Susie Nutting has the sweetest job in fast food.
By Gianni Zorrilla, Photo courtesy of P. Terry’s
On a typical evening, Susie Nutting finds herself in the kitchen. She carefully pulls a freshly baked cake out of the oven as the TV hums in the background, applies frosting and tops it off with a cursive “Happy Birthday” in icing. Nutting celebrates birthdays more than the average Austinite—nearly every day, in fact. And she always bakes a cake for the occasion.
Nutting is the official birthday-cake baker for P. Terry’s Burger Stand, and has the responsibility of baking a personalized cake for every employee’s special day. She delivers her cakes to employees at all 16 locations P. Terry’s in Austin and San Marcos, Texas. Nutting had planned to retire prior to landing the job, but now, at 71, she is as dynamic as can be.
Nutting’s work duties do not exactly mirror the average nine-to-five. Her workweek begins with an email from her co-worker each Friday.
“She tells me birthdays for the next week, and then I just compile them all,” Nutting says.
Sundays, she does her weekly grocery-store run to pick up ingredients and bakes cakes at night in her home, delivering them in the mornings. A day off is rare.
“I’m making them every night because every day, there should be fresh, good, brand-new cakes,” she says.
Nutting delivers daily. Occasionally, a friend will tag along, but for the most part, it is a one-woman job. And she is more than capable. When she arrives, sometimes there is cheering, sometimes fellow employees belt out “Happy Birthday” upon her arrival and sometimes there is simply timid yet evident gratefulness, but to Nutting, the most rewarding reaction is the expression on employees’ faces. It’s her favorite part of the job.
“I mean, everybody is just so happy,” she says. “It amazes me…they all like me a whole lot.”
So, how did Nutting end up with such a one-of-a-kind gig?
“It just happened,” she says. “And it was a good happen.”
Nutting has quite the interesting P. Terry’s resume. She started doing office work for the popular fast-food chain shortly after its founding in July 2005. She eventually moved on to become a “secret shopper,” posing as a customer to check on employees incognito.
“But then everybody got to know me,” Nutting says.
Soon, her undercover persona wasn’t so secret, as restaurant employees and regulars recognized her.
Luckily, Patrick Terry, the restaurant’s co-founder, came to Nutting’s rescue with a tempting offer. Patrick Terry’s wife and co-founder, Kathy Terry, had been baking cakes for company employees for the first decade of operation and felt it was time to pass along the role.
Five years ago, Nutting assumed the role of birthday-cake baker, and the rewards reaped have been sweet, to say the least.
Nutting is no stranger to long nights in the kitchen. On average, she bakes about nine cakes a week, a true feat for her normal-sized home oven. Occasionally, the number increases to 10 or even 13. She considers having to bake only six cakes a week “absolutely remarkable,” especially considering she was once responsible for baking 17. Her record is five cakes baked in a single night, which took about four hours to complete.
September, in particular, is a popular birthday month among P. Terry’s employees, according to Nutting. At times, one location will celebrate multiple birthdays within the same week. It’s simply a coincidental mystery to Nutting, but she has her theories.
“They just hire people who have birthdays together,” she jokes.
As for the flavors of cake Nutting bakes, she’ll make “whatever’s in a box” and she does her best to accommodate any flavor, including pineapple upside-down cake—her most difficult request—cheesecake and red velvet.
“I really don’t like red velvet,” Nutting says. “When you go to ice them with the cream-cheese icing, all the crumbs get in the icing, and I’m afraid I’m a bit of a perfectionist.”
Tres leches is her most popular flavor, with chocolate coming in a close second.
Nutting values P. Terry’s company culture and is grateful for her unique, altruistic position in the family.
“It says everything,” Nutting says. “It says everything about Patrick and Kathy. I can’t say enough about how kind these people are.”
She and the Terrys go back a long way, and she notes the family has done a lot for her throughout the years.
“I know if I ever needed anything, I could pick up the phone and there’s Patrick and Kathy. … And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that,” Nutting says, tears forming in her eyes. “There’s a special place in heaven for them.”
While Nutting bakes hundreds of cakes for employees each year, sometimes the roles are reversed. One year, Patrick Terry himself baked her a cake for her birthday.
“I’ll never forget it. It was unbelievable,” she says, remembering the cake was chocolate, her favorite flavor.
“It was a little dry,” she adds with a laugh. “But it wasn’t burned.”
There’s no denying Nutting’s job is unconventional. P. Terry’s is exclusive to Central Texas, and this job is exclusive to P. Terry’s.
“Who does that?” Nutting asks. “Who gets to bake cakes and make people happy?”
With 14 years with the company under her apron, Nutting doesn’t plan to stop her one-woman cake-baking operation anytime soon.