It’s just past 3 a.m. on an early Monday morning and while most are still sleeping, Eli Tate, owner of Gambino’s Bakery in Lafayette, is just beginning his day. For him, it’s all part of tradition.
With the smells of cinnamon sugar in the air, and orders for king cakes filled their back wall, Tate said Gambino’s Bakery is one of the go-to places every year as Mardi Gras approaches.
“Our busiest time of the year starts at the beginning of January all the way through the end of Mardi Gras,” Tate said. “It’s definitely by far busiest time of the year.”
Tate said king cakes are a type of a phenomenon during this time of the year. As proof, he noted that, at both of their Lafayette and Baton Rouge locations, they produce an average of 1,200 king cakes combined a day.
“On a typical day, we sell between a 150-300 king cakes a day here at our Lafayette store during Mardi Gras,” Tate said. “Typically before January, we sell 10, 15 a day and with the start of Mardi Gras, there is a spike overnight.”
Tate joked the week after Mardi Gras, he can’t give a king cake a way.
Made of a traditional Danish dough, Gambino’s king cakes are mixed, rolled out, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar on it, according to Tate. The cakes are then proofed and baked off.
“We top it with a white icing and with the traditional three colors of Mardi Gras,” Tate said. “Purple, green and gold, which means ‘justice,’ ‘power’ and ‘loyalty.’”
The name "king cake" takes its name from the biblical three kings, Gambino’s website said.
“Mardi Gras begins on the fifth night of January and that’s the same time the three wise men were set to arrive to see baby Jesus,” Tate said. “And so the baby represents baby Jesus.”
The website added the season for king cake extends from the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, up until Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, the day before the start of Lent.
The self-titled and then trademarked “King of the King Cakes,” Gambino's Bakery originated in New Orleans and the bakery is a household tradition that offers over 65 years of “experience with delicious baked goods,” the website said.
Gambino’s is a full-scale bakery and they do everything from cookies and brownies all the way to wedding cakes and custom cakes, which has been their specialty, according to Tate.
Gambino’s in Lafayette has been open since November 1999. Tate and his wife took it over in September 2000.
Tate says it’s the traditions that make the concept of king cakes so special today.
“One thing about South Louisiana, anytime to celebrate something, to get together, there is a strong sense of family here,” Tate said. “And the king cake is something that brings people together.”
Tate added South Louisiana is always looking to bring people together, and king cakes help to facilitate that.
As he enters his 20th year at Gambino’s, Tate said one of the great things about his job is he gets to deal with people during happy times.
“When they come in here, they have a smile on their face because they about to get a treat,” Tate said
Even after the early mornings and late nights, Tate said he won’t stop from doing what he loves, adding how providing a service like his means a great deal to him.
“I always said, ‘Bringing a smile to someone’s face is money in the bank,’” Tate said. “It’s priceless.”