Extra Sweet: Okinawa Bakery Kicks into High Gear for the Holidays

One of 45 ceremonial cakes for a U.S. Marine Corps Birthday Ball made this year by the Exchange’s Camp Kinser bakery. (Courtesy Photo by Jennifer Maskery)

As Okinawa service members and their families sleep, the Exchange bakery at Camp Kinser is in full-production mode.

With operations starting at 1 a.m., the plant produces more than 100 kinds of baked goods, including bread, cakes and pies.

“We have 46 bakery associates and four delivery drivers,” said Plant Manager Donald Weightman, who has been at the bakery for seven years. “To make the bakery successful, we all have to work together as a team.”

The Exchange’s four bakeries in Japan, Korea and Germany provide millions of fresh loaves of bread, tortillas, buns and other baked goods to Exchange restaurants, Expresses, commissaries, Department of Defense schools and other locations each year.

The bakeries bring a true taste of home to Warfighters and families—something no other retailer in the world can provide firsthand.

The Okinawa bakery is at its busiest from mid-October to mid-January as it prepares for the Marine Corps birthday and ball season and the holidays.

“The Marine Corps’ ball season starts around Oct. 15, and runs until the first week of December,” Weightman said. “There are usually 40 or 45 balls scheduled during this time period, and each ball gets a three-tier ceremonial cake along with four-to-six full sheet cakes.”

Marines pose with their “Operation Birthday Cake” treats. Thanks to the Exchange’s Camp Kinser bakery’s partnership with USO, families in the U.S. can order birthday cakes for their loved ones assigned to Okinawa. (Courtesy Photo by Camp Hansen’s USO)

In 2018, nearly 50 Marine Corps grand ceremony cakes, more than 1,420 sheet cakes and more than 3,800 fruit cakes were made from scratch for the holiday season.

“These are not the fruit cakes most people associate with the holidays,” Weightman said. “They are made from scratch and have to be made in small batches. Customers wait all year for these cakes and might order 10 or 15 at a time.

“We generally sell out of these before the first week of January.”

Exchange associates Yoshida Aika, Tomita Taku and Zukeyama Yoshihiko are the dream team at Camp Kinser, baking, frosting and decorating all the cakes ordered through the Exchange bakery. All three cake designers have been professionally trained at patisseries and can design edible photos on the cake with precision.

“The cakes from our Okinawa bakery are first-class,” said Col. Scott Maskery, Exchange Pacific Region commander. “The taste, design and attention to detail that goes into each cake rival cakes from world-renowned bakeries.”

As soon as the tasty treats come off the assembly line, they are packaged and ready for delivery to the 15 installations on the island.

“We have about 200 regular delivery customers, with about 160 to 170 of them getting daily deliveries,” Weightman said. “Our delivery drivers start loading their trucks at 1 a.m. and are on the road by 2 a.m. making their rounds.”

With the Exchange bakery working through the night, service members can sleep well knowing they will have a “taste of home” delivered to them fresh in the morning.

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