Though the current incarnation of the Driskill Hotel in Austin only officially opened its doors 14 years ago, its history and roots in the community run long and deep.
“This hotel was going to be demolished to make way for a modern building in 1969, and the Heritage Society of Austin rallied citizens to save it by hosting a bake sale,” explains Executive Pastry Chef Tony Sansalone. “They sold stocks in the hotel to the people in the community and raised $900,000 to save the Driskill,” he says.
To commemorate those impassioned efforts and to celebrate the 130-year history of the hotel, the 1886 Café & Bakery was born. Even though the spot was already popular with locals and hotel guests by the time Sansalone started working there, he says a recent renovation made an enormous impact on business.
“Three years ago, we put a viewing window into the pastry kitchen, so that guests can watch us and interact with us,” he says. “There’s a long baker’s table with a marble top and high stools, where people can sit and observe our full staff of bakers, and it’s like we have our own fans now. There are people snapping pictures all day long.”
On the bakery menu are croissants, specialty breads, scones, Danish, and muffins, enticing a steady flow of hotel guests, foot traffic, and locals, but there’s also an elaborate, decadent cake menu to lure in wedding and special event clients. Chocolate mousse, red velvet, Italian cream, tres leche, or the signature 1886 Chocolate Cake are just some of the popular options available, with plenty of room for customization.
“We do around 200 wedding cakes every year,” says Sansalone, “and we owe a great many of them to the viewing window. In this fast-paced world, where people are connecting by text, social media, web sites, or emails, it sets our business apart to be able to poke our heads out, say, ‘Good morning’ to guests, hand them a business card, and make a cake before their eyes. They’ve already invested in us, and we in them, because now we have a personal connection.”
Ashley Allen is an author and writer based in Leesburg, Virginia, whose work also appears in The Huffington Post.
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