‘Pancakes, a duffel bag and a dream’: Tulane student business stops at UM on Hurricane Ida relief tour

Pancakes, a duffel bag and a dream — that is all Tulane University juniors Alex Leiman and Jonah Bornstein had with them when they were abruptly evacuated from their campus in August in advance of Hurricane Ida. A month later, the pair has visited universities across the east coast, selling pancakes at schools like the University of Miami to raise money for Hurricane Ida impact relief with their small business, SexyCakes.

Bornstein and Leiman at a UM Beta Theta Pi gameday event on Sep. 4. “UMiami went really well, it was really promising,” Leiman said.
Bornstein and Leiman at a UM Beta Theta Pi gameday event on Sep. 4. “UMiami went really well, it was really promising,” Leiman said.

Sporting black t-shirts proudly displaying a tall stack of pancakes and a list of relief tour locations, the partners typically set up at fraternity or sorority events with a tent and a griddle. They are operating out of just one duffel bag as they make their way up and down the coast.

Until Hurricane Ida hit, SexyCakes was confined to Tulane, where it operates as a student-run food delivery service for late night snacks and meals. It was started in 2019 by Leiman and Bornstein after they met at freshman orientation.

“Alex was like, ‘yo, want to sell some pancakes?,’” Bornstein said. “And I was like, ‘sure.’”

Operating out of their dorm’s kitchen, the company began selling and delivering exclusively breakfast food. Since then, SexyCakes has evolved to include more options, including burgers, chicken nuggets and household items.

Leiman and Bornstein on tour at the University of Maryland in September. They sold pancakes, bacon and t-shirts for Hurricane Ida relief.
Leiman and Bornstein on tour at the University of Maryland in September. They sold pancakes, bacon and t-shirts for Hurricane Ida relief.

At the start of the fall 2021 semester, SexyCakes was running smoothly and set up for a successful third year of operations, when, on opening night, Hurricane Ida hit.

Leiman, Bornstein and all Tulane students were evacuated the next morning. They were allowed only two bags of personal belongings each.

“When we originally left school, we thought it was just for a weekend, so we only packed for a weekend, only mentally prepared for a weekend,” Bornstein said. “And now, it’s been a month.”

Unwilling to leave their business behind for so long, Leiman and Bornstein decided to do their best to take it with them. They knew the business would have to evolve, but the partners were determined to use the time off from school to make an impact on the community.

“We had to ask ourselves: What can we do in this time?” Leiman said. “And we said okay, let’s do pop up shops at different colleges. Let’s go on tour.”

It was a whirlwind turnaround for SexyCakes as they scrambled to make shirts and get organized after evacuating. Just five days later, the pair were selling pancakes at a UM fraternity event.

After UM, they went north to Emory University, Vanderbilt University and the University of Maryland, among others. In just three weeks, they have raised over $1,000 in relief funds. But even before the hurricane, SexyCakes was no stranger to charity.

“One of the core goals of the company is to support the community at Tulane,” Leiman said. “The charity stuff has always been a really big deal.”

In New Orleans, the business has weekly events where they donate 15% of their profits to local charities and fundraisers. The tour is just an extension of the work they were already doing — and they have big plans for how to use the money when they return home.

“We’re not necessarily trying to donate it all to a fundraiser,” Bornstein said. “We want to do some sort of food related, boots on the ground thing with our staff at school.”

They also plan to make a video detailing where all the money will go once they are back at school.

Although the tour was originally planned to run through the beginning of October, it is being cut short as Tulane reopens to students tomorrow, Sept. 24, much earlier than initially expected. The University of Massachusetts was planned as the final destination before the SexyCakes duo packs up their duffel bag to head home at last.

“The upside is we get to go back, and the reason we’re going back is because New Orleans is doing better,” Leiman said.

Leiman and Bornstein in SexyCakes attire in January 2020. After Hurricane Ida devastated New Orleans, they left Tulane and embarked on a cross country pancake fundraising tour.
Leiman and Bornstein in SexyCakes attire in January 2020. After Hurricane Ida devastated New Orleans, they left Tulane and embarked on a cross country pancake fundraising tour.

Follow SexyCakes on their Instagram @tu_sexycakes or visit their website at https://tulanesexycakes.com/.