Nostalgia was the main ingredient in a successful pop-up in Florida earlier this year. Pinellas Park, Florida’s Wandering Whisk Bakeshop held a special event in March offering treats inspired by beloved childhood foods such as Cheetos and Cosmic Brownies.
Owner Jennifer Jacobs created each flavor with the foods of her 90’s childhood in mind. The pop-up ended up being a huge success for the bakery, as customers flocked to the storefront for these culinary re-creations and bought them out.
“People went crazy over the retro, 90’s concept,” says Jacobs.
Jacobs previously had a career in the entertainment industry, which prepared her for her current career. After college, she went to New York City, where she worked for Madison Square Garden and then Sony Music. A few years of career dissatisfaction and harsh winters motivated her to leave the profession and head home to Florida.
She discovered baking during her free time while working as a television producer. What started as a fun hobby led to a revelation, when she brought homemade red velvet cookie sandwiches to her workplace. Her co-workers loved them and asked to purchase more from her for their families.
“I brought in these cookies and two guys bought them from me. The next day, I asked how they enjoyed them. They said, ‘We ended up eating all of the cookies at work and we now want to put in another order for more cookies to actually take home,’” she says.
That first sale, in 2013, gave her a rush. Jacobs never set out to start a business, it all happened organically. She continued this for several years while balancing her regular job, which allowed her to hone her craft. Using an outsider’s perspective, she brings an entertaining flair to her baked goods.
Jacobs opened her shop in October of last year. She decided it would be a by-appointment, boutique bakery only. She does custom-ordering, but decided to hold pop-ups to bring additional people into the shop and as a way to be creative.
A retro state of mind
Wandering Whisk Bakeshop has done several pop-ups over the last half-year but had only held them during holidays initially. That changed when Jacobs had the idea to do a nod to retro desserts. She was inspired after learning about the news that Dunkaroos, the popular cookie snack from the 90’s, was coming back in 2020.
She posted the idea for the pop-up concept on Instagram to get feedback from her fans and received overwhelmingly positive support for it. It ended up being one of the best ideas she ever had, as she would find out later.
Jacobs developed the menu by thinking about creative ways to represent several beloved desserts that reminded people of their childhoods. The pop-up was a smash hit. Despite not opening the shop until 9 a.m., people showed up to wait in line at 7:30 a.m. to get their hands on boxes of desserts. “With this (pop-up), we sold out in two and a half hours,” Jacobs says.
The retro menu included a variety of cookie sandwiches, cupcakes and macarons based on popular flavors such as Oatmeal Cream Pies, Moon Pies, Cheetos, Puppy Chow, Fruity Pebbles, Sno Balls and the aforementioned Dunkaroos, among others. She also featured cake cups, which contain cake scraps, buttercream and toppings in a cup – essentially a deconstructed slice of cake.
To make the Dunkaroos, Jacobs had to construct the flavor from memory. She made a sugar cookie dough, but then added in a lot of spices. She substituted in brown sugar for white sugar, and threw in some ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg to create a spice cookie. She then made a cream cheese dip with sprinkles in it.
She stuck to classic formulas as much as possible, but did take some creative liberties. “I always like to put my spin on things. This one was interesting, because I was kind of mimicking desserts that were already in existence, whereas the other menus are totally my own thing,” Jacobs says.
For example, she had never really had MoonPies growing up, but over the summer tried one at a party. She realized how processed it tasted and wanted to make a superior version. To create her version of Moon Pies, she used dark chocolate on the coating. Callebaut chocolate made for a rich outside, a homemade marshmallow fluff was sandwiched inside and sea salt was sprinkled on top.
Among her inspirations during this creation process was a video series from Bon Appétit magazine, titled “Gourmet Makes,” where pastry chef Claire Saffitz attempts to recreate favorite junk and comfort foods such as Twinkies in the Bon Appétit test kitchen. Another influence was Stella Parks’ BraveTart, the James Beard Award winner for Best Baking and Desserts Book in 2018, which offers fresh takes on the history of American desserts such as Hostess Cupcakes and Fudge Stripes.
For Jacobs, a lot of these desserts represented a different person in her life. Growing up, she and her best friend used to make puppy chow all the time, which was a motivation for including that flavor on the menu.
Jacobs views these pop-ups as a marketing strategy and a way to build customer relationships.
“I get people who come to these pop-ups who would maybe never order custom. You have those customers that want to come in and spend thirty, forty, fifty dollars on dessert, but would never order a $200 custom cake. It not only creates a buzz and keeps you relevant, but it also brings in new people to introduce them to the business.”
Advice for aspiring bakers
As an individual who made the leap from another career, Jacobs says that the one piece of advice she would give for transitioning to the world of baking is to not to jump fully into it in the beginning, but to take your time.
“It’s tough because you’re working all day at this long job and then you’re coming home and doing all these orders at night,” she says. “Working that full-time job and having that income really allowed me to explore the baking and to realize, ‘Am I going to keep doing this for fun and as a side business, or do I actually want to do this as a full-time job?’”
Nearly two years ago, she was laid off from her job. That was a blessing in disguise, as she knew she was ready to buy her own space and this gave her the final push. She was finally able to put her full focus on her bakery.
“When you’re starting a business, you want to make sure you’re not only good at baking, but the business side is such a huge part of it,” she says. “I spend about 40% of my time in the kitchen and 60% of the time doing the other administrative things. Understanding that and having a good business sense about you before you make that leap is important.”
Jacobs has continued to grow as her business has. While she is an independent person who started the business herself and does all the custom baking, she’s not afraid to ask for a little help now and then. Her mother assists her in the shop occasionally, and she has a group of friends who offer to be her staff on pop-up days.