Posted on 15 April 2011.
By Clara Martinez Turco
Customers order a birtday cake at Valencia Bakery (Photo credit: Clara Martinez Turco)
Inside Valencia Bakery in Mott Haven, the phone almost never stops ringing. Its manager Eddy quickly writes down orders for birthday cakes, detailing fillings and icing colors. “Yellow and black is possible,” he says over the phone to a woman who needs a cake for Sunday.
Meanwhile, customers enter the shop to peek at the glass cases filled with sample cakes. “I grew up eating Valencia cakes,” says a woman as she chose a 9-inch pineapple cake with white creamy frosting for her 10-year-old son’s birthday. Valencia Bakery is fixture of East 138th Street and has been the source for cakes in the neighborhood ever since it opened in 1948.
But six years ago, the bakery launched its website, and now 70 percent of the phone calls it receives are from customers who saw the website and want to either order cakes or inquire about them. “Having the website is the best thing I ever did,” says the store manager Eddy, who is so adamant about using only his first name publicly that it is the only name printed on his business cards.
As traditional stores in the Bronx look for ways to expand their businesses during the post-recession, many retailers have turned to the Internet as a way to build their clientele. Although bakeries and pastry shops, like Valencia and Artuso Pastry, cannot fully embrace online sales because of the perishable nature of their products, they still use online tools to go beyond the reach of the neighborhood’s and the borough’s boundaries.
Artuso's customers can order a mini-cannoli kit online
Unlike Valencia, which uses its website as a showcase for its cakes, Artuso Pastry, a family-owned shop that has been in Little Italy since 1946, has been selling a mini-cannoli kit for the past three years that customers can buy online. It is the only pastry shop in the area that offers this service. “We wanted to launch an e-commerce site to stay relevant and keep up with the times,” says Concetta Artuso Mangano, marketing coordinator at Artuso Pastry.
People who moved out of New York and want a taste of Arthur Avenue order most of the cannoli-kits; other customers buy them as gifts, says Artuso Mangano. Although e-commerce only represents a small part of the pastry shop’s sales, the company plans to expand its online business in the next couple of months by adding more signature items like tiramisu and sfogliatelle pastries.
Artuso Pastry also relies on Facebook to share pictures of its cake creations and to provide a space so customers can share their experiences at the store. “I can’t say how many comments we get where people say ‘I remember when my parents or grandparents used to bring me to your store and I can’t wait to come back to New York,’” says Artuso Mangano, pointing out that their biggest form of advertisement is word of mouth.
Conti's Pastry Shoppe has opened at Morris Park Avenue since 1921
Similarly, most of the new customers of Conti’s Pastry Shoppe, which has been on Morris Park Avenue since 1921, are people who see pictures of their intricate cakes on its Facebook page, its Twitter feed (@ContiConfection) or bakery television shows like Ace of Cakes and the Cake Boss. “They either want to duplicate a cake or do a recreation of a cake they saw, and we don’t say no to anything,” says Conti’s co-owner Sal Paljevic, explaining that one of their most elaborated cakes includes a motorcycle replica.
Conti’s co-owner Christina DiRusso believes the use of social media and Internet sites like Yelp.com and Citysearch.com, where users can rate the shop and leave comments, have also been beneficial because of the buzz they create. “Hearing it from peers and friends works better than the shop telling you ‘We’re great and this is what we do.’ It also feels more authentic,” she says. According to a recent Facebook statement published by The New York Times, customers are more likely to buy items online or visit stores if they see it mentioned on their friends’ Facebook profiles.
Both Conti’s owners agree that having an online presence has allowed them to expand their business in the last eight years, especially when it comes to cakes.
Back at Valencia Bakery, Eddy explains he normally gets calls from people who used to live in the neighborhood and have moved to other states. “But a couple of weeks ago, a gentleman called from Ireland because he had found us online and he wanted to order a birthday cake for his sister who lives in New York,” he says, pointing out they don’t ship cakes but do deliver in the city.
The bakery also has a Facebook account, but Eddy says the website by itself has given him better results. “These days, everyone is on the Internet,” he says, before the phone rings again.
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