A typical trip in a Dillons to Wichita typically does not include seeing ongoing bowel surgeries or human hearts, covered in blood, carefully placed in a gift box and on display.
But if you’re in the Dillons in Central and Rock (aka “Gucci Dillons) anytime near Halloween and strolling through the bakery aisle you’ll come across all kinds of ready-to-eat horrors.
All thanks to Randy Stratton, a Wichitan artist who worked for seven years as a pastry chef for this store. Her only job is to fill the bakery department’s display case with eye-catching, intricately decorated cakes, and on Halloween every year her spooky creativity is on full display.
Some people have become so fans of his work – which has even started to gain national recognition – that they are eagerly awaiting the day he changes the windows.
âOver the past two years, my cake boxes have become a centerpiece,â he said. “We’ll be drawing crowds just to check out what’s in it.”
And if you thought Halloween was something, just wait until Christmas, when Stratton does his best, he said.
“I am obsessed with Christmas.”
A different decor
Stratton, 31, attended Maize High School and graduated in 2009.
He’s always been an artist, he said, and was going to college to study fashion design when he got a job at Dillon Bakery.
He soon realized that his drawing skills translated into cake decorating, and early in his tenure at Dillons, he won a cake decorating competition that included entries to Kroger stores across the country. In one year, he was promoted to pastry chef.
It didn’t take long for him to realize that he’d rather decorate cakes than design clothes.
âI really enjoyed doing that,â he said. “It just made me happy and I liked the freedom I had with it.”
Stratton, who is self-taught, has continued to develop his designs and his local fan base has grown. His only job at Dillons is to imagine and create his elaborate cakes to fill crates and fulfill customer special orders.
His biggest holidays are Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine’s Day, and every year he tries to find something that will outperform the year before. He takes inspiration from customer requests and the cake decorating shows he sees on TV, he said.
This year’s Halloween case, for example, also included what Stratton calls the âskin cake,â which was inspired by something he saw on TV. It was a round cake with a smooth icing the color of pigskin. Only, it appeared that the skin had been opened and then sewn up with stitches. A disembodied pig’s muzzle rested on the cake.
There was also a pumpkin-shaped cake with the word “Redrum” (“murder” spelled backwards from the Stephen King movie “The Shining”) written on it with a bloody icy doodle. Last year he made a sheet cake with a hand that had recently been cut by the saw blade in the middle of the cake.
His designs are bold, but his supervisors don’t care, Stratton said. He has carte blanche to follow his artistic impulses.
And at Christmas, his impulses are much warmer and blurry. He is known for creating 3D Christmas trees and cakes that look like stacked gifts. He also does a lot of “character work,” which this year will include cakes in the shape of the Grinch or the Abominable Snowman.
He posts his designs on Instagram, which has garnered national attention. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, a Food Network âHalloween Baking Championshipâ producer contacted Stratton and asked him to appear on the show. Everything was ready, but COVID then canceled his trip, he said, and he did not reapply. (If he does, he said, he’d rather be on a Christmas baking show.)
Two years ago he went to the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association’s cake competition and his design took third place out of around 7,000 entries.
And recently he was contacted by Satin Ice Fondant, an icing company that also has a cake magazine. He wanted to post pictures of some Stratton cakes.
No generic cakes
Stratton’s cakes are over-the-top edible works of art and they don’t come cheap. The spooky surgical cake, for example, is priced at $ 150. But prices vary depending on the size and difficulty level of the cake, he said.
He always comes up with new designs and never likes his storefront to perish, he said. Over the summer, when there were no major holidays, he launched a series of “food cakes”, making one that looked like pizza, one that looked like fried chicken steak. topped with sauce (with sides) and one that looked like a burrito wrapped in foil and topped with guacamole.
He also made cakes that look like designer handbags and sneakers. Last Thanksgiving, he made a realistic looking turkey with stuffing spilling out of the cavity. Starbucks mugs also feature frequently in his designs, and he’s even made adorable cake dogs.
Once the idea is confirmed and the cake is baked, Stratton said, it can take him anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours to complete the frosting job. Everything about his cakes is 100% edible, so he often has to get more creative with the fondant.
Customers can pre-order cakes, and the ones he displays in the cupboards are also on sale to walk-in customers.
Christmas orders have already started to arrive, Stratton said.
âMy biggest goal is that I don’t want to be the kind of person who sells someone a generic cake,â he said. âI want to make sure that every vacation period I offer new work. And I always want to make sure I have something for everyone, something special that they can’t find anywhere else.