Jess Martin didn’t apply to be a cake decorator at Gerrity’s Supermarket in West Pittston.
But now the 21-year-old is doing just that, after watching a fellow employee bedazzle a sweet treat.
“I applied the day I turned 16 and I’ve been working there ever since,” said Martin, of West Pittston. “I didn’t apply as a cake decorator; I was hired as night staff that does wrapping. Eventually, from watching one of the decorators there, they had me doing small cakes and, eventually, I became a decorator.”
Gerrity’s employees learn the art on the job, with or without previous experience, and the quality they produce could rival that of professional bakers with culinary degrees.
Harding resident Kate Menta said she’s been buying cakes from Gerrity’s Supermarket for years, whether they’re for her two daughters’ birthday parties or other occasions.
She orders them specifically from Kayleigh Peters, of Hanover Township, who works at the grocery store’s Wyoming location.
“I always tell people to go to Gerrity’s in Wyoming and they have to ask for Kayleigh,” said Menta. “I know a bunch of my friends have switched to Gerrity’s, just because they still get the same quality.”
But cake artist Jennifer Lomerson, of Mountain Top, said the experience comes with time, and she knows this firsthand. She’s been working for Gerrity’s for 12 years.
“They didn’t just throw me in and say, ‘Here, make a wedding cake even though you’ve never touched an icing bag,’” she said. “It was a gradual process, but you’re always getting better and better at it.”
Lomerson travels to all Gerrity’s locations in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties.
The cakes at Gerrity’s are custom-made for all occassions and can pre-ordered online.
After the cake is baked, it is layered with icing and then frozen for several hours before the decorating can begin.
An airbrush tool and food coloring are used to draw pictures on cakes.
When it comes to decorating, Peters said one difficult aspect is doing children’s cakes, but some of those designs come with an instruction manual and toys to help.
“A lot of times if a kid wants a lot on a little cake, you can’t fit everything on it,” she said. “At that point, you do your best to make things smaller. If they want multiple characters on a small cake, we put character rings on it.”
There are also lots of requests that don’t come with a manual — the decorators at Gerrity’s will try to put whatever customers can dream up on a cake.
“One (cake design) that sticks out, there was a little girl and, for her sixth birthday, she wanted a unicorn wearing ballet shoes playing the piano,” said Lomerson. “This was about two or three years ago. It was something she came up with in her head.”
Sometimes the cake designs can be just a little outside the box, like one recent cake Martin had to design.
“I made a Lorax cake recently,” said Martin. “They wanted cotton candy trees on it, so that was a fun one. It was for a birthday party and I used straws and cotton candy to make trees sticking out of the cake.”
And some are way out of the ordinary.
“I had to put crying chicken wings on a cake,” said Peters. “It was chicken wings with sad faces and tears coming out of them. That was for someone leaving a job. It was simple to do, but it was different, that’s for sure.”
No matter what kind of design the decorators work with, one thing can be sure — a little bit of their own personality can be found on each baked good.
“At Gerrity’s, they really let you express your creativity and think outside the box,” said Lomerson. “They have their set ways that they want us to do certain stuff, but for the most part they want us to come up with new ideas and keep creating stuff. It’s not always the same stuff every day.”
Martin has fallen in love with the process of cake decorating, and she’s trying to find a way to incorporate it with her future career. She’s currently studying nutrition at Marywood University.
“It’s definitely crossing my mind to be a professional baker or decorator,” she said. “I always thought about opening my own bakery and getting into management, but my passion for nutrition kind of took over. In the future, it would be nice to combine both.”
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher