CORNWALL — The story of Cynthia Matthews von Berg’s family business essentially begins in 1812, the year her parents’ farmhouse was built in the spot where it now stands in Cornwall.
The next chapter takes us on to 1979, the year von Berg’s parents’ gourmet bakery, Matthews 1812 House, was founded. At the company’s humble beginning, Blaine and Deanna Matthews offered their customers several types of fruitcakes and mailed out order acknowledgments personally typewritten by Deanna herself.
“We started as a fully mail-order company in the ’70s,” von Berg said during a recent interview from her office.
In 1991, the business moved to a new facility located just a mile from the farmhouse. The building was larger in size and equipped with a double oven, which enabled the Matthews to expand their specialty cake offerings. They decided to introduce cookies, dessert sauces and an assortment of other baked goods to their product line.
The story came full circle in March of 2015, the year von Berg officially took the reins of the family business upon her parents’ retirement.
This month, the company will expand on its legacy by launching several new products, including a port wine chocolate cake and three types of savory cookies: pink peppercorn, kalamata olive and rustic Parmesan sage.
Von Berg is especially excited about the release of the port wine cake, which she described as a “gourmet treat for those who appreciate fine spirits.”
“The delicate flavors of real port elevate this chocolate cake to a new level,” a statement issued by the company reads. “Serve with berries and whipped cream to accentuate the natural berry and wine flavors of the port.”
Von Berg expects the cookies to be a popular item, as they are designed to pair well with cheese, wine and beer. The products are ideal for gift giving, as they come packaged in either a gold-accented gift container or a white gift box.
“The Parmesan in the rustic sage cookie makes it slightly salty,” the statement continued. “A terrific choice with a cold beer, the sage adds a distinctive gourmet flavor.”
According to von Berg, all of the bakery’s gourmet-quality products are baked in small batches. The company does not use any preservatives or artificial additives, and only real butter and vanilla are used in the recipes.
Despite the changes that Matthews 1812 House has experienced throughout the past 40 years, von Berg is dedicated to preserving the history of her parents’ business. All of the products are still baked, packaged and shipped directly from the Cornwall facility, and her parents provide advice on business operations and products.
Most importantly, the majority of the company’s sales are received in the mail, as opposed to from an actual storefront location. Customers can walk in to purchase products at the Cornwall location, but it is not a “true storefront,” von Berg said.
“We are kind of known for our alcohol-based things,” von Berg said. “It allows us to have the shelf life we need to ship things effectively.”
The opportunity to witness the progression of her family’s second-generation business has been a pleasure for von Berg to experience.
“I grew up around the business,” von Berg said. “I would go to sleep with people literally working on cakes in the kitchen.”
Although von Berg’s earliest childhood memories consist of her parents’ bakery business, it was never in her plans to eventually take over as its owner.
“I saw how many hours and how much energy my parents put into it, and I was very wary of that,” von Berg said.
At the time her parents decided to retire, von Berg was employed as the creative director for a toy company in New York City. Her mother and father planned to sell the business, but first asked their daughter if she was interested in taking over.
“My husband and I had a conversation about what lifestyle we would like to have,” von Berg said. “We decided it’s now or never, we should just try it. We really just jumped into it.”
During her tenure as the bakery’s owner, von Berg has encountered the rapid growth of e-commerce businesses that has occurred over the course of one single generation. The competition that has generated as a result of modern technology has been von Berg’s biggest challenge.
“There’s so much more that you have to keep up with, and there’s so many more plates spinning in the air,” von Berg said.