LEE - David DeLoria is starting a new career from scratch.
After nearly 25 years working in the biotechnology industry in eastern Massachusetts, the Pittsfield native has traded in a laboratory coat for bakers garb, recently buying the widely popular Cakewalk Bakery & Cafe on Main Street.
The 1979 St. Joseph Central High School graduate took a leap of faith when he decided to return home.
"It was a search for a small business in the Berkshires, not necessarily a bakery," he said. "I've never baked anything in my life."
Former Cakewalk owner Anita Forzano and head pastry chef, Allison MeChek, say Deloria is a fast learner. With no previous baking experience, Deloria had no bad habits to break while the women trained him.
"I was a lab scientist, so I can follow a recipe," he noted.
Forzano officially sold Cakewalk two weeks ago, more than three years after she and her late husband, Michael, bought the business in the summer of 2013. Rachel Portnoy originally opened Cakewalk 14 years ago. She is now the pastry chef at Chez Nous restaurant at the north end of Main Street.
Forzano will stay on at Cakewalk through the holiday season to help with the transition. Along with MeChek, she plans to teach the novice baker the ins and outs of the craft and running the business.
MeChek, a 2016 graduate of the prestigious Johnson & Wales University culinary arts school, was hired to succeed Forzano.
DeLoria and MeChek are almost like partners.
"I told her we are in this together," DeLoria said.
"He really has a lot of respect for me as an equal," added MeChek. "I wasn't expecting to graduate and almost instantly get a head pastry job."
DeLoria graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst with a degree in microbiology. He rose through the ranks of Genzyme in Cambridge, one of the world's leading biotech companies, leaving as the senior director of program management. He also holds an MBA in entrepreneurship.
Returning to Pittsfield to live was predicated by DeLoria wanting to work with his hands again and be creative.
DeLoria isn't planning any wholesale changes at Cakewalk, which has nine staffers, excluding him and MeChek. He expects to close for part of the winter to perform renovations. They include removing the shop's drop ceiling to reveal the classic tin ceiling that is found in several other Main Street buildings including the meeting room at town hall.
He would like to expand Cakewalk's wholesale operation, and eventually have a food truck for traveling to special events.
"I'm not looking to change the atmosphere here, it's a great fit for Main Street," DeLoria said. "Whose got a better storefront on Main Street?"
Cakewalk is the third Main Street business to change hands this year. They have all remained under local ownership.
Earlier this month, Tracy and Sean Stephen of Stockbridge bought Ben's clothing and footwear store. In May, Vern Kennedy of Canaan, N.Y. acquired the 163-year-old Morgan House Restaurant & Inn.
In both those cases, the previous owners were looking to retire by going out at the height of downtown Lee's economic revitalization.
Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at (413) 496-6233.