MOUNT VERNON – After consideration and discussion amongst friends and family, Ferrari Baking Company co-owner Denise Davis announced on Facebook last week that she will be retiring from the business in the near future.
Davis, who has co-owned the bakery with family friend Carlo Ferrari since 2013, told Knox Pages the nonstop grind of running the shop had become too much. At 57, Davis has been working in the baking business for 40 years. With family across the country and overseas, she felt it was time to retire from the long, hectic days in the shop and focus more on spending time with her loved ones.
“It was a really difficult decision,” Davis said. “I have been working in deli bakeries since I was 17. This is all I’ve ever done, is just deli bakery stuff. So it’s been a really, really long time of doing the same thing.”
All seven of the children in the Davis and Ferrari families have worked at the bakery, located at 3 W. High St., at some point over the last five years. But now that they have grown up and spread out – and with Carlo working in Italy – continuing the family business became an impossibility.
Davis is currently looking for someone who is willing to take over the bakery. It is situated next door to 'The Joint' and across the street from PNC Bank on the square. Curiously, it is downtown Mount Vernon’s only locally owned bakery. Davis recalls 8 Sisters and The Pink Cupcake being open downtown when she began business, but both have since closed their doors.
Last Thursday, just a day after making the announcement on Facebook, Davis was already holding conversations in her shop with interested suitors.
“My hope is to find someone to take over the business,” Davis said. “We have a great shop, a great location in downtown Mount Vernon.”
The business will stay open until that point, Davis said. She recently announced a revised (and moderately lightened) schedule and menu for the new year; the shop is now open on Tuesday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesday from 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. (it had previously been open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. every day except for Saturday, which kept the same hours). It will still be closed Sunday and Monday.
The menu will shift slightly as well. Davis announced on Facebook this week that the shop will no longer make sandwiches, although it will continue to make the same stuffed breads and desserts. Coffee and specialty drinks will still be served, and cake orders will still be a priority, the post said.
Sitting in her shop last week, Davis seemed content with the transition. After five years in Mount Vernon, she felt pleased with the business’s growth. Ferrari Baking Company supplies cakes regularly to Kenyon College and its students, and has also maintained working relationships with numerous area businesses for holiday customer gifts and special catering occasions.
“I can’t say I’ve ever had a bad customer. I can’t,” Davis said. “They’re all real nice and I find that this area is very committed to small businesses, and there’s so many people coming in who are wanting to continue that trend.”
Simone Ferrari, the 24-year old son of Carlo who was working in the shop over holiday break last week (he currently attends college in California), said the shop’s customer base and sales have grown each year since it opened.
The shop has accrued a loyal following, including many customers who make stopping by the shop a part of their daily routine. These customers reached out to Davis first, she said, after she announced her pending retirement on Facebook last week.
“A lot of people were sad,” Davis said.
Davis is hoping that another community member will be willing to take the same risk she did years ago to keep the business going. It won’t be easy, she said, but it may just be worth it.
A new taste in town
When Davis mustered up the courage to start Ferrari Baking Company in downtown Mount Vernon five years ago, she was scared.
She knew she would be competing with 8 Sisters and The Pink Cupcake, which were both close in proximity. But what she didn’t realize at the time – and what she soon would – was that her bakery wasn’t selling the same thing.
Ferrari Baking Company produces authentic Italian bakery confections. It’s different from a typical American bakery, which might prioritize items such as cinnamon rolls or donuts or cupcakes. Instead, Ferrari is best known for its cannolis, its mascarpone truffles, and most notably, its tiramisu.
Italian pastries aren’t just different by name, they’re different by taste. Italians typically use less heavy, brightly colored, sugar-infused frosting, Davis said. They also use less peanut butter and cinnamon – “Italians will say, ‘Canela, canela, canela, Americans are crazy for their canela,” Davis said, referring to the spice that became so popular in America it allowed for the creation of a fast food chain. Instead, they prefer a simpler taste when it comes to their sweets.
“Like, if you go into a Kroger store and you see all the cupcakes with all these bright and heavy icings, they don’t do that,” Davis said of Italians. “I mean, you will find beautiful cakes, but it’s not going to be with all the bright colors and so much sugar poured on top of it.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, Italians love to eat sweets. But it’s not loaded down like we do here. You know, it’s probably why they’re thinner.”
When Davis began business in Mount Vernon, however, she feared the American crowd might not latch onto the Italian taste. She said it took time for customers to adapt to a simpler, lighter style of pastry. But when they did, they kept coming back.
As the other two bakeries in town closed down, she believes Ferrari’s niché items allowed it to thrive.
“In the beginning it was really scary because there were times when we thought, ‘OK, are we going to be able to do this?’” Davis remembers. “And then it just kept getting better and better.”
To be clear, it took time for Davis to acquire her Italian sweet tooth as well. Born in Houston, she has spent the majority of her life in Texas. She moved to Ohio when she was 35 to be closer to her husband (who passed away years later), and settled down in Mount Vernon shortly thereafter.
When she met the Ferrari family, they considered opening a bakery together as a way to live out a dream – Davis had always wanted to run her own bakery – while also giving their children an opportunity to work in the family business.
Davis (a world traveler) and her staff would use ingredients and recipes imported straight from Italy to produce authentic confections.
“We just wanted to have something together, have something for the family, have something for the kids,” Davis said.
The shop quickly became a regional attraction after it opened in 2013. Davis still remembers the day, just a few months after opening the shop, when a representative from the Columbus Italian Festival – an invitation-only event that pulls the best Italian food and entertainment from across the region – stopped by the shop to extend an offer.
Ferrari Baking Company has been an annual festival attendee ever since.
Davis said this exposure has helped attract customers from outside Mount Vernon to the shop. People from Columbus will occasionally make the trip just to taste the shop’s authentic pastries.
“And they go, ‘Oh, we’ll travel anywhere for good food,’” Davis said laughing.
The whole experience has surpassed expectations for a shop that began merely as a family opportunity – and one the family feared may never take off.
“I love the bakery. We have great customers and it’s been a dream come true as far as opening and seeing our success,” Davis said. “You know, it was a risk. But the self-satisfaction that you get from seeing it go from almost nothing into where you are now… it’s really exciting.”
‘Not everybody can do this job’
While the last five years have been thrilling for Davis, they’ve also been taxing.
Davis gets to the bakery no later than 6 a.m. every day to prepare. She starts with a long list of to-do’s, including cakes and special order items that need to be designed and baked that day. As customers trickle in, that list becomes frequently interrupted by coffee pours and pastry slices.
It builds on itself, Davis said. And even though she typically has two workers helping her out, each day seems as high-stress as the last.
“It’s not easy,” Davis said. “It’s really not easy.”
Davis has gotten quicker and more efficient with her preparation over the years, but running a bakery will never be an easy task. It takes dedication, and sweat, and the will to stick with it, even when times are tough.
“This has to be a passion for you,” Davis said.
She would know, after all. Davis began in the food industry at age 17 as a donut fryer in Texas. She remembers dreaming of one day becoming a manager, and then eventually a manufacturer. More specifically, she remembers one night in particular, working in a bakery alongside a German man who told her something she’d never forget.
“He told me, ‘You know what, Denise? What you’re learning now is a trade,’” she recalls now.
“‘And you see those people up there?’” he continued, pointing to the cashiers, who received higher pay at that point. “‘One day, they’re going to find a way to replace them.’”
“‘Not everybody can do this job. You know, you’re learning something that you can take anywhere. Anywhere.’”
At first, Davis thought he was “a little bit wacko,” and at the age of 17, she didn’t think much of it. But now, she often thinks back to that message. Her co-worker 40 years ago has been proven correct, time and time again.
“He was right,” Davis says now, smiling. “You know, it’s something that I really liked doing. I just stuck with that… And I kept learning and kept learning.”
Her passion brought her four decades of hard, rewarding work. It’s been worth it, she says.
And while no one has Davis’s backstory, she does hope the shop’s next owner shares a similar passion. They’ll be tasked with running downtown Mount Vernon’s only locally owned bakery, after all. Davis believes that responsibility should be taken seriously.
“I’m hoping that somebody has their (own) flare and would like to continue it, whether it be 'Ferrari' or if they want it to be, like, 'Bob’s Bakery.' You know, you make your own statements in life,” Davis said.
“Everything’s a risk, but you don’t know in less you take them.”