Monday, August 21, 2000

Night watch: Making cakes at the deli

By William A. Weathers
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Amy Combs has a sweet-toother's dream job. She spends her working hours surrounded by cakes, pies, sweet rolls and cookies. And she works 9 to 5. That's 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

        Mrs. Combs is a night deli bakery clerk at the Kroger Queen City Centre store in Winton Place.

        “Basically all I do is cakes,” the 31-year-old North College Hill resident said one recent night as she started her shift by restocking the bakery display case with fresh, already iced, cakes from the freezer.

        Mrs. Combs removes the cakes whose 4-day shelf life has expired and marks them down for any overnight bargain hunters. If the cakes don't sell by morning, they are donated to the FreeStore/FoodBank.

        Now it's time for the part of her job Mrs. Combs likes best. Decorating the cakes.

        First she removes 18-by-26-inch and 36-by-52-inch sheet cakes from the freezer. The cakes — chocolate, yellow, white and marble — are baked at the Kroger commissary, frozen and distributed to various store delicatessens. Then she uses a metal spatula to put white icing on the cakes and a plastic scraper to smooth the icing.

        “It's easier to do the icing while it's frozen,” she says.

Tools of the trade
               Next, Mrs. Combs uses a decorating tube to place a wavy border around the edge of the cake. An airbrush gun filled with food dye is used to add a colorful design. “I do the majority in rainbows and ballons (using red, yellow and green food dye),” she says, “because that's what sells.”

        “It's fairly simple and easy to do. You just have to be patient,” says Mrs. Combs, who learned her art on the job. Special orders for birthdays, weddings and other occasions give Mrs. Combs the opportunity to employ her talent and creativity.

        Sometimes the special orders include a specific design, sometimes just a general theme.

        “If you got a 14-year-old boy, he's not going to like flowers,” she said.

        Wedding cakes provide the biggest challenge, requiring two to three hours to decorate.

        “I've never had a complaint yet about them so I guess I'm doing agood job,” she says.

        Perhaps not surprisingly, Mrs. Combs doesn't eat a lot of cake.

        “I'm not really fond of cake. I think it's because I work with them (all the time).”

All's quiet
               Mrs. Combs' job is a solitary one. Although there are other employees and a few customers in the 24-hour store overnight, she usually works alone in the deli department.

        "'I'm basically here by myself,” she said. "'Basically it get really lonely. What I don't like about it is not having anybody to talk to.”

        To cope, she often listens to the radio.

        Mrs. Combs, previously a deli manager and lead baker during her 11-year career with Kroger, requested the transfer to a night shift position several years ago after she had the first of two children.

        “It's easier for me,” she said. “It helps me out. It saves me money not having to pay for a baby sitter.”

        She's there for Katelyn, 3, and Tyler, 2, during the day. And her husband is there to care for them at night while she's at work.

        “I don't trust many people to watch my kids (except for family members),” she said.

        She glances at photos of the two children on the wall about her work station as she puts chocolate icing on some brownies.

        “Three more years on third shift, then my kids will be in school (during the day),” Mrs. Combs said.

        If you have suggestion for Night Watch, call William A. Weathers at (513) 768-8390 or fax 768-8340.


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