Marlene Goetzeler was surprised when she learned this publication wanted to do a story on Freeport Bakery. “Sacramento Magazine never writes about us,” said Goetzeler. “We’ve never understood it.”
Goetzeler and her husband, Walter, have owned the bakery since the late ’80s. It has since become a local institution, many Sacramentans’ first choice for cake when it comes to celebrating everything from a baby’s first birthday to an over-the-top wedding. In that regard, it’s a victim of its own success and longevity. In my family, Freeport’s decadent three-layer fudge cake has long been the default dessert for every meaningful occasion. Still, in the many years I’ve written about Sacramento’s dining scene, it never even occurred to me to do a story on Freeport Bakery. It’s like New York Magazine doing a story on the Statue of Liberty. Everybody already knows about it, don’t they?
Food writers naturally have a bias toward covering what’s new and different-what’s newsworthy. We’re always on the lookout for the Next Big Thing: a quirky new food truck, a yet-to-be-discovered ghost kitchen, a dazzling chef flying under the radar. It took these bordering-on-apocalyptic COVID times to make me recognize how lucky we are to have a place like Freeport Bakery in Sacramento. As I watch businesses struggle to survive during the pandemic, I’ve come to realize that we can’t take anything for granted—not even the fact that a beloved operation like Freeport Bakery will always be with us.
In 1987, Marlene and Walter Goetzeler were living in San Diego when they traveled to Sacramento to visit friends and spied a tiny bakery for sale on Freeport Boulevard. Walter had grown up in Bavaria, where he’d worked in his parents’ bakery and trained as a baker. The couple decided to take a chance on the bakery, and on Sacramento. Walter did the baking; Marlene handled the business and oversaw guerrilla marketing stunts like bringing Danish pastry samples to commuters as they waited for the light rail train across the street. By the early ’90s, the bakery was sweeping local “Best Bakery” awards with its cakes, cookies, pies and breads.
Freeport Bakery was never the trendiest bakery in town. If you wanted labneh cheesecake or chai lavender macarons, you went somewhere else. But over the years, the bakery grew and consolidated while managing to stay both consistent and relevant. In 2016, the bakery created a gender-bending Ken doll cake—a twist on the classic Barbie doll cake—at a customer’s request. When Goetzeler posted a photo of the cake on Facebook, it went viral, attracting a small amount of homophobic vitriol and much greater support from all over the world. She printed T-shirts that read “More cake, less hate.”
But COVID has managed to shake the foundations of even the strongest businesses. When the pandemic hit last spring, the bakery’s wedding cake and special events business evaporated overnight. People weren’t buying a lot of fruit basket cakes or Boston cream tortes, either. “I was scared, so scared,” Goetzeler recalls. The couple applied for federal PPP funds and dipped into savings to keep the bakery afloat.
When things started to return to normal (or, rather, normal-ish), Goetzeler decided the bakery needed to find a new niche for these crazy times: helping people celebrate tiny wins and simple pleasures. “Your child ties his shoe for the first time—get a cookie,” she says. “Every day, there’s some little thing you can celebrate. Now the focus is on celebrating just getting your laundry done.”
As the holidays draw near and the pandemic persists, Goetzeler is adjusting to the fact that big parties are not in the cards this year. Instead of a gingerbread house, she’s planning to sell a DIY gingerbread house kit. Holiday cupcakes will come “naked” so kids can decorate them on their own.
But it’s a pretty good bet that customers will still come to Freeport Bakery for pumpkin pie, Yule log cakes and egg bread shaped like Santa. Pandemic or no pandemic, cake makes life a little sweeter.
2966 Freeport Blvd.