The History of the Smith Island Cake
Smith Island, Maryland, is the birthplace of the Smith Island Cake. The Smith Island Baking Co. is the only bakery on Smith Island. Our story has been told and retold by satisfied customers and journalists alike from around the world. It's a story of the right people, the right vision, and the right community. And, of course, the right cake!
Smith Island, Maryland, is a 400-year-old fishing village of only 250 residents. Located 10 miles offshore in the Chesapeake Bay, and accessible only by ferry, map of smith island it was here that the Smith Island Cake was born. Smith Island has always been a waterman's community. In the 1800's, when Smith Island men went on the autumn oyster harvest, their wives would send Smith Island Cakes as a special treat to remind them of their families and the community they had left behind. The bakers took pride in making Smith Island Cakes with the thinnest possible layers and they began using fudge instead of buttercream frosting. The watermen loved the presentation, and cakes frosted with fudge lasted much longer than cakes with other frostings.
In 2008, Maryland named the Smith Island Cake its State Dessert. In spite of our remote location, National Geographic says we're "Worth the Trip." While Smith Island Cakes are deservedly famous, and delicious, there were no significant bakeries on the island. That was, until the stars aligned.
In 2009, Brian Murphy, a former commodity trader turned entrepreneur, partnered with local bakers to create a premiere national gift company right on tiny Smith Island. Brian grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore, only 50 miles from Smith Island. In 1999, he graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in Economics. He spent the next decade as a Portfolio Manager for Constellation Energy in Baltimore.
In May, 2008, Brian graduated with an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. In December, 2008, Brian decided to set out on his own, dreaming of starting a great company. But he never imagined his travels would take him to tiny Smith Island and his great company would be a bakery featuring the world famous Smith Island Cake.
In 2008, Murphy created an investment company, the Plimhimmon Group, named in honor of his late father, and he spent several months exploring everything from cement companies to lumberyards to clothing designers. But nothing felt quite right. As fate would have it, in February, 2009, Murphy and his family were on the way to visit his mother on the Eastern Shore for her birthday. On the way they stopped at a local market, and bought a birthday cake. A Smith Island Cake.
Everyone loved the cake, but they were surprised to learn it was not made on Smith Island. They were even more surprised to learn there were no major bakeries on Smith Island. The idea of a premiere gift company shipping cakes all over the world from the tiny island was perfect, so the due diligence began. In April, 2009, Murphy met with local bakers in the Tylerton church basement and the Smith Island Baking Co. was born. The women called the idea, "an answer to prayer". The bakers were also unanimous in their suggestion that Kristen Smith should manage the new company.
Kristen Smith (at the time, Kristen Manzo, who has since married Bobby Smith) grew up in Towson, Maryland, and went to college at Methodist College in North Carolina. After college, Kristen went to work for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation on Smith Island. She fell in love with the island's simple life and its strong sense of community. She also fell in love with Bobby Smith, a waterman turned tugboat operator. The month before Murphy came to the island, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation was forced to lay-off Smith due to budget cuts.
Smith had done apprentice work with Mary Ada Marshall, a lifelong Smith Islander and baker who was a driving influence in having the Smith Island Cake named Maryland's State Dessert. Kristen's dream job was to run a bakery making Smith Island Cakes on Smith Island. So when Murphy made the offer, she accepted immediately. It was a match made in heaven.
They began building the company from scratch. The web site, the shopping cart, new logos to capture the spirit of the island, custom packaging, cake tins, and a refined, made-from-scratch recipe were just the beginning.
Word of our little bakery quickly spread, and the Smith Island Baking Co. became a media sensation. Just six months after opening our doors, we "sold out" our first Christmas, and had to turn away customers! Before we knew it, we had shipped cakes to all 50 states, and more than 2,500 cities in seven countries. We had secured our place as the premiere baker of Smith Island Cakes and as a growing national gift company. Our customers include grandmothers and CEO's, stay at home mothers and Heads of State – anyone can order a cake online! Our products are featured in the world renowned Neiman Marcus holiday catalog, and we have broadened our offerings to include select gourmet and seasonal flavors, Smith Island Fudge, and merchandise.
The Smith Island Baking Co. has grown and grown over our first three years, but our commitment to our employees, our customers, and to Smith Island has never wavered. Smith Island has a special place in Maryland history, and in United States history. At the Smith Island Baking Co., we are excited by the financial impact we have had on the island and Somerset County, and we are proud of what we've built. Most importantly, we look forward to the years ahead.
From all of us at the Smith Island Baking Co., thank you for taking the time to read the story of our company and the Smith Island Cake. We hope you'll consider trying one of our made-from-scratch Smith Island Cakes at your next event, and we look forward to serving you and your loved ones soon.
The Smith Island Baking Co. Family