On paper it sounded divine. In photos it looked sublime. And for Jonathan Elias, aka Pastry Guru, it was the dessert of the most recent holiday season. The “it” being his baklava cheesecake: crushed pistachios and walnuts scented with fresh cardamom spread between two layers of cheesecake, and a nest of crisp, rosewater-flavored filo on top, plus a heaping of more nuts.
Jonathan prepared the cakes for Christmas and New Year ordering, and in the days between the holidays his social media feed featured a steady stream of reposts showing satisfied cake lovers indulging in the dessert. The imagery was mouth watering and induced more than a bit of jealousy as I regretted not placing an order. Social media mission accomplished. So it’s no surprise that one message in which Pastry Guru was tagged — “By the way … Pasty Guru let me down! Wasn’t good at all” — didn’t surface in Jonathan’s social media blitz. But it was still out there, for others to see.
The knife needed to cut the cheesecake wasn’t as sharp as that criticism.
The Right Ingredients
Jonathan, 33, is known throughout metro Detroit for his extravagant wedding cakes, some reaching seven feet tall. One recent creation saw the cake equipped with a mechanism allowing it to be lowered from the ceiling during the reception. Full disclosure: I’ve attended weddings featuring Pasty Guru’s cakes and desserts and they’re every bit as satisfying to the taste buds as they are to the eyes.
The baklava cheesecake first entered Jonathan’s catalog in 2016 when he was a contestant on “Guy’s Grocery Games” on the Food Network and wanted to incorporate a bit of his Chaldean heritage into a dessert. Jonathan also appeared on 2017’s edition of the Food Network’s “Halloween Baking Championship.” He earned second place honors on both shows.
He didn’t give the cake much thought until this past fall when he included it among the offerings at a wine and dessert tasting. “My client and her guests loved the cake, they were posting it to their social media … and people began inquiring if they could order it,” Jonathan explained.
Working out of his commercial kitchen in Troy, Jonathan and his team lovingly prepared 200 cakes, each finding a prominent spot on dessert tables around town. Then, even before the last of the Christmas-themed gift- wrap made its way onto the fire, the accolades began appearing on Instagram.
“I always appreciate clients acknowledging my work … and it’s wonderful to know they and their family and friends are enjoying what I’ve created,” Jonathan said.
A Matter of Taste
But … “Taste is subjective,” Jonathan said, “that’s the challenge [in this business] … you can never make everyone happy.”
Jonathan’s initial thought, upon seeing the negative comment, was to reach out to the individual we’ll call Jack. Jonathan explained, “I wanted to ask why he felt the need to post a criticism … and to ask why he didn’t come to me directly if he didn’t like the cake.” Of course, any business owner or manager wants to do damage control and to understand the complaint, to change someone’s mind and improve the experience. Online reviews, though, pose a singular challenge.
“Clearly,” Jonathan said, “Jack saw the hype and wanted to be a part of it … he didn’t even buy the cake, he was a guest at someone’s house.” And that’s the rub businesses run into, individuals feeling empowered by the ease and reach of social media to say what’s on their minds.
What recourse, though, does a business owner have when snarky comments are there, in such a public forum?
“I decided not to reach out because I’d be wasting my breath. People who post negative comments just want attention. I didn’t want to give him the attention,” Jonathan explained. “And it’s impossible to get the last word.”
For the record, Jonathan said Jack’s sour critique was his first-ever negative post on social media. “Usually someone will express disappointment to me directly. That’s what upset me, [that it was so public].”
Rather, Jonathan chose – and chooses – to focus on the positive. “Early on, I learned that through staying positive I accomplish a lot more,” he said. “[Business owners] can’t get mad at criticism … better to draw energy and creativity from the positive.”
Jonathan added, “I’ve worked in negative environments and it opened my eyes to how that can really hurt a business. And negativity shows through, no matter good of an actor you are.”
Good advice to remember, and it might make any future criticism easier to digest.
Edward Nakfoor is a Birmingham, Michigan-based freelance writer and marketer for small businesses. How have you reacted to negative social media posts? Contact Ed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Jonathan @pastryguru.