When Denise Gause first saw the long line of customers this week who turned out for her bakery’s reopening, she broke down in tears.
Tuesday marked the reopening of Denise’s Delicacies, a popular eatery in the 2900 block of N. 22nd St. in North Philadelphia. It had been closed for 14 months after being gutted by a fire. Since it reopened, customers have been coming in droves.
“They are the best bakery in Philadelphia,” said Kim Ravenell, who has been a customer for 13 years. “I like the staff. They make you feel at home. Can’t nobody touch Denise’s cakes in my opinion. I’m happy that she’s back. It was long overdue.”
Ray Murphy, the former longtime owner of Tommy’s Men’s Shop, a neighboring men’s clothing store, was also happy to see Gause return.
“I, along with other merchants for one, am very happy that she is back. My goodness, the last three days has been like little children visiting Santa Claus,” Murphy said about bakery traffic.
He says other businesses from the 22nd commercial corridor could learn marketing and promotion techniques from Gause.
“She brings what is called the transient customer, ones that don’t live in the area, but they come just because of Denise,” Murphy said.
He personally reaped the benefits of having a business located across the street from Denise’s.
Murphy recalled an occasion when a pastor’s wife was purchasing cakes from the bakery and the pastor spotted Tommy’s Men’s Shop across the street and came in. The pastor ultimately purchased more than $1,000 in merchandise from the shop.
“It feels good to be back,” Gause said. “We’re so busy that we’re having a hard time keeping up. While we planned for the opening, we had no idea that it would be at this magnitude.”
While Denise’s Delicacies serves up breads, cookies, apple and peach cobblers, doughnuts and pies — the pound cake has always been one of the most popular items.
Gause says she’s thankful for the support of her customers and the community. Since she reopened earlier this week, the bakery has drawn longtime customers as well as first-timers.
When Eugene Mack saw Gause’s story on television, he felt compelled to drive from Chester to support the business.
“She seemed really genuine and sincere about thanking the community,” Mack said. “I told my wife, we need to go up there and get some pound cakes.”
The bakery, which has been in business for 23 years, was destroyed by a fire on March 29, 2015. Gause said the rebuilding process was longer than she expected, in part due to various factors, including bringing the building up to code.
“It took a long time,”she said. “It took 14 months and we thought it would be six. Every time we would get a deadline, it would be pushed back for various reasons.”
Gause is a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.
“I guess the fire happened for a reason,” she said. “I always think some good comes out of bad.”
She said until the fire happened, she didn’t know Denise’s had an impact on the community and the merchants and that her customers felt so strongly about the business.
“I think the fire in disguise was a blessing,” Gause said. “It was devastating. It was catastrophic. Fortunately no one was hurt, but it’s really taken not only us but hopefully the whole community to another level. It takes those kinds of incidents to make people really appreciate what they have.”
Gause is striving to instill the importance of good customer service in her employees.
“From my perspective, you have to make people feel good about coming here,” she said. “You have to make people feel good about patronizing a business.”
Gause started baking as a hobby. She used to bake at home for friends who would request cakes for special occasions. After being downsized from her corporate job, Gause used her severance pay and a city loan from to launch her business in 1990. Her father, Willie Seward, a Realtor, secured the property located at 2916 N. 22nd St.
Throughout the years, the business grew into a community mainstay that currently employees 25 people. Ronald Hinson, president of the Allegheny West Foundation, said Gause’s business has positively impacted the 22nd Street business corridor.
“For corridors like 22nd Street, corridors like that only survive if they have a draw and she is definitely a draw,” Hinson said. “Her business is one of those types of businesses that you want to see on 22nd Street because it attracts people not only from the neighborhood but from the region. It was a loss when she closed because the street was clearly impacted and it is a blessing that has now reopened because the street will be impacted by the customers who are coming back.”
Ken Curry, president of the 22nd Street Business Association concurs.
“We may not have one of the largest business associations in the city of Philadelphia and we may not have the deepest pockets, but we’re like a family,” Curry said. “When one of us hurts, all of us feel it. So when the fire hit, the impact was felt up and down our corridor. Without question of a doubt, Denise’s is one of our lead anchor businesses and she draws hundreds of customers to her location six days a week. When they leave Denise’s, many shoppers hang around and stop in some of our other businesses along the corridor.”
The bakery returns at a time when improvements are slated for the 22nd Street corridor which extends from 22nd and W. Lehigh Avenue to 22nd and W. Allegheny Avenue. The Philadelphia Department of Commerce has just embarked upon a streetscaping project for the business corridor. The project, which is scheduled for completion in the fall, will include new sidewalks and curbs, new handicapped ramps, new crosswalks, new gateway banners advertising the N. 22nd Street shopping district at 22nd and Lehigh, and milling and resurfacing will be done.
Article Contributor: Ayana Jones/Tribune