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Bun Man's Deliveries Are Always Fresh

May 08, 1986|DAVID WHARTON | Wharton is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.

The Bun Man appears quite suddenly, bellowing as he emerges from the kitchen with a tray of fresh-baked cinnamon buns. The women at the front counter laugh. He sometimes pinches their behinds as he passes by.

And he looks out over the people waiting in line to buy his buns. There are always people waiting, from early in the morning until dusk. The Bun Man smiles and leers at the women in line. He has several rhymes he likes to holler at them in a somewhat suspect Elizabethan accent.

"Our buns are hot and sticky!"

"Don't be shy, come give our buns a try!"

"Tempt your fingers, tantalize your tongue, come sink your teeth into a pair of our hot, sweet, sticky buns!"

He has been known to say other things. But those are more, well, personal, he says.

Head Baker

The Bun Man is the head baker at Cinnamon Bun Stand. Over the last 11 years, the stand has become a crowd favorite at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, the mock 16th-Century English village that sets up its tents in Agoura Hills for six weekends each spring.

On a good day, the Cinnamon Bun Stand will sell 2,000 to 3,000 buns at $1.25 each. Only the lines at the ale garden are longer.

"I've been coming to the fair ever since it opened," said Nancy Kane, of Reseda. She said the bun stand is "always the first place I come to; I love it."

Jim Hall, who owns the Cinnamon Bun Stand, says proudly that the secret to success is the freshness of the buns. They are served hot from the oven or they are thrown out. That, he says, is what keeps people coming back year after year.

Even the uninitiated are attracted to the stand. It is near the entrance to the fair, and the scent of cinnamon wafts lightly through the air.

"I remembered the smell from the last time I was here," said Steve Rickey, of Santa Paula, as he ate a bun. "These are delicious."

But more than the aroma sets the booth apart from the ones around it. There are the pretty women at the counter, who smile often and wear low-cut Victorian dresses. And there is the Bun Man, who has become as famous for his smiling and shouting and flirting as for his baking skill.

'I'm Really Shy'

"Customers remember me because of what I yell," he said. "I'm really shy, but here I love to make a scene.

"I love the atmosphere out here at the fair. You can more or less leave your morals at home and be yourself in the rudest possible way."

Eric van Gorp of Agoura, 23, is a bartender at the Westlake Plaza Hotel when he is not the Bun Man. Someday, he hopes to break into hotel management.

He has no cooking experience beyond cinnamon buns, other than a brief stint as a cook at McDonald's when he was a teen-ager, nor does he care to pursue a career in the culinary arts. But, for six weekends each year, when the Renaissance Pleasure Faire is in town, Van Gorp, tall and blond, devotes his leisure to being baker and barker.

The pay is pretty good. He will make $900 to $1,000 for 12 days' work. But having fun is more important, he said. This is Van Gorp's eighth year at the stand. Most of the other workers are veterans of four or more years. They have become a family.

And the 40-foot-long booth seems to be continually filled with shouting and laughter. Dan Gholson Schmalle, the booth manager, said his workers pride themselves on having the best morale among a hundred stands at the fair.

"I see some of the other booths, and they look so strict," said Audrey Lowe, 17, of South Pasadena. Lowe was one of the few new employees at the stand. "You really get enthused working here. Everyone's on stage. It's really magical."

Phyllis Patterson, who founded the Renaissance Pleasure Faire 24 years ago, seems almost embarrassed at the Cinnamon Bun Stand's popularity. She is quick to point out that other food stands serve more exotic foods like trifles, quiche and Russian pirogi.

"Cinnamon buns are hardly on the cutting edge of foods," Patterson said.

Freshness Counts

It is true that the buns are not exceptional, even as cinnamon buns go, but they are good. They are served fresh from the oven and the smell is just too good to pass up.

And that, in large, is because of baker Van Gorp. Hall says it is Van Gorp's sense of timing that makes him good at the job, knowing how to pace the baking so that there are always fresh, hot buns waiting for the customers.

When Van Gorp started at the booth eight years ago, Hall said, he wasn't very good at working at the counter.

"He couldn't do anything well, so I gave him the hardest job in the booth," Hall said. "I thought I'd get rid of him."

But Van Gorp took naturally to being a baker. "It makes it worthwhile knowing people like my buns," he said.

With that, the Bun Man pulled a fresh tray out of the oven, swiveled around and headed for the front counter.

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