Dissing the chocolate cake gods

Image of Yom Kippur Ahead warning sign A favourite uncle of mine always said, "When you're invited somewhere for dinner, your hands should be so full that you have to ring the doorbell with your elbow." The underlying message is, of course, dinner guests should never show up empty-handed. My aim here is not to embark on some tautological diatribe on proper etiquette, social mores, common courtesy or the de rigueur and chic. Suffice it to say: if you show up with some dinner rolls, a bottle of wine, a nice salad or (my particular favourite) a tempting desert, then chances are high you'll get invited back to dinner on other occasions. If you arrive at your host's home with an empty vase and yank a few flowers from their garden on the way in the door, don't be surprised if you find yourself dining alone on a regular basis.

A few weeks back we were invited to a Sunday evening family dinner, in part, to celebrate three birthdays which all happen to share very proximate calendar dates. Upon receiving the invitation, as is my custom, I immediately inquired if there was anything at all we could bring to the table. I was informed that no desert had, at that time, been considered for dinner so I pledged my allegiance to the desert gods and committed myself to offering up a sacrifice.

After a very brief discussion on desert, a consensus was reached that cake, of the birthday variety, would be the most appropriate complement to the Sunday dinner table. We were to touch base on Saturday to gauge the size of cake to be ordered so I could order it in advance to be picked up on Sunday. On Saturday afternoon the call came, "Nine dinner guests, though two were fence-sitters." Nine it is then! Better to be a bit liberal on such things I always figure as there's no such thing as too much cake.

Anyone who's lived in Ottawa for any length of time would likely recognize Rideau Bakery as a name with some longevity; their website indicates they've been around since the 1930's. Over the course of my life, I've ordered a number of delights from them and have been pleased, at least until recently, with their customer service and the quality of their work. Charged with the task of commissioning a chocolate birthday cake for nine, I did what any reasonably teksavvy person would do: I looked on Google to find out if Rideau Bakery had a website and an online order form to expidite my order. (Using Google and a couple of mouse clicks is *always* faster than singing the alphabet song while your fingers do the walking through the yellow pages.) Rideau Bakery's site, like many small business sites, does not have the capability of processing online orders. They do, however, feature an "Online Cake Gallery" customers may browse. Their phone numbers and hours of operation are also listed on their site.

Having a general sense of what I wanted to order, I grabbed the phone and called the number to the Bank Street location as listed on their website. It rang several times unanswered. "Probably busy," I thought to myself, "I'll call back a bit later." I tried a little later in the afternoon resulting in the same outcome; phone rings, no answer. Finally, around 5:30, after getting no answer on my third attempt, I thought it prudent to double check the phone number on the website to ensure I had written it down correctly. "Yup, 613-737-3355," I nodded, verifying that the number I had written down on a piece of paper was the same as that listed on their website. I confirmed their business hours, "Ayup, Saturday, 7:00 am to 6:00 pm." and pondered the reason they might not be answering the telephone. "Perhaps the hours of business listed on the site are for the Rideau Street location," I considered, "and the Bank Street location maintains different hours!" Reaching what I believed to have been a reasonable and rational explanation, I called the other number listed on the website. Clearly, I'm a man who believes that the rewards from chocolate cake can only be achieved through perseverance.

"Rideau Bakery," the gentleman's voice on the other end of the phone answered.

"Yes," I said, "I'm just on your website, and I've been trying to phone the Bank Street location all day long to order a birthday cake, but they don't seem to be answering the telephone. Are they not open today?"

"No they're closed," he said, "We were closed yesterday and today. It's the law."

If an independent party had been eavesdropping on the conversation, they surely would have noted the long silence that ensued following his answer. Had the Harper government, in exercising its majority in the House, suddenly ran roughshod over the electorate and legislated a two-day closure of all bakeries? I'm aware that marijuana impedes one's short term memory and, like most University students of the 1970's, I was no stranger to weed, but it would be ludicrous to even think that smoking a bit of weed over three decades ago could, in any way, be responsible for me not remembering a jackbooted government legislating away my ability to buy a chocolate cake. Hell that would be inconceivable even if I'd have swallowed handfuls of purple microdot!

What possible law could be responsible for the closure of a business that prepares food? Had an employee used a bran muffin inappropriately after the staff restroom had run out of toilet paper? Did the chocolate chips that grace the tops of their cookies have more than just an uncanny resemblance to rodent droppings? What possible law, other than an order issued by the Regional Health Unit, could be responsible for their closure? I had to ask. "You're closed for some legal reason?"

"It's Yom Kippur. You know!" he said abruptly, an ere of condescension in his voice. It was clear by his tone that he felt this should have been obvious to me. Or anyone else, for that matter, who might have called. But I feel the real show stopper came when, before I could even ask if they'd be open Sunday and able to buy a cake, he concluded our exchange by saying "Thank you." and hung up. (Actually the "you" part of his final words were difficult to hear, indicative of the fact that he was in the process of hanging up the telephone at precisely the same time he was uttering the last of the two words.

Since it would appear that my business is of little import to Rideau Bakery, I'd like to take this opportunity to extend a few words to them on their doctrinaire attitude:

First, I respect your decision to close your business on whatever day(s) you may choose based on your religious belief. It matters little to me if you're a monotheist, a polytheist or an atheist. I don't care if you chant, sing, speak in tongues or howl meniacally at a full moon. You can genuflect, bang your forehead on the ground, smoke opium, make hand gestures, light candles or stand over a churning cauldron with some eye of newt. For all I care, you can dance around naked in your kitchen with a dead chicken dangling off the end of a piccolo honouring whatever deity, or lack thereof, you choose. What I care about is cake. Got it? Chocolate cake. And my ability to buy it.

Second, it is presumptuous of you to conclude that anyone who might not share in your dogma might actually know, or care, of your religious observances. One man's Yom Kippur is another man's Superbowl Sunday. Moreover, even if my calendar had writing on it alerting me of Yom Kippur, it would be very difficult for me to intuit that your business would be closed on those days. Perhaps if you changed your name from Rideau Bakery to Moshe's Bagel & Kosher Deli the dots might be a bit easier for me to connect.

Finally, try adopting a more accommodating business practice. If you're going to be closed for Yom Kippur, or Groundhog's Day for that matter, put a bloody voicemail message on your telephone indicating you're closed. The reason, though it might seem important to you, is not even relevant to our ability to conduct business. What's important to me, the customer, is that you're not able to bake me a cake... not that you took the day off to go hungry, barefoot and remain unbathed and celibate. You might also want to post a similar note on your website.

Thank you for taking the time to consider why I'll "passover" your business next time I get a hankering for a big chocolate cake.

Submitted by "Big Banana" Bob Loblaw, 21 October 2011