The Chews Letter
Story by Cynthia McFarland • Photos by Joshua Jacobs
Urban Bakeshop Couple Moves to Horse Country
Urban Bakeshop Couple Moves to Horse Country
March 2020. Two weeks to flatten the curve. How well we remember.Weeks stretched into months. Businesses were deemed “essential” and “nonessential.” It was an especially grim time for family-owned operations.
“When COVID hit, that shut down our entire business. We assumed it would reopen in a month or two, and then it continued on and on. The truth is, in New York, the shutdown lasted for months and months,” says Stacey León.
For nearly 15 years, Orlando and Stacey León owned and operated Butterfly Bakeshop, a custom cake bakery in Manhattan. They specialized in high-end wedding and celebration cakes, fantastical creations that Orlando designed and decorated. They lived a big city life in the fast-paced world of trendy restaurants and venues.
Then came 2020. With weddings and event venues shuttered and no demand for custom cakes, the Leóns sought other baking options to create income. “We were out of business for 1 ½ years and had to let employees go. When our business was shut down, we pivoted,” says Stacey. “Orlando came up with several recipes for Boozy Brownies and people loved them. Eventually, we started selling them as an online bakery, along with cookies and cake jars.”
Food has been the common language for Stacey and Orlando from the beginning. Stacey, a New York native, attended culinary school and earned a degree in food service management. She went on to work in restaurants and hotels and was one of the first women in New York City to be food and beverage director of a major hotel. She also worked as general manager for a prominent caterer.
Orlando is far more than a skilled pastry chef and cake artist. When he immigrated to America from Colombia in 1980, he initially went to school for photography.
“I needed a job while going to school and ended up working at the River Café in New York City, a very renowned restaurant. I totally fell in love with food and cooking, so the photography dream turned to food,” recalls Orlando.
“I also worked with a talented Japanese chef who took me under his wing. I learned from him and other chefs; I had many influences,” notes Orlando, adding that he initially worked as a savory chef before developing his flair for pastry and sweet creations.
Orlando and Stacey just celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary in May. No surprise, it was food that brought them together. They met through a mutual friend in the late Eighties, and in 1990 he started working at the hotel restaurant she was managing.
The couple launched Butterfly Bakeshop in 2010, capitalizing on the perfect combination of skills. “I had the ‘front of the house’ and marketing business perspective, while Orlando owns the nitty-gritty part of what the guests see and taste,” says Stacey.
Right before the pandemic struck, Stacey’s parents and her aunt both purchased homes in Ocala, which they had visited in the past and loved, because it wasn’t like Miami. Orlando’s mother, who lived in New York, was also on the search for a warmer place to call home.
The “tipping point” came when Orlando and Stacey’s daughter Tallulah made the decision to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. “Our daughter was going to be here, and both our families had moved to Ocala,” says Stacey. “Everything we did in New York was custom-made, and we couldn’t sustain that with the COVID shutdowns, so in September 2021, we officially moved to Ocala.”
Until they were able to get in their own house, the couple rotated between living with family and in various Airbnb houses.
“We’ve been in a state of flux the last two years,” says Stacey, adding that they are thrilled to be living in a real house now. “I’ve always lived in an apartment, ever since I was born in Bogotá and always in New York,” says Orlando. “I love having space to cook and eat outside now. I’m excited to have a grill and am learning to smoke meats.”
“We were used to such an urban environment. People who live here don’t even realize how lucky they are,” says Stacey. “I tell friends back in New York I now live in free Florida!”
Back in the Kitchen
Manhattan’s loss is definitely Ocala’s gain. Currently, Orlando and Stacey are baking out of a rented commercial kitchen at Let’s Eat Fresh, near downtown Ocala. They are also renovating a bakery in the same area with the intention of opening a small retail operation. For now, their Baked by Small Batch goods can be purchased at The Juniper General Store on U.S. Highway 27. They’ve also been doing some pop-up dinners there.
Having been in the food industry for so long, the couple has much to offer, and they’re open to doing private catering. “We’re going to look for opportunities to see how we can bring our skills to fit in and be part of the community. Ocala is growing. There are more people looking for food experiences, and we hope to be part of that,” says Stacey. “There are so many possibilities. We’re starting a new journey in a totally new place.”