The blazing scorching cake warfare of 1921

One of the better-known king cake bakers in New Orleans in the early 20th century faced an ignominious scandal just before Mardi Gras in 1921. That’s the year that Young’s Confectionary was shut down by the city’s Board of Health. The bakery was able to get into compliance fairly quickly, and it received a new permit, but the timing could not have been worse.

Young’s, which was located at 932 Poydras St., a stone’s throw from where City Hall now stands, had been in business for nearly a half-century. It had been advertising king cakes for sale as early as 1902. How closely they resembled the king cakes currently popular in New Orleans is unclear; no photos of or recipes for Young’s cakes are known to exist.

On Jan. 28, 1921, the chief food inspector for the city, H.G. Patterson, visited the bakery and found “sanitary requirements that were not fully complied with.” He shut the place down. But the problems were soon rectified, and the bakery reopened after being granted a new permit by the Board of Health president, John Callan.

Local newspapers had noted the forced closure, and then a rival baker with a similar name began referencing the brief shutdown of Young’s in advertising and through other means.

The rival baker, E.I. Young Co., sometimes used the name Young’s Cakes. In its advertising from early 1921, it emphasized the spotless conditions at its production facility at St. Charles Avenue and Polymnia Street. “Stop in some time and inspect our large, up-to-date cake plant. Learn how we safeguard the health of our consumers,” it said in one paid advertisement published in the New Orleans Item on Feb. 6.

Appended onto the bottom of the ad was what was billed as “an explanation.”

“Considerable publicity has been given recently to the difficulties with the health authorities encountered by a local confectionary carrying the Young name,” the ad said.

“We hope no one will confuse the E.I. Young Company Inc. with the concern that was the subject of the health officers’ action. Our permit, No. 649, was issued to us promptly in January in recognition of our complete and willing compliance with all health regulations.

“We are in no way connected with any bread or cake bakery bearing the Young name, except our own, and we have no branches.”

The effects on Young’s Confectionary were devastating. Within weeks, its daily sales dropped from around $250 per day to $100 or less. On Feb. 21, Young’s sued E.I. Young for $100,000 in damages. In the lawsuit, the confectioner made a counterintuitive argument: that E.I. Young took its name specifically to capitalize on the good reputation of Young’s Confectionary while simultaneously libeling the confectioner by suggesting the latter had not been able to get a new permit.

The disposition of the case is unclear from newspaper stories from the period. But both Young’s Confectionary and the E.I. Young Company continued business. In fact, that fall, a mysterious tragedy befell two of the parties involved…

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