The Petaluma couple succeed in making small fours
Sometimes the smaller candies can turn into a really big deal.
There’s no other way to explain the success of Divine Delights, a 36-year-old Petaluma bakery that specializes in bite-sized layered cakes wrapped in chocolate and decorated by hand.
The cupcakes, called petits fours (pronounced petty fores), are the perfect bite of gourmet fantasy – a harmonious blend of chewy, spongy cake with delicious toppings, all surrounded by a hard, colorful chocolate shell.
The goodies have achieved a sort of cult status in the Bay Area and beyond, with some people driving for hours to come and buy a few boxes at the on-site retail store. Each piece is baked, assembled, coated, packaged and shipped from any warehouse on the east side of Highway 101 near Auto Row in Petaluma, a literal stones throw from the Lagunitas faucet room.
The bakery – and the whole business, for that matter – is run by Bill and Angelique Fry, a married couple.
Bill Fry estimates that the bakery produces “several million” petits fours each year. Pull out a calculator and do the math – that means they’ve sold over 50 million little candies in the life of the business.
“A life of cupcakes,” he joked. “It’s nice to know that we can still make people happy. “
The Frys certainly never thought they would make a career in producing and selling hard-to-pronounce cupcakes.
Both started in the restaurant industry – Bill as a chef and Angélique as a pastry chef. They met while working at Ormsby House, a now closed casino in Carson City, Nevada. They ended up in the Bay Area and started Divine Delights in 1985. They recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.
At first, the bakery was more of a full-service operation, selling a variety of cakes, cookies, and pastries. Over time, as margins dwindled, the Frys recognized that the only way to keep the operation afloat was to specialize in a product and design a system and process to do this thing better than anyone else.
“There aren’t a lot of other bakeries doing what we do, like we do,” said Angelique Fry, who said the business started in San Rafael, moved to Larkspur and then is arrived in Petaluma in the 1990s. “We love the challenges of being entrepreneurs.
Today, the bakery stands out from the competition in two fundamental ways.
First of all, they use traditional marzipan in their cake, which makes the foundation on the petits fours damp and gives the product a slightly longer shelf life of up to 90 days. Second, they employ a group of decorators who use tiny paper piping bags to decorate each piece by hand.
Additionally, instead of focusing primarily on retail, Divine Delights has developed a thriving wholesale business, selling to other bakeries, mail order catalogs, delis and more. At first, the bulk part of the operation was just an add-on. Today, the wholesale trade accounts for about 85% of the company’s sales; the company still operates a direct-to-consumer e-commerce site and a small storefront at its 15,000 square foot factory in Holm Road.
Considering the small size of most small ovens, it is surprising to learn the number of steps involved in making them.
Small confectionery starts out as regular sheet cakes, baked in standard 18-inch-wide and 26-inch-long molds. Bakers use a “depositor” to refine each sheet of paper, then bake them in a special travel oven, which has six shelves that constantly spin, like a ferris wheel.
Once the leaves are cooked and cooled, bakers assemble them with layers of truffle cream, buttercream, or fruit jam in between. Each pan receives three layers of cake and two layers of filling.
From there, most of the leaves go into the cutter, a small guillotine that cuts them into 300 pieces.
Divine Delights manufactures two sizes of petit fours: “Demitasse”, which measure approximately 1 inch by 1 inch, and “Classic”, which are slightly larger. Depending on the season, some lots remain as sheet cakes and are hand cut into special shapes such as circles and hearts.
Once the cakes (this is French for “rich cakes”) are cut to size, they are sent to the enrobing room, a section of the factory that looks like something from Willy Wonka. Workers place the pieces on narrow conveyor belts and they are sent to machines that “coat” them in a variety of different colored chocolates.
Conveyor belts transport the freshly dressed cakes through a flash freezer, which effectively dries the chocolate shells. From there, the cakes are decorated by hand, packed and shipped.