Buettner's Bakery & King Cakes
I noticed in my recent stops into Buettner's Bakery on East 185th Street fliers for customers to order King Cakes for their Fat Tuesday celebrations. I was unfamiliar with the tradition that is closely associated in the United States with New Orleans' Mardi Gras Carnival. As with most things in western civilization, all roads lead to Rome. The origins are thought to have begun with the Roman festival of Saturnalia honoring the god of prosperity, Saturn, after whom the planet and day of the week were named. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn followed by a public banquet, where it was custom to elect a king of the festivities and where celebrates would exchange small figurines of wax or clay. With the conversion of the Roman state religion to Christianity the feast became associated with the Epiphany, representing the visit of the Magi, or three kings bearing gifts for to Christ child. Later it would also become associated with the pre-lenten feast. A French tradition began of baking a ring cake for the feast with a hidden prize, intially a Fava bean, which represented the baby Jesus. Later the Fava bean was replaced with a porcelain figurine and today more often plastic. The prize represents luck and prosperity for whomever finds it in their slice of cake.
Since being first built, Buettner's location has always been a bakery. The earliest reference I could find from the main library downtown's collection of old city directories was that of Richard Weiser in 1938 thru the mid 1940's. He was followed by Julia Henkel and then later it operated as Cliffel's Bakery. From the late 1950's till the early 1970's it was Wiehn's Bakery operated by Albert E. Wiehn Jr., a third generation Cleveland baker. After him it would become Buettner's Bakery.
Buettner's current owner is Janet Mueller Bacher. Janet, whose father as an engineer at General Electric, grew up on Dorchester Drive. At the age of 13 she would start working for Mike Buettner, who she described as the best boss she ever had. She continued to work there while attending Villa Angela Academy in the late 1970's. Following school she briefly looked into other lines of work, but returned back to what she knew and enjoyed best. In 1999 she would became it's owner.
Janet began baking traditional King cakes after being taught by a friend who made them in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Sizes range from small, medium, and large and fillings come in either apple, cream cheese, cherry, apricot, or lemon. The icing of the cake has three colors representing the three kings, purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. Oh, and did someone mention Polish pre-Lenten Paczki doughnuts? They've got you covered there as well. Bon appetit.
Buettner's Bakery, 704 East 185th Street, Cleveland. OHio 44119, (216) 531-0650
Tuesday thru Saturday: 6:00 am - 1:00 pm, Sunday: 7:00 am - 12:30 pm, closed Monday
Amateur local historian