Michael Feigenbaum has been catering to Cleveland’s sweet tooth for over 40 years. Known for its strudel, Lucy’s Sweet Surrender has been a favorite Hungarian bakery for generations of Clevelanders. And now, we can happily look to Michael for more than just sweets, with the opening earlier this year of Café Marika, a European-style café in North Collinwood.
1. What are the top 5 spices every home chef/baker should have? Salt, pepper, garlic, pure vanilla and cinnamon.
2. What is your favorite thing about Cleveland and what drives you nuts? I grew up in Shaker Heights. One of my favorite things is the homes and streets of Shaker / Cleveland Heights and the lake and parks system. I dislike the political/economic/power base that controls Cleveland, which allowed the sprawling dispersal of population to create the outer-ring and empty middle.
3. What is the most popular item ordered from Lucy’s Sweet Surrender? Strudel.
4. What do you like better, baking or cooking, and why? I like both but I rarely bake at home. We cook all of our own food most days. Marika, my wife, is an excellent cook and baker. We will dine out for special occasions.
5. What is the hardest thing to bake? The hardest items to bake are usually the simplest meringues and breads for novice folks. I think the hard part in my bakery is keeping up with all the varieties of products. We make 150 or more different items and many custom orders; most bakeries specialize or buy commercial products to save labor. When you bake from scratch it is labor intensive.
6. What restaurant do you miss? Lunch at Stouffers on Shaker Square with my grandmother.
7. What is your favorite restaurant in Cleveland? I will copout and just say many. Many are underrated and serve great value for the money. The independents are all struggling to keep up in this smaller market.
8. What hidden gem or restaurant have Clevelanders yet to discover? Café Marika.
9. What do you want people to know about Café Marika? We are a throwback to simple quality scratch cookery and we have a rockin’ good bar with reasonable prices. Great coffee from Kokopelli’s and all of Lucy’s bakery products can be delivered to the cafe daily for pick up.
10. What is your last meal on Earth? Fresh salad, pasta with cream garlic and smoked meats, veal with demi-glace, steamed asparagus and ice cream for dessert.
11. What keeps you going and what are the challenges you face as a business owner in Cleveland? I’m motivated by my love of the work I do. I am most happy in the bakery cranking out the goods and I am most gratified by the responses we receive. I recently shipped nut rolls to Hawaii for a 94-year-old lady on her birthday. She was originally from Buckeye Road and recently found out that we are still open. Her only desire was to taste our nut roll on her big day. That is great stuff to me.
The challenges are huge. Currently all costs are rising faster than we can respond. The customer base has dispersed and we are competing with gas stations, C-stores, Wal Mart, etc. The old style we represent has a strong identity but no one has time to shop a small place like ours, then a holiday hits us with 10-15 times the customers for a few days and we are working 18 hour days to keep up. It is a problem for all the independents. We are working and thinking all the time about how to survive and maintain what we have. The legacy of a 50-year-old business is an awesome responsibility at times, but I really love it.