A beloved South Bay baker has passed away following complications of COVID-19.
Gene Bartlett, 80, fought an eight-week battle with the coronavirus before he died, leaving the Bartlett family without their pillar and a community treasuring the memories of the man behind Little George's bakery.
"He was a very loving, kind, very hardworking man," said Bartlett's daughter-in-law, Leigh Anne.
The popular pastry chef owned George's Wonderful World of Cakes in National City for more than 30 years, acquiring it from the original "George" in 1975. The bakery was a staple in the South Bay located on Highland Avenue.
"If you grew up in National City, George's bakery was it," Leigh Anne said.
By 2009 Gene decided to retire, but five years later he would create a custom bakery next to his Bonita home, and in 2013 that's when Little George's bakery was born.
"I could not believe the amount of people who couldn't wait to come back, and really it was that they had remembered the lemon snow cakes, they had remembered Gene," said Leigh Anne who created the Little George's Bakery Facebook page.
The head of the Bartlett family restarted his labor of love In his 70s, baking his famous sugar cookies and other favorites..
"He was working all the way up until January, when he baked his last set of cakes," Leigh Anne told NBC 7.
In January, the then 80-year-old great-grandfather was diagnosed with COVID-19. His family, including his wife of 61 years, Norma, also battled the virus.
"Even when he was in the hospital and we would talk to him, he would say he was really anxious to get back to bake the cakes," Leigh Anne said.
Gene was also known for giving back to the community. In the 1980s, he served as the president of the National City Chamber of Commerce and was a proud Rotary member.
"He was really doing well, but I think in the end, it was just too much," Leigh Anne said.
Gene died on March 16.
"We're heartsick," Leigh Anne said. "This wasn't anything we expected. He was very strong and really healthy -- a lifelong vegetarian -- faithful to his church."
Norma survived her hospitalization with the coronavirus. But now, the family said, they're closing down Little George's bakery. They shared the news on social media and have been met with an outpouring of support.
"Kind words, memories of Gene, memories of the bakery," Leigh Anne said. "It touched us in so many ways, and it's been so comforting."
The Bartlett family is hoping that Gene’s famous lemon snow cake will soon find a home at another local bakery, so that his iconic recipe will live on in San Diego County.
"We all loved him very much, and so he will be greatly missed, not only by us but by many people," Leigh Anne said.
The family expressed how their beloved pastry chef will be taking another break, this time in heaven.