“Y’all don’t have any doughnuts!” a customer said as he examined the selection at Denise’s Delicacies in Allegheny West.
“I was gonna put you some up but they said you were cutting back, Montel. They said you picked up 20 pounds!” replied Tangie Johnson, who works at the counter.
With her fun, easygoing personality, Johnson seemed to know about half of the customers that came in. When patrons talked to the women behind the counter, the casual conversation made it feel more like a shared space then a formal business transaction.
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On a recent Tuesday around 2 p.m., there was a steady flow of customers coming and going. They lined up at the counter for meticulously handmade cookies, pies, pastries and cake.
“Oh, this is dead,” she said, referring to the crowd. “Come back later in the week on Thursday. On Friday!”
This is Denise’s. Busy, familiar, friendly. “There’s nothing worse than going to a business to spend your money and not being treated warm and friendly and feel good about what you’re doing,” said Denise Gause, who started her bakery in 1992.
With the help of 26 employees, Gause’s business has thrived on this philosophy. Not only is it a neighborhood staple, it has extended its reach further out into the city and beyond. The beautiful specialty cakes have to be ordered weeks in advance. While there’s only one store, her famous lemon pound cake can be found in restaurants and businesses such as Ms. Tootsie’s on South Street and the Kevin Parker Soul Food Café in Reading Terminal Market.
But Gause feels a connection to the neighborhood as well. She used to sit in on meetings for the 22nd Street Merchant Association, but time conflicts have prevented her from attending recent gatherings. She explained that her father still regularly attends, representing his nearby real estate business.
The most rewarding part, Gause explained, isn’t the financial success or status in the neighborhood. “Sometimes, a customer will come in and just tell you how much they appreciate you being there, how much they appreciate what you do,” she said. “And that always seems to come on the bad days.”
And when you try the pound cake, you’ll appreciate what she does, too.