Graduation ceremonies are canceled, but high school seniors in 12 different towns will still have a sweet celebration thanks to Hanisch Bakery, in Red Wing, Minnesota.

Graduation Cake with Congratulations written in icing
Credit: GWImages/Shutterstock

In the last five weeks, Bill Hanisch and his team have baked and decorated more than 800 cakes for high school seniors. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most graduation ceremonies and parties have been canceled, but more than 800 seniors from 12 different towns will be celebrating still with a free homemade cake courtesy of Hanisch Bakery in Red Wing, Minnesota.

After talking to Bill Hanisch, the bakery owner, it’s clear that “Minnesota nice” isn’t just a stereotype. Hanisch was born and raised in Red Wing and graduated from Red Wing High School in 1998. After learning that this year’s graduation ceremonies would be canceled, he decided to make a cake for all 200 of this year’s graduating seniors.

“I just figured I needed to do something cool for these kids, and the thing that I relate to graduation is a cake,” Hanisch says. “So we started baking.”

The bakery planned to make one round, two-layer, 7-inch cake for each graduate, topped with their name, and a graduation scroll made from icing. What they didn’t plan on was the outpouring of support from community members: 200 free cakes quickly turned into more than 800 orders.

“I threw it out on social media that we were going to take care of the Red Wing graduates, and it just went from there,” Hanisch says. “I had said that I would love to do all the towns, but I just financially couldn’t do that with what’s happening right now.”

Hanisch told me that after he posted about the cake project on the bakery’s Facebook page, requests and donations began pouring in. “Parents, businesses, graduation committees, and even strangers, they all just started helping out and we ended up getting to where we’re at now with 12 towns and over 800 cakes,” he says.

The seniors and their families have told Hanisch they're grateful for his efforts. “We’ve gotten a lot of thank-yous, a lot of pictures, we’ve received countless emails and, you know, they can tell how cool this is and you can just see it in the smile that goes on their face when they get their cake, it’s definitely brightening up a pretty cool time in their life,” he says. “I always struggle to describe it, it’s just awesome.”

Hanisch says they tried to stick to schools within a 45-minute radius so they could easily deliver the cakes and directly impact the communities that have supported the bakery over the years. And in the last month, the bakery has received over $10,000 in donations. Hanisch has since set up a Paypal fundraiser for those wanting to help.

The bakery isn’t making a profit from these cakes; all of the money raised has gone toward purchasing ingredients and paying the employees. Hanisch, who has worked at the bakery since he was 15 years old, says it's been his goal to be able to continue to employ all 21 of his full-time employees throughout the pandemic—and, so far, he has, thanks to support from the community. (While I was on the phone with Hanisch this morning, his team was preparing to deliver another 150 frosted cakes.)

While the bakery is maxed out in terms of whole towns or entire schools, they are still taking individual cake orders for local customers. They don’t ship cakes, so if you order one, be prepared to pick it up in Red Wing. If you’re not local, consider donating a few dollars to the cause or take inspiration from Hanisch’s project and bring his Minnesota-nice attitude to your own community by finding your own ways to support graduates in your area.