By MARY STEVENSON and SALLY MIDDLEBROOKS — Open the door of Shortcake Bakery, leave behind the traffic on Route One, and inhale the fragrance of coffee, fresh cakes, cookies, and scones.
Master baker and owner, Cheryl Harrington, greets you with a warm smile and lots of choices. A chocolate cupcake or oatmeal scone? Pecan or key lime pie? Chicken curry meat patty or quiche?
Customers at the bakery are as varied as her offerings. On Saturday mornings, cyclists stop mid-ride and families drop by after soccer games. Friends meet for coffee; neighbors share lunch and news; business deals are discussed over pastries; couples on walks stop by for a treat. One mom buys enough turnovers to fill lunchboxes for the week. A dad stops by to pick up a specially decorated birthday cake for a 6 year old.
Shortcake Bakery is all about neighborhood. It is not an ethnic or specialty bakery, but offers what people in Hyattsville enjoy. It is a cultural mix of American, European, and Island traditions.
This range reflects Harrington’s own background. Her Trinidad grandmother, a chef, taught her to bake Island dishes as well as European. And the warmth and hospitality of Shortcake Bakery is an expression of Harrington’s pleasure in baking for family, friends, and neighbors.
Harrington has done wedding cakes, catered events, baked regularly for a local bed and breakfast — as well as for the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture — and created masterpieces on order such as a butterfly cupcake cake and the Hyattsville Horticultural Society’s anniversary cake, a lavish garden.
Shortcake Bakery opened in October 2011. Having survived the difficult first years, and now flourishing, in January 2017, Harrington and her husband David were looking forward to building on their success.
Instead they were confronted by a chain of disasters: in April, thieves broke down the back door; a week later, thieves broke in the front door. Arriving on a morning in May, Harrington discovered the oven was broken beyond repair and had to be replaced.
With each setback, she took stock, faced the problem, and came up with a plan of action. But then came the July storm. Two days of deluge and a micro-blast, a “mini-tornado,” that folded back the roof, saturated walls and severely damaged the electrical system.
The shock of destruction was “physically painful,” Harrington said.
Yet again Harrington confronted disaster: step-by-step, she faced the damage and began the repairs. And two months and one week later, she triumphantly reopened the door.
Shortcake Bakery’s grand reopening was held Nov. 18. The party, which featured live music, face painting, storytelling and samples, was attended by Prince George’s County Councilwoman Deni Taveras, Maryland Delegate Anne Healey, and former Congresswoman Donna Edwards, among others. Taveras presented Harrington with a proclamation during the party.
Harrington has returned to her original plans for the year: Halloween treats were followed by 180 pies for Thanksgiving. For the upcoming holidays, she will be offering American fruitcake — a light crumb, raisins and candied fruit, a hint of liquor — and Island fruitcake, with a complex taste of burnt brown sugar and rum-soaked fruits.
In addition to the standard cookies — peanut butter and chocolate chip — and the standard oatmeal and butter scones, you will be able to buy linzer cookies as well as frosted sugar cookie Santas and Christmas trees.
And future plans? In November, Cheryl held her first formal tea. She hopes to offer others in the coming year: A January tea, a Dad and Daughter Tea, and a Mother’s Day Tea. Soon you will see the work of local artists on the bakery’s walls and a new front door. Long-term dreams include mentoring for young women beginning businesses and possible cooking classes for children.
And of course, always check the bakery’s cases for new delights.
Harrington is not only an excellent cook and businesswoman, but a model of determination. And what motivates her? The love of her craft. Harrington says, “Baking is alchemy;” the baker takes flour, sugar, and butter and turns them into sweet delights, she explains.
Shortcake Bakery is located at 4700 Rhode Island Ave. Phone: 301-779-2836. The bakery is open Tuesday through Friday, 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., and on Saturdays, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.