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Desserts By David Glass Going Out Of Business

KENNETH R. GOSSELIN

August 14, 2009

Savor a slice of David Glass cake, and they say you'll never forget the taste.

Now, all that will be left is that memory.

Desserts by David Glass, the iconic, high-end Bloomfield cake purveyor, is going out of business after 28 years, succumbing to the loss of one of its biggest wholesale customers, a recession that crimped spending, and debt that the company could not repay.

The decision to close is a wrenching one for Glass, who started the company in a house on Sargeant Street in Hartford and for years operated under the Blue Onion dome at the Colt Building. He made a name for himself with his signature "Ultimate Chocolate Truffle Cake" and gained rave reviews in New York, launching a brand that became sought after well beyond Connecticut.

Glass, who turns 61 today, has started telling people of his decision to close, but he said Thursday: "When I tried to get the words out, they just wouldn't come out. It was hard to get them out."

The company was never large enough to make a big economic splash, with a few dozen employees at its peak. But those in local food circles in Hartford said the closing will leave a void not easily filled.

"He was the local guy who bloomed out into the national dessert line," said Joe Howard, owner of Ann Howard at the Bond in Hartford. "He had a great focus on desserts and it was the singular focus and he made a name for himself. The desserts were great, so this is very sad to hear."

David Glass desserts are sold by Zabar's, Whole Foods and Stew Leonard's. For years, Trader Joe's, several airlines and a Canadian private label company bought from Glass.

The closing doesn't come as a complete surprise, however. Last year, Glass acknowledged that he was struggling financially. He raised money by offering investors a return paid in cakes if they lent him money to pay off debts and raise working capital.

While Glass still has a loyal following of customers, that wasn't enough to offset the loss of stores and restaurants that had carried his desserts.

One local restaurant, Ginza in Bloomfield, said it was moving away from the fancy cakes offered by Glass, which were delivered frozen, to ones that they made themselves.

"I think people are looking for more traditional Japanese desserts from us," said Roland Kelsey, Ginza's general manager.

Three years ago, Trader Joe's then the company's largest customer put on the squeeze, trying to negotiate a price that would be less than what it cost Glass to make the cakes.

"That was 45 percent of our business, but we just couldn't do it," said Glass' wife, Virginia 'Vivi' Glass, who baked and developed cake recipes.

The loss was a devastating blow to the business. The Trader Joe's account represented about $600,000, Vivi Glass said.

Soon afterward, the economic downturn began in earnest. Diners at restaurants carrying the cakes skipped dessert.. Shoppers at stores were more reluctant to buy the pricey cakes sometimes $30 or more for a 10-inch cake if they hadn't first tasted them.

That was one reason Glass started hosting "tastings" at his Bloomfield factory to attract more customers.

For more than a year, Glass had negotiated with his lender, Bank of America, to repay $225,000 owed on a line of credit. While that had been whittled down to $150,000, the bank said last week it could no longer wait. The equipment at the plant will be sold to help satisfy the debt.

Glass said he intends to write a letter to his investors this week thanking them for their support. Two weeks ago, Glass let his five remaining full-time employees go.

In building his brand, Glass didn't advertise but used promotions to gain attention, drawing on his marketing savvy. After a friend helped him get his cakes into Zabar's, a boutique grocery store in New York, he pitched the media.

He brought a cake to the home of a food writer at New York magazine and when she wrote an article about it, the calls started coming in and more articles soon followed.

He once delivered cakes to South African President Nelson Mandela for the Children's Fund, a charity Glass supported.

Another time, he was sued by actress Sophia Loren for naming a cake after her without her permission. So, Glass ran a contest on the Internet to rename the cake and win an all-expenses paid trip to Hartford for a dinner cooked by him. It was renamed for Cecelia Bartoli, an opera singer.

The couple hopes to one day reopen a much smaller bakery, focusing on local customers. Glass said he still believes his desserts have a following.

"The people that loved our cakes like our customers at Zabar's and Stew Leonard's, they weren't willing to trade down," Glass said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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