The King Cake Shop: A Can-do Katrina Survivor Overcomes Flood, Looting and Vandalism--10% of Online King Cake Sales to be Donated to the American Red Cross

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Relying on Moxie to keep himself afloat, Rusty Mazik finds opportunity in adversity. Re-opening his bakery in time for the king cake and Mardi Gras season in New Orleans, Rusty hopes to save his business.

Rusty Mazik’s bakery business was dealt a devastating blow by hurricane Katrina, and his customer base disappeared overnight. Not willing to pin his hopes on government relief or litigation against insurance underwriters, he’s relying instead on his own wits and adopting a can-do survivor’s spirit to keep himself afloat -- and in so doing, helping to restore a mercantile heartbeat to the city of New Orleans.

Pre-Katrina, Mazik, 46, presided over a thriving business with annual revenues of approximately $400,000. The Bagel Factory supplied gourmet baked goods, primarily bread and bagels, to posh hotels and other businesses catering to the city's booming convention and meetings trade. When he was finally able to get back into New Orleans to inspect his Mid City facility a month after the storm, he was greeted by a chaotic scene that almost defied comprehension.

Doors ripped off the hinges. Trash everywhere. Machinery toppled. Cash register smashed into pieces on the floor. Soda machine busted open and robbed of coins.

“You’re just so depressed when you walk in and see this,” relates Mazik, “and you think to yourself: ‘These were people living in this neighborhood. They just came in and destroyed the place.’

“You know, come in, take the food, whatever. But there’s no reason to push over my machinery into the water. That’s just uncalled for.”

Alas, Mazik, married with two children, had more than just his livelihood to worry about. His home in Mandeville, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, also took a hit. The storm had ripped off a section of the roof, and water poured in through the attic, laying waste to his kitchen.

Mazik was taking all this more or less in stride, and waiting to learn his fate at the hands of insurance adjusters, when a neighbor inquired about his situation. “He asked me if I could use some help, and I said, ‘Well, most certainly.”

It so happened that the neighbor, Ed Dicks, was a parishioner at a church in nearby Covington that was recruiting volunteers to assist victims of the hurricane. “From all over the country,” says Mazik, “these people started showing up.”

Over the course of a month, Trinity Church assigned three crews to Mazik. The first, consisting of college boys, tackled the nasty business of extracting trash and spoiled foodstuffs from the bakery. The next crew -- using a pressure washer, bleach and lots of elbow grease -- got the place spic and span. Then came a group of “old farm boys from Missouri,” says Mazik; they helped with electrical work and fixing equipment. (Mazik used what money he did have to buy new electric motors for mixers and other machines.)

If the church volunteers were selfless Samaritans, representatives from the insurance companies were less than saintly. According to Mazik, the adjuster who came to inspect the bakery took one look at the water line inside the facility and said, “ ‘Nothing’s covered.’ He walked back out, and that was the end of that.”

No matter that some of the actual damages sustained were due to vandalism, not flooding. “They were figuring the government was going to pay, so they weren’t going to. There’s no other way to explain it,” says Mazik.

Not surprisingly, class-action lawyers are taking to the airwaves with advertisements soliciting claims against insurance companies. While not ruling out joining the litigation bandwagon, Mazik says “I don’t have time to worry about all that. Let’s get the ball rolling and get off the ground here and take care of ourselves.”

But where to find customers? With New Orleanians scattered far and wide and a rebound in the convention business still months away, Mazik had to improvise.

King cake and pastries had never been a mainstay of the Bagel Factory. But then again, adversity sows the seeds of opportunity. “Our bakery was a high-end bakery,’’ says Mazik. There were no preservatives -- that was our signature -- and everything was first class.”

So why not king cake? Mazik had learned from a supplier that there were 12 fewer bakeries operating in the New Orleans area than there were before the storm. “That’s why I thought, ‘Man, this is a perfect opportunity -- let’s do it!”

In between refining a recipe for king cake icing and making repairs to his storm-battered house, Mazik has had to contend with obtaining basic services for his bakery. “I didn’t even get gas until the middle of last month,” he says, “and I had to drag the guy out of his truck -- just about -- to get him to do it. Still don’t have phone service. Can you believe that? Five months later.”

Mazik’s King Cake Shop (http://www.kingcakeshop.com) offers both traditional and filled varieties. The cakes are made from hand-braided dough, rolled in cinnamon and topped with Mazik’s delicious butter-crème icing. Every package includes a limited-edition print, suitable for framing, entitled "Mardi Gras Everlasting" -- a tribute to Mardi Gras royalty by award-winning New Orleans artist Ray Cole; a set of four Mardi Gras greeting cards; Mardi Gras beads and doubloons; a special New Orleans-style blend of coffee and chicory; and a wonderful history of king cake and New Orleans Mardi Gras.

Prices -- $32.92 for traditional, $39.95 for filled (apple, blueberry, cream cheese, lemon or pecan-praline) -- include overnight shipping via UPS.

Ten percent of every online purchase will be donated to the American Red Cross.

NOTE TO EDITORS: Photographs documenting Mazik’s ravaged Bagel Factory and the clean-up effort are available upon request.

Contact:

Mark Sottek (504) 669-3992

Rusty Mazik (504) 909-0854

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