Rum Cake Company marks 20 years with cake
When the Dockyard Glassworks opened 20 years ago this week, rum cakes were meant to be a side hustle to the hand made glass on offer.
But today, the rum cakes are more than holding their own under the banner of The Bermuda Rum Cake Company.
“They’re probably about 50 per cent of the business,” said Alan Avery who runs the businesses with his mother, Wendy Avery.
The Averys sell at least 1,000 rum cakes a day.
“After three days we’re usually cleaned out,” Mr Avery said.
They make the cakes in their kitchen on Industrial Park Road in Southampton.
“We used to make them here,” he said, “but we had to build a larger kitchen that is four times the size of our older one.”
In January 2018, the Averys were caught off guard when their main competitor Horton’s Rum Cakes, stopped production.
“It’s sad because they were the original rum cake,” Mr Avery said.
But it wasn’t particularly tragic for his business; demand for the cakes shot up 400 per cent.
“We saved and squeaked by, and have just bought a new oven,” Mr Avery said. “I am going to put it together this week.”
The Bermuda Rum Cake Company sells six different standard types of rum cake: traditional, chocolate, coconut, swizzle, banana and ginger, plus gourmet and seasonal variations.
“Our Christmas cake has become very popular,” he said. “We take the traditional lemon base and put on raisins, dates and the wild kind of fruits you get on the top with a brandy glaze of loquat or apricot liquor.
It makes for this delicious, sweet, fruity cake which we could not make enough of at Christmas.”
They also make other types of cakes for special occasions such as weddings and birthdays.
The typical rum cake client is almost exclusively a visitor to the island.
“Most of the time the rum cakes are purchased for friends and family back home or people who are pet sitting for the purchaser,” Mr Avery said. “It is very iconic Bermuda.”
But he said they are trying to branch out into the local market, and have also started selling online.
Mr Avery said he can still remember the day they took over their Dockyard location in 1999.
“I was really young then,” Mr Avery said. “I can remember carrying the first boxes into the building. It was just empty and derelict at that time.”
When they first set up, they ordered a popular rum cake brand from the Caribbean. It arrived badly sealed and with half of the shipment gone stale.
“My mother thought she could do better than this,” Mr Avery said.
Mrs Avery had grown up working in the kitchen at the old Sherwood Manor Hotel, run by her father, Sydney Sherwood.
“She was behind the scenes of tourism, from the beginning,” Mr Avery said.
Mrs Avery turned to her mother Eileen Sherwood’s old rum cake recipe for help. Today, their recipe uses Madagascar vanilla rather than bourbon vanilla, which is more typical in rum cakes.
“We find the bourbon interacts with the rum,” Mr Avery said.
They also use fresh fruit and shy away from preservatives.
“Preservatives tend to dry things out,” Mr Avery said.
Ironically, he can’t actually eat any of the rum cake. A few years ago he discovered he has coeliac disease, an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
Mr Avery said the economy has been their biggest challenge, so far. “In 2008, the recession hit,” he said.
Since then they have struggled with the rising cost of import duty and tax increases.
“We have had to be very creative,” Mr Avery said. “We have had some rough years.”
They have been particularly hard hit by a rise in fuel tax.
“We have grave concerns about the taxation here from the Government,” he said. “We are the second-highest consumer of propane on the island, next to the restaurant groups. We have a 375,000 BTU furnace.
“We go through 300 to 400 gallons of gas a week and you have to keep the furnace hot to make it work for the glassworks.”
• For more information see Facebook under the Bermuda Rum Cake Company, call 234-4216 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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