This weekend, as Hurricane Irma was about to hit Florida and evacuation orders were issued for millions of people living along the coast, plenty of people went to their local Publix—the beloved regional grocery store chain with dope sandwiches—to stock up on supplies. Amid the canned foods and bottles of water were Hurricane Irma-themed cakes in the bakery. Photos of these hurricane cakes with phrases like "Weather It Out" written in icing quickly circulated on Twitter. People seemed to either really love or really hate these cakes, but folks on both sides were left wondering: Who is buying a hurricane-decorated cake in the middle of an emergency—and why are people making hurricane-decorated cakes in the first place?
Tom Sandberg would know, because he ate one. The Florida man evacuated West Palm Beach with his wife. In Jacksonville, post-evacuation, she picked up an Irma-themed cake with the phrase "Go Away Irma" written on the side in white icing. The couple is no stranger to Publix; Sandberg even called the store his "wife's second home" in a Twitter message to me. And it was apparently a very good cake. "Mix of choc[olate] and vanilla and like virtually all of their cakes we buy, was delicious," he told me. "Lots of great conversation with other store customers about the cake(s), keeping mood light as these storms always bring a lil [sic] anxiety to all."
The desire to lighten the mood, even a little bit, and spread well wishes in the face of impending doom seems to be part of the reason Five Daughters Bakery in Santa Rosa, FL, posted a video of Hurricane Irma-inspired doughnuts to their Instagram account on Saturday, before the hurricane made landfall. The bakery was criticized for the seemingly insensitive post but did not apologize for the hurricane-inspired treats, as they noted in a follow-up post the next day: "If you found our post stating we are sending thoughts and prayers 'tasteless' (pun intended) and offensive, we invite you to UNfollow us and put your energies towards helping the world." (Hashtags on the not-so-sorry apology post included #hatersgonnahate and #bakersgonnabake.)
Cinotti's Bakery in Jacksonville also made Hurricane Irma-inspired doughnuts that took the motif even more literally. The doughnuts were dipped in white frosting, then airbrushed to resemble how the hurricane looks on radar. Cinotti's owner, Michelle Cinotti Vining, explained in an email, "I believe it was a couple of our employees that wanted to come up with something fun related to the hurricane. A few places did an Irma-related cake so they sorta played off of that." She added, "Being a family business we just kind of roll with what sounds good."
Cinotti Vining and her employees arrived at the bakery on Saturday, assuming it would be a slow day, what with the threat of a hurricane. But there was a line out the door, and customers couldn't get enough of the Hurricane Irma doughnuts. "We kept frying donuts for a solid seven hours just to try to keep up with the demand," Cinotti Vining said. "It was crazy!"
The bakery's employees had prepped about a dozen doughnuts in advance of the rush and were only able to make another 24 or so hurricane-themed doughnuts over the course of the day. "That was all the dough we had! We didn't try to over order inventory based on the storm headed our way," but she said, "If we made 100 of them we could have sold them all. We sold out twice and quickly."
No one seemed to be offended by the hurricane-shaped doughnuts in real life, despite the negative reactions on social media. If anything, customers were bummed there weren't enough to go around. "People were understanding but [kind of] disappointed at the same time," she wrote in an email. "We don't do things for attention or plugs. We just try to do the right things, be there when our community needs us and do what we do with quality and integrity." (Cinotti's Bakery has also donated money toward feeding Jacksonville's first responders.)
Hurricanes are stressful and scary and extremely serious, but these bakers are just trying to make people feel a little bit better. So even though hurricane might not seem like an occasion for cake or doughnuts, as one Twitter user wisely noted:
So go ahead and eat that Hurricane Irma cake, Florida. You deserve it. Just stay safe while you do it.