February 4th, 2016
Downtown Honolulu hasn’t been kind recently to punk rock baker Scott "Otto" McDonough, who celebrated 26 years of selling his cheesecake and baked goods under the Otto Cake brand in Honolulu last week.
After shuttering his original Kalihi storefront in 2004, a debilitating back injury kept him from reopening another retail location until 2009. He moved to Smith Street in Chinatown, but was forced to close that location in 2013 after a series of run-ins with drug dealers and drug users that caused him to fear for the safety of himself and his employees.
Media coverage of Otto’s plight and his move from Smith Street to 12th Avenue in Kaimuki led to a surge in business, and less than two years later he was back in downtown Honolulu with a new space on the ground floor of the Davies Pacific Center. The expansion was meant to be the precursor to another expected boost in sales, since many of Otto’s customers continued to work and live in the area and were eager for him to reopen in the neighborhood.
But just as the busy holiday season was supposed to get underway, disaster struck his downtown operation once again. About a week before Thanksgiving, the sprinkler system in the building malfunctioned, causing thousands of dollars in water damage. A month-long closure led to a significant loss of revenue and continues to threaten Otto Cake’s overall viability as a business.
"It's the day I revolve around all year," Otto said of the business he generates on Thanksgiving. "I have to make double the money that month so I can pay the rent in January. But I couldn't take Christmas orders either.
"I knew on Thanksgiving, I was sitting there by myself in Kaimuki and I just knew it was going to be bad. How bad it was, was they sent me a bill for the entire time I was closed. They want interest on everything.
In order to help Otto catch up with his bills, friends established a Kickstarter fundraising campaign with his blessing to collect $7,000 for the business by 3 p.m. Feb. 15. Backers have so far pledged nearly $5,000 of the money requested in return for rewards like fresh-baked brownies, strawberry ginger lemonade, iced coffee and Otto Cake T-shirts. Those who pledge at least $100 will also have their names listed on a perpetual plaque that will be posted in the store; as of Tuesday night, rewards were still available for pledges of $200 or more.
Even if he hits his Kickstarter goal, however, Otto still isn't out of the woods. After making necessary repairs, missing his January rent payment and scrambling to figure out how to make this month's rent, he estimated he now needs between $17,000 to $20,000 to dig himself out of this hole. Yet he makes no excuses for his shortcomings, stating matter-of-factly that "I can't read well and don't know numbers very well, so I'm not the most well-educated person."
"I was homeless before I started my bakery," he continued. "I've already packed my house up and am ready to do it again. I was already anticpating that (the bakery) was gone. This (fundraiser) is now that last ditch miracle effort that might save it, but I thought it was gone.
"I wanted to last until the 26th anniversary last week, and then I was accepting of the fact that it was going to go. But now people know. My parents didn't know until a couple weeks ago. I didn't tell my band members. I told no one. I mean, it wasn't my customers' fault there was a flood."
Otto seemed almost overwhelmed when asked about the outpouring of support he's received since the news got out. He's appreciative of what's been done so far, but also realizes there's still a lot more help needed in order to save his business. Along with financial support, he mentioned needing legal and accounting advice to help address the issues at his downtown store.
Along with the Kickstarter campaign, Otto Cake supporters will have an opportunity to make donations during a fundraiser concert at Downbeat Lounge on Feb. 11. Let’s Save Otto Cake will feature performances by Otto’s band 86 List, The Bougies, T.V. Microwave and Even Odders. Doors open at 9 p.m.
For more information about Otto Cake or the fundraiser, call or text Otto direct at (808) 834-6886 or visit the fundraiser’s Facebook event page and Kickstarter campaign profile.
Jason Genegabus has covered the local entertainment, nightlife, music and bar scenes since 2001. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.