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Johnny Vardeman: Old Cake Box was a hangout site and a tasty baking spot
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Fantail Bread

After closing the Cake Box, Drew Sayre boiled down some of the recipes for readers of The Times. Here is one for four loaves of the popular Cake Box fantail bread.

8 packages of yeast
2 cups of lukewarm water
¾ cup all-purpose shortening
6 cups bread flour
½ cup plus two tablespoons cake flour
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt and melted butter

Stir to dissolve the yeast and water in a large mixing bowl. Add shortening; stir to soften. Add remaining ingredients except butter, and mix until dough leaves sides of bowl.

Cover, let rise until double in bulk, approximately one hour. Divided into four portions; round up each portion, let rest. Cut each portion into 12 pieces; stand each piece on edge in four greased 9«-by-3-inch baking pans. Brush with melted butter, and let rise until dough is even with top of pan.

Bake at 425 degrees until golden brown. Brush with additional butter; turn out on cooling rack.

Practically every community, small and large, has those “hangouts,” places where people gather to discuss politics, sports or just gossip. They are usually must-stops for candidates trolling for votes.

They’re most commonly found in informal “coffee clubs” or restaurant lunches. They come and go. For instance, to name a few over the years in Hall County: the old Holiday Inn, L&K Cafeteria, Whatley’s Pharmacy, Piedmont Drugs, Dixie Drugs, Jake’s Cafeteria and Curt’s Cafeteria.

Longstreet Café is among the most popular today, and other places throughout Northeast Georgia attract regulars to sip coffee or have lunch with a heaping helping of bull on the menu.

One of those long-lasting traditions in Gainesville was the Cake Box Bakery, known more for its baked goods, but a prime place for morning debates on various issues, particularly sports. It had a small café, but big enough for oversize discussions on everything from the most recent football game to who would lose the county commissioners race.

The Cake Box was one of those endearing institutions you would think would last forever. It did stay in business for 45 years, closing in 1991, its owners declaring it a casualty of a weak economy, abetted by construction at the time on Thompson Bridge Road, where it had been cooking since 1952. Honey-Baked Hams today occupies the former Cake Box location.

The late Verne Sayre was the founder of the bakery. He had come to Gainesville as manager of the old Avion Restaurant in 1946. But soon, he started the bakery on Northside Drive. It moved to Washington Street downtown later before settling on Thompson Bridge Road.

The café was popular, but even more in demand were its pastries, cakes and breads, especially the fantail bread. Kitchen workers started daily at 4 a.m. to prepare doughnuts, Danish pastries or other breakfast goodies. That was the time, too, that the famous fantail bread would enter the ovens. Sayre tried to have everything out of the kitchen fresh for his regular customers and others throughout the day.

At one time, the Cake Box was so popular 4,000 cookies, 400 loaves of bread, 1,000 egg rolls and 200 cakes were flying off the shelves every week.

When Marvin Griffin ran for governor in the late 1950s, he was to appear in Gainesville on his birthday. His supporters asked Sayre to cook a 600-pound cake to surprise him with. It was one of the largest orders the bakery ever handled. His cooks baked the cake in sections and stored it at City Ice Co.

On the day of Griffin’s campaign speech, Sayre and his crew loaded the enormous cake into a 3-ton truck to haul it to City Park, where the candidate was appearing. Hundreds got a taste of Cake Box cuisine.

The Cake Box changed hands in 1983, but Sayre’s son Drew and wife Celeste owned it when it closed in 1991. There was sadness all around, regular customers, café hangers-on and employees, some of whom had been with the bakery more than two decades.

Recipes for Cake Box creations were some handed down through generations of cooks. Among the most popular items besides fantail bread were key lime pie, egg rolls, honey oatmeal bars, chocolate chip cookies and Chinese balls. People still ask about them from time to time.

One lingering legacy from the Cake Box was an annual golf tournament called the Cake Box Invitational. Some of the café regulars, including Marvin Peek, Bradley Lawson, Don Smallwood, Gordon Alexander and Norman Parr, were sitting around talking about starting a golf tournament when Verne Sayre came up and offered to sponsor it. It became an annual event the weekend after the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta. As many as 160 golfers would play. The tournament committee allowed only elected politicians to play, no candidates running for office.

Sayre would furnish breakfast from his bakery to participants.

The Cake Box tournament ended about two years ago after running for 28 years, Peek said.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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