PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

March 22, 2007

PA bakery icon Chatagnier dies

PORT ARTHUR — When the head folks at Sara Lee know you by name, that’s quite a big deal.

That’s how well known Murphy Chatagnier was during his life.

Chatagnier, 97, who owned and operated Murphy’s Cake Shop, died Thursday.

Chatagnier honed his craft at the tender age of 14 while working for his uncle, Whitney Peck, of Peck’s Bakery. Later he headed the steward department on the Texas Company’s tanker, SS New Jersey.

Randy Chatagnier, his son, related a story his father often told.

“One day they called him into the office and said his food cost was less that 20 other ships’ cost. Everyday at 4 p.m. dad would serve fresh baked cinnamon rolls and coffee. By the time dinner came around they were pretty much full,” he said.

After a stint with the Merchant Marines during World War II during which his ship was torpedoed, the Louisiana native and longtime Port Arthur resident built Murphy’s Cake Shop in 1946, taking with him innovative ideas to help his bakery.

During the war ships used food freezers to hold the large amount of food needed to go to sea. This was also at a time when the sugar to flour ratio in cakes changed creating tender cake that was difficult to place icing on. Chatagnier decided to freeze the cake before icing it.

“He had a friend at Wesson Foods who helped develop this. It revolutionized the bakery business,” he said. “People at Sara Lee knew him by name when they were developing the pound cake.”

Cheryl Carson, Chatagnier’s daughter, has fond memories of the bakery business.

“They (parents) would put me and my brother into a giant mixing bowl that had a curved bottom so it wouldn’t tip over,” Carson said. That’s how my mother baby-sat us while at work.”

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