Three days after the fire that shut down her business, PattiCakes Bakery in Conway, Patti Stobaugh was past feeling.
“I’m just numb,” she told me. “I haven’t been sleeping well enough to really have a clear thought pattern, which doesn’t help anything. I just can’t believe this happened.”
The fire the evening of Jan. 15 destroyed the bakery at 1137 Front St. in downtown, one of two PattiCakes locations in the city. But the Front Street location housed all the production equipment for both bakery locations, meaning that Stobaugh also was forced to close the bakery at 2106 Robinson Ave.
That location is next to Stoby’s Restaurant at 805 Donaghey Ave., the 45-year-old Conway institution that is owned by Patti Stobaugh’s husband, David. That Stoby’s is a relatively new building, the first one having been heavily damaged by a fire in 2016 and replaced.
The 5,600-SF building that was home to the Front Street bakery also housed the offices of Stoby’s, and it was where Stoby’s famous cheese dip was produced as well as much of Stoby’s bread, gravies and strawberry jam. Its pulled pork was also smoked there.
“I mean, we dealt with the Stoby’s fire eight years ago, and it was due to the faulty roof vent motor and our insurance subrogated against the motor people and got paid in full,” Patti Stobaugh said. “But we didn’t get paid for all the hassle. I know that sounds very crass in saying that, but our insurance company was made whole but we were not. And to do it all over again, it’s just mind-boggling.”
As of our discussion, no cause of the Front Street fire had been determined. Stobaugh said the remains of the building were unstable and that a structural engineer had to first inspect the building before Conway Fire Department or insurance company investigators could enter.
The building, bought by David Stobaugh in 1990 and which is a total loss, was insured for up to $1.25 million. In addition, insurance covers pay for the bakery’s 29 employees put out of work by the closure.
Stobaugh praised her insurance agency, the Farris Agency of Conway. “Our insurance company has been top-notch, staying on top of this.”
Jason Covington, who owns the buildings on either side of PattiCakes downtown, called David Stobaugh around 6:15 p.m. Monday, Jan. 15, to tell him smoke was coming out of the building. The bakery had been closed because of the snow.
The fire alarm did not go off, Patti Stobaugh said, and security camera footage indicated that the fire had been burning for about 45 minutes before it was noticed. She and David drove to the fire, and the building was fully engulfed by the time they arrived.
David is working to install steam kettles at the Stoby’s Restaurant in Russellville and at the Robinson Avenue PattiCakes to again make cheese dip. But the Robinson Avenue PattiCakes doesn’t have the production capacity to reopen, Patti said.
Asked about her plan for going forward, Patti Stobaugh said, “It’s so early to make a decision. We don’t know what the numbers are yet.”
The structural engineer is going to provide the Stobaughs with an estimate of what it will cost to rebuild, Patti Stobaugh said. “You just can’t make a decision without numbers,” she said. “I told my employees that in 60 days we’ll know what direction we’re going and what that might look like. But now it’s just too early.”
Full disclosure: Patti and David Stobaugh are friends of mine. Of course, they both are deeply loved in Conway, and they have lots of friends. That love is reflected in the outpouring of community support that PattiCakes has received on social media.
Probably 99% of the comments on Facebook have been positive, Patti said. “And then we have the conspiracy theorists,” who suggest that fire fraud is involved. “It’s the people that are sitting in their mama’s basement in their underwear, I’m sure,” she said. “You get the picture.
“I wish I could say to them, ‘This is how much the Stoby’s fire cost us. It was not a moneymaking proposition.’” She added: “Why would we burn down the brain of the operation?”
A more common sentiment has been along the lines expressed by Travis Mays on Facebook, who in a long post wrote about how important both the bakery and Stoby’s had been to him and others in the community. “I believe that’s what good businesses, but more importantly, good people do,” Mays, of Conway, wrote. “They weave their way into our lives. Impacting us in quiet, but sometimes profound ways without us even recognizing it.”
The first PattiCakes Bakery in Conway, on Robinson Avenue, was opened in November 2010. “Within six months, we had outgrown what we were doing at that location,” Patti said, “and so we started just gradually buying bigger equipment and moving people downtown.”
The PattiCakes downtown, a smaller, European-style patisserie, was opened in September 2019, at the front of the Front Street building. All of the bakery’s batters, buttercreams, cakes, pie fillings were produced downtown and transported to the Robinson Avenue site.
PattiCakes Bakery revenue last year at the two locations was about $1 million, Patti Stobaugh said. That doesn’t include what the bakery sold to Stoby’s.
She figures a rebuild will be a two-year process. “I will be 66 in March and I have never planned on retiring, but I do not know what the future looks like. It’s too early.”
But Patti and David do understand that their businesses are important to the community. David noted that his wife had baked people’s wedding cakes and then the birthday cake for a couple’s first child and every birthday after that. “Your heart says we need to stay open for people,” he said. “And your head says in 10 years we’re going to be 10 years older, so it’s kind of a heart-head conflict.”
Said Patti: “It’s going to be a tough decision whatever we do.”