PattiCakes Bakery's former downtown location. Courtesy of PattiCakes

Patti Stobaugh, owner of PattiCakes Bakery in Conway, is facing a lot of uncertainty.  A fire in January destroyed the company’s patisserie/production facility in downtown Conway, where about 98% of its pastries were produced. The bakery’s website, once a spot for showing off the bakery’s beloved lemon bars, custom cakes and other treats — now opens with a banner that reads “All PattiCakes Bakery locations will be closed until further notice.”

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The 6,400 square-foot warehouse was a multi-purpose space. In addition to being both a production facility and storefront for PattiCakes, it was where cheese dip, jams, gravies and smoked meats were made for Stobaugh’s husband David’s restaurant, Stoby’s. The Stobaughs have owned the building since 1990, and for about 20 years it churned out the entirety of Stoby’s cheese dip, once sold at Walmart stores. PattiCakes started utilizing the warehouse in 2010, about six months after she’d opened and outgrown her original Conway bakery, which sits directly behind Stoby’s at 2106 Robinson Ave. The Robinson location is currently being retrofitted for Stoby’s to produce some of the menu items previously made at the warehouse.

Courtesy of PattiCakes
PattiCakes Bakery’s Robinson Avenue location.

Now, the fire-ravaged Front Street building is being excavated, Stobaugh said. When that process is complete in a few more weeks, they’ll be able to get an estimate on how much it will cost to rebuild. Until that happens, the future of PattiCakes is unclear.

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“We have very good insurance, but ‘is it good enough’ I guess is where are,” she said.

“Theoretically, even if we started to rebuild the warehouse today so that we could produce for PattiCakes, we would still be 18 months to two years out before it would be finished,” she said.

The fire broke out at the warehouse on Monday, Jan. 15, the second day of a winter storm that blanketed parts of Central Arkansas with about three inches of snow and sleet. Stobaugh said the security footage from that night shows smoke beginning to waft through the building around 5:15 p.m. An employee was locking up around that time, but he wouldn’t have been able to see the smoke, Stobaugh said, because it was above him. The smell wouldn’t necessarily have caught his attention, either, as it’s usually around that time that a Stoby’s employee would be loading pork butts onto a smoker to smoke overnight.

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Stobaugh said her employee clocked out at 5:22 p.m. By 5:30, the security camera was completely covered with smoke. “It was a fast-burning fire,” she said.

Stobaugh said a friend called her husband around 6:15 p.m. after seeing smoke rising out of the building.

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“Someone else driving by called 911. I don’t know who they were, but I wish I did so I could thank them,” she said.

The fire burned for about an hour. When the Conway Fire Department arrived on the scene shortly after receiving the call, Stobaugh said, “they made the assessment that the building was a total loss right then.” Their goal at that point was to try to contain the fire to prevent it from spreading to adjacent buildings.

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“They did an excellent job keeping the fire contained within our firewalls,” Stobaugh said.

A fire chief told Stobaugh that had they received a call about the initial smoke, they could’ve saved the building, but the smoke detectors from the alarm system did not go off. Stobaugh said they never received a call from their alarm company, and because of the snow and cold temperatures, not many people were out and about. There were no injuries in the fire, and while much of what was in the building was destroyed, Stobaugh posted to Facebook that an important family heirloom survived the blaze.

“That was my stepfather’s ax,” she said. “He was a fireman in San Antonio for 41 years. And that ax was given to him at retirement. … It was pretty weird for them to find it, but I’m very thankful.”

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Stobaugh said her 29 employees are still being paid their hourly wage through their insurance company. They are not receiving their tips, though, which supplement their wages with about $1.50 to $2.00 an hour through equal tip share. “That adds up after a while,” she said. A couple fundraisers have been held in town for them. Some of her workers have found new jobs for the time being and some are traveling, but the situation has been hard on everybody, she said.

“We are a very tight crew,” she said. “Without a doubt, in all of my years in business, the best crew I’ve ever had.”

Stobaugh said that it’s actually a comfort to have been consumed with insurance paperwork.

“Imagine it’s your last day at work and what you’re doing today, you can’t do anymore,” she said. “It’s hard when you’re used to working a lot. It’s hard.”

 

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