It was late last spring when Brittany Baker returned home from Puerto Rico, expecting to tend to someone else’s bar.
Spending the better part of her life’s so-far quarter-century in South Bethany, and after graduating from the University of Delaware, it was just something that she had always done — sticking together a routine résumé of winter world travel and growing up on sunny-season jobs along the Bethany boardwalk, swirling Dickey’s Frozen Custard, working at Breakers Surf Shop and slinging gin at area restaurants.
Then, she got a phone call.
“It was very random,” Baker said of the unexpected suggestion from long-time friend Erin Ternahan — whose family owns Breakers and, at the time, also owned the shop adjacent, formerly known as “The Parlour.”
“We were kind of joking — she was like, ‘Buy it — we’ll be neighbors. It’ll be like old times — like we’re 14 again.’”
No longer 14, when Baker brought the idea up to her parents, Ken and Ann Baker, one supper-night, it didn’t seem as funny as it did functional.
The family had long been bouncing around ideas for a business in their hometown, never quite finding one cooked with enough consistency to stick to the fridge until that night, when that one finally did.
The concept was to continue what had worked for “The Parlour” and, before that, “The Fudge Factory,” but to also offer fresh local products, ranging from Vanderwende Farm Creamery ice cream out of Bridgeville to Notting Hill Coffee out of Lewes, to go along with some healthy options, including açai (ah-sigh-EE) bowls made with local fruit from local farms and, of course, the Baker sisters’ infamously off-centered homemade fudge, milkshakes and homemade doughnuts.
First, however, they’d need a name.
Three Blonde Bakers
Run by three flaxen-haired ladies with last name appropriate, it might seem like giving the shop title was pretty much self-explanatory and pretty much a no-brainer… now.
But, perhaps surprisingly, it took the only non-(currently)-blonde Baker to embody the brand.
After many Facebook contests and much conversation, it was Ken Baker who coined the now-notorious handle “Three Blonde Bakers.”
Former captain of the Bethany Beach patrol, a career-CPA and the family patriarch, Baker handles the finance side of the business. His wife, Anne — the first blonde Baker — is a Realtor at ResortQuest and, knowing practically everyone in town, tosses on an apron whenever she gets a distress call.
Then there’s Brittany’s sister, Cassidy Baker — the youngest of the Baker bunch — who joined the team last spring, as a soon-to-be graduating senior at Indian River High School with a love for the culinary arts refined at the former Ruthie’s Bakery in Bethany.
Of course, Sally Baker — Brittany’s grandmother, who she said was not only the “OG Baker,” but taught her everything she knows, baking-wise — is perhaps the shop’s MVP.
“My mom comes in and starts moving everything. We’ll need something, and she’ll put it in a completely different spot,” Brittany said with a laugh. “My grandmother comes in at the most crucial moments, somehow — when I’m slammed, she’ll walk in and gets right back behind the counter and starts cutting the fudge.”
The Vanderwende Effect
There have been customers who have literally almost cried and/or fainted — or have at least fanned themselves to attempted-calm, as if for the first time meeting The Beatles — and made emergency-type cellular phone calls to friends and immediate family members upon visual confirmation of the shop’s 32-flavor ice cream counter displaying a familiar smiling green-spotted cow and 32 recognizable flavors of Vanderwende Farm Creamery ice cream.
According to those who spend any sort of significant time hanging around the boards, the “Vanderwende Effect” happens more often than one might think.
Upon first opening, 3BB had originally carried Hersey’s ice cream, which Baker said was certainly also a fine product in itself.
However, with Ken Baker originally from Bridgeville — where the Vanderwende dairy farm is located along Route 404, sporting a large sign with the same familiar smiling green-spotted cow — the Bakers were able to form a working relationship with the Vanderwendes, who themselves are also a local family-run business.
“They actually made flavors to fill the freezers,” Baker said, noting that the entire family, spanning three-generations of Vanderwendes, had come down from Bridgeville to help install the freezers.
While it’s a hard product to keep stocked, 3BB offers all of the Vanderwende’s classics, including house favorites: “Cow Poop,” a Mouse Tracks-comparable blend of vanilla swirl, fudge swirl, and peanut butter cups, “Cow Tracks,” “Mint Chip,” “Salted Caramel” with chocolate covered pretzels, and all the rest — all made with Vanderwende’s signature and sought-after farm-fresh style.
The ‘Original’ Fudge Factory
It’s either funny or surreal, or perhaps both, that as a tow-headed child, Baker use to ride her bike to what was the original “Fudge Factory,” located at 3BB’s current location, and raid the wall of penny candy, returning always — and especially after landing her first job at Breakers next door at the age of 14 — for half-priced milkshakes and Fudge Factory homemade fudge.
“We would always come over here for fudge and milkshakes, because we got half off, and Steve, who owned it then, was awesome — he was like the town grandfather,” she explained.
Along with Cassidy, the Baker sisters are not only continuing that legacy but adding their own unique Indigo expression to every batch’s batter.
“Each batch of fudge is personal. When you make it and you put your time into it and you put it out there for people,” said Cassidy Baker — who, almost opposite her father Ken’s handling the finances, acts as a very different type of CFO (chief fudge operator).
“We’re able to make it from scratch, and we know that it’s the best around. People appreciate it so much and they love it so much, so it’s rewarding. It adds to the whole experience.”
Notable Baker sisters inspirations include their famous “Tiger Butter” with a layer of vanilla, real peanut butter, another layer of vanilla and a layer of peanut butter chocolate fudge on top; “Crabby Chocolate” with Old Bay; “Sea Salt Caramel;” “Margarita;” and “Strawberry Margarita” fudge that tastes so authentic that customers have actually inquired about possible tequila-shot chasers; and recent hit, “Watermelon,” with appropriate color and flavor.
Their “Fudge Suggestion Box” keeps the recipe revelations rolling in, with new flavors constantly debuting and keeping up with the culture, as made evident by last summer’s “Breaking Bad” tribute, “Walter White Special,” made with a light-blue base and blue Pop-Rocks and rock candy; an “Orange is the New Black” on the block currently; and, most recently, a “Rainbow Swirl” homage to Orlando; with a red-, white-and-blue batch set to make an appearance just in time for next week’s fireworks.
Doughnuts and healthy stuff
Equally as off-the-wall are 3BB’s fresh-daily doughnuts, pastries and muffins, sundaes, shakes, cookies, brownies, coffee and crumb cakes, gourmet chocolates and more.
However, as a bit of a health-nut, and inspired by her frequent travels to Rincon, Puerto Rico, and her favorite coffee and açai bowl stop, “Cafe 2 Go,” the shop also caters to those looking for some healthy morning options.
In addition to all the fudge being gluten-free and gluten-free baked goods, such as blueberry muffins, the shop’s açai bowls, made with fresh Parson’s Farms blueberries, have been just as much of a hit.
“I probably get coffee and an açai bowl here like four times a week,” said local yoga instructor Sarah Shoemaker, while wielding both after teaching a class on the beach.
“Then I’ll come and get ice cream — it’s the best strawberry I’ve ever had in my entire life. My mom comes, and she’ll get doughnuts and everything. [The Bakers] treat everyone like they’re part of this town, and they’re not bad on the eyes, either.”
Now in their second season and hitting their stride, the Baker sisters have learned a thing or two about running a business and, sporting a six-year age gap, about working together.
“It’s surprisingly brought us closer together. I never thought that Cassidy and I would be working together,” Brittany Baker said. “She’s been so awesome. She’s been the biggest help that I could ever imagine. And she’s super-creative with the fudge. She’s so creative artistically, which helps a lot. She did all of our boards, too.”
“It says ‘Three Blonde Bakers,’ but it almost should now say ‘’Two Blonde Bakers,’ because the two of them are running it,” Ann Baker said of her daughters. “They’re so different, but they have strengths and weaknesses, and they balance each other out.
“I am so proud of these girls — they’ve never gotten along so well; they’ve never appreciated each other so much.”
Three Blonde Bakers is located at 108 Garfield Parkway in Bethany Beach, right across from Breakers Surf Shop. The store is open seven days a week during the summer. For more on 3BB, check them out on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thefudgefactorybb, on Instagram @threeblondebakers, or call the shop (302) 539-7502. For online orders, head to www.threeblondebakers.com.