WWNO skyline header graphic
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Local Newscast
Hear the latest from the WWNO/WRKF Newsroom.

Where Y’Eat: A Shorter King Cake Season Arrives with Higher Stakes

Ian McNulty

We’re on the cusp what will be a shorter Carnival season, with just 39 days from the start this Saturday until Fat Tuesday on Feb. 13. That also means there’s just 39 days when king cake is culturally sanctioned within the bounds of Carnival.

I know people are eager to dig in again, but for the bakeries that make king cakes, a shorter Carnival season also means higher stakes, amid a time when they’re contending with many other pressures on their businesses.

King cake may be a simple pleasure but it’s become serious business for the bakeries and restaurants that produce them. Just as people elsewhere around the country are battening down for some resolutions, New Orleans plunges into Carnival. Bakeries see their busiest time of year.

In this way, king cake has helped underwrite the revival of the neighborhood bakery in New Orleans.

For some, Carnival season king cake sales are their primary source of revenue; for many others, it makes the difference that keeps them going in our deep and difficult summers.

This year, local businesses like these have a lot more on their plates, from the higher costs found all across the restaurant world now, to local issues, like the spiraling costs of insurance. Covering the restaurant beat, I’m reporting all too often now on wonderful local spots closing down for good.

I think that brings a little more weight to Carnival season. This hospitality town relies on Mardi Gras for an annual boost, but it’s not just about travelers coming here. One easy way to stretch the season a bit is to share it.

King cake, it turns out, is a highly portable piece of Carnival. In the pandemic, shipping king cakes out of town became a lifeline for many bakeries and restaurants and today many still offer this service.

So amid the flurry of sugar and Twelfth Night parties at the return of the season, remember there’s more riding along with king cakes this year than the plastic baby. And by sharing the joy of these festive New Orleans symbols with others you may be helping a local shop keeping rolling long after this Mardi Gras ends.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.