New Orleanians will go to great lengths for their favorite king cakes. Now, devotees of the particular king cake from Dong Phuong (14207 Chef Menteur Hwy., 504-254-0296) will have to go to the source.
The Vietnamese bakery in the far reaches of New Orleans East has built a fanatical following in recent years for its distinctive king cake and it has developed a circuit of other stores and restaurants that carry it.
But last week, Dong Phuong suspended deliveries to other retailers. That means it is only available at the bakery itself.
“We had to make a really difficult decision,” said Linh Garza, president of Dong Phuong. “We decided we had to prioritize the customers who make the journey to the bakery, who stand in line for their king cake here.”
She said the bakery is working practically around the clock on king cakes now. Looking at peak demand for king cake coming up as Carnival hits high gear, she knew something had to give.
“It’s not like I can flip a switch and have everything we need to keep up,” she said.
The bakery has even heard reports of people buying their king cakes to resell at inflated prices – essentially, king cake scalping.
“We’ve heard rumors of king cakes being sold for $60,” Garza said, noting that the cake sells at the bakery for $14, or $16 for filled versions. “If it’s true, I don’t feel sorry for that person. Why would anyone pay that much for a king cake?”
Dong Phuong now produces about 1,000 king cakes a day. Roughly half of that production had been shipped out to satellite locations. Now all of it will be handled in house, with the exception of shipping orders already placed directly through the bakery.
Even before ending delivery, the bakery has been seeing a line of customers waiting outside its door just for king cakes this season. The bakery opens at 8 a.m. with about 400 king cakes ready. These have been selling out by about 10 a.m., Garza said. Another batch is usually ready by the early afternoon.
The bakery now rations its king cake sales even at the bakery, with a limit of two per person.
King cake is big business around New Orleans, and groceries, bakeries and even restaurants all try to get a piece of the pie. The yearly-changing time frame of Carnival season can impact the pace and volume of that business, with demand climbing as Mardi Gras day approaches.
Dong Phuong isn't the only bakery to put on the brakes this season. Metairie-based Manny Randazzo King Cakes has already suspended orders for king cake shipping until after Mardi Gras, when of course the local demand plummets.
Dong Phuong’s take on the king cake is unique. It begins with traditional brioche dough but has the butter-crisp texture of a croissant under cream cheese icing and heaps of purple, green and gold sugar.
The distribution network the bakery has built over the years helped fuel the cake’s popularity across the city. The Lakeview pizzeria Pizza NOLA, for instance, has been a major distribution point for the Dong Phuong cakes and marked their arrival at the start of Carnival season each year with a mini festival. By this week, even the pizza shop was seeing lines of people waiting to pick up the cakes.
Dong Phuong is well established in the local Vietnamese community, operating a restaurant alongside a bakery that supplies families and other restaurants with banh mi loaves and other traditional baked goods. It entered the king cake game in 2008, just dipping a toe in the water with a humble salvo of 100 cakes. It was intended to bring the king cake tradition into the Vietnamese community.
Soon, however, the Dong Phuong cake earned a following around the region. As demand and interest grew the bakery began ferrying its cakes to other retail locations around area. Last Carnival season, the bakery sold about 30,000 king cakes.
Earlier this year, the James Beard Foundation named the bakery a recipient of one of its America’s Classics awards, which recognizes establishments of “timeless appeal” that serve food “that reflects the character of their communities.” Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, Mosca’s and Willie Mae’s Scotch House are other New Orleans businesses to win the America’s Classics award in past years.
14207 Chef Menteur Hwy., 504-254-0296
Wed.-Mon. (closed Tue.) 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
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