that. She asked if I wanted to buy it. I said no. At the time I had a career, fifteen years with a computer company. I was working not all that hard, with all the money and benefits. I had no real desire to change careers at that point. Out of respect I told her to give me a few days to think about it."
His intentions changed two days later when Scull called him in tears because she'd quit her management job at Domino's, the only place she'd worked as an adult. "She had no idea the coffee-shop offer was out there," Schotte recounts. "After she calmed down from being hysterical, I said, 'Do you want to run a coffee shop?' She said, 'What do you mean?' I told her the whole story and we sat down to talk about it..."
Scull interjects, "I didn't say, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'First, I don't even like coffee."
But she did like baking, which she'd learned from their mother, Evelyn Schotte, as a child. She also knew how to successfully manage a food business.
They cut a deal. Schotte would buy the coffee shop, change the name to Park Avenue Coffee and keep his tech job. Scull would run the business. They wanted to focus on sourcing local. What could be more local than gooey butter cake, using their mom's recipe?
Scull tweaked the recipe to her liking, and the cakes were a hit. So much so that customers began requesting additions they remembered from the gooey butter cakes of their youth.
Schotte explains, "This lady comes in one day and tells us that Dierberg's used to put apples in their gooey butter cake. It was a seasonal thing, and could we do it? Marilyn said yeah. And now we have 75 flavors."
As the popularity grew, the siblings moved their baking facility from the basement of the coffee shop to a building on Manchester Avenue in Dogtown. Straub's started carrying the cakes. Then Eckert's.