New Jersey Bake Shoppe thrives in Rehoboth Beach
Parents, cover your kids’ ears, because if they see the next sentence, you’ll never hear the end of it. But it has to be said: There would be no Bake Shoppe in downtown Rehoboth Beach if New Jersey-born John Michalek hadn’t dropped out of high school. The silver lining around that scholastic dark cloud is that we sand dwellers get to savor John’s moist and buttery danish, sticky buns, donuts, croissants, scones (I’ll take two with icing, please), cupcakes, cakes and cookies. And don’t forget his signature Polish babkas and split cream donuts. Oops … and fresh bread.
John’s dad made things very clear to the teenage dropout. “If you’re not going to go to school, then you’re going to go to work.” And go to work he did, for his dad the baker. At the time, dad baked for a local prison and taught instructional classes to the inmates. Young John was his journeyman. “My father taught me everything I know. And, at 66, he still comes here to Rehoboth Beach to make cookies. Joyce and I might own the shop, but when Dad’s here, he’s still in charge, he’s still my pop, and he’s still the boss.”
Your kids’ ears are probably sweating by now, so please uncover them. John eventually earned his GED, though he reiterates that it didn’t add one bit to his baking skills. Another thing that came naturally was his friendship with Joyce, whom he met at a bakery in Jersey when he was 27. Joyce attributes her love of cake decorating to her aunt, who was self-taught and worked out of her home. “When it comes to special occasion cakes, I try to accommodate everyone,” she says, “but I love to make beachy cakes, with flowers and shells.”
Several years ago, a Rehoboth visitor called in a panic. Her custom cake in the shape of a Corona beer bottle had been irreparably damaged during the drive to the beach. When you think of it, beer is about as beachy as you can get, so the very next day Joyce came to the rescue with a brand-new Corona cake - complete with the lime. “I love to decorate cakes, and I love a challenge.”
It wasn’t long before John and Joyce owned The Bake Shoppe - in New Jersey, that is. But the slower pace of the Delaware shore called to Joyce, and they toyed with the idea of buying David and Diane Dean’s Cosmic Bakery on Rehoboth Avenue near the drawbridge. John was concerned about the lack of foot traffic that far west, so in 1999 the Rehoboth Beach Bake Shoppe became a reality. The former tenant, diBoniventure’s, specialized in artisanal breads and was only too happy to relocate and make room for John and Joyce’s sweet treats. Memories of New Jersey remain, however, in the form of the big sign that now hangs over the back counter – the original street sign for their first Bake Shoppe.
But things were different here in ’99. “Joyce kept her bags packed,” smiles John. “It was very tough. During June we closed at noon - the street was deserted. We didn’t know if we’d make it through the summer.” But things rallied in July and August, and a broad base of loyal regulars quickly formed. “Rehoboth likes good things,” says John. “In New Jersey, it was all about sticky buns and donuts, but here in Rehoboth people love their croissants, danish and babkas.” Joyce cherishes the beach life. “We never get tired of hanging around town. We love the restaurants and all the festivals.”
In the process of doing what I do, I get to interview local residents of all persuasions, moods, attitudes and walks of life. I’ve discovered that they all have one thing in common. Joyce Michalek says it best, and punctuates it with her signature laugh: “We both think this is wonderful. Any place you can work, then walk out your door and be in Rehoboth Beach is the place for us.” My sentiments exactly.