As soon as the first dessert released by Handy & Hot, chef Vivian Howard’s new holiday baked goods-by-mail enterprise, landed on doorsteps, enthusiastic recipients started posting reaction shots to social media. But much to the dismay of Howard’s team, it was clear that an inordinate number of eaters have no idea what to do with a perishable Coconut Lime Cornmeal Pound Cake.
Howard envisioned her fans popping the cake out of its foil pan and slicing it for Mother’s Day. Instead, she says, “People were digging into this thing like a pudding.”
The lesson, Howard believes, is Americans have fallen out of the habit of being gifted a cake by a friend. She aims to change that with Handy & Hot, which will issue limited quantities of special edition breads and pastries for occasions such as Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day.
When Howard first came up with Handy & Hot, she thought it would be a retail bakery in Kinston, North Carolina, where two of her three restaurants are located. But she had to revisit her business plan after Hurricane Florence last fall tore through eastern North Carolina, leveling her company’s financial projections. So Howard switched course, reimagining Handy & Hot as a pop-up, shipping out a single item with a meaningful story on a designated day.
“It was empowering to do something that’s very bootstrap and doesn’t require a lot of investment,” she says. “We just used the tools at our disposal,” including her restaurant kitchen and logoed crinkle paper which had been created back when Howard thought Handy & Hot would have walk-in customers.
The Mother’s Day pound cake, a tribute to Howard’s mother, sold out in a few hours. To help the cake weather long-distance trips, she had to delete strawberries and plain lime juice from her original recipe, but the 500 people who ordered cakes didn’t seem to mind.
“People want something that feels special,” she says.
For Father’s Day, Handy & Hot is offering 700 loaves of Mother Earth Park Day Beer & Cheddar Bread, which has been “served off and on for years” at Howard’s Chef & the Farmer. The bread, made with pilsner from Kinston’s Mother Earth Brewing, will be available for sale starting today (Monday, June 3) at vivianhoward.com/handy-and-hot.
And this time, the package will arrive with very specific instructions. “We’re suggesting using it for a BLT,” Howard says.