The postman brings letters, packages and junk mail, so customers on Steven Guzman’s route in Redwood City couldn’t have been prepared for what he occasionally delivers: fabulous home-baked cakes and pastry—with a side of violin. In yet another of those abrupt career 180s that have arrived courtesy of the Covid pandemic, Guzman went from the pastry kitchen at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Half Moon Bay to delivering the mail, after he was furloughed in March 2020.
“It’s so, like opposite,” the Redwood City resident says of his job as a letter carrier. “Everything at the hotel is so luxurious.” But he needed a job, the Postal Service was hiring, and his wife, Miwa, encouraged him to apply. The graduate of New York’s French Culinary Institute with a grand diplome in pastry arts got the job and then trained at the San Francisco Main Post Office. Guzman was assigned Route 124, which winds up above the Farm Hill area of Redwood City to take in Cañada College, Woodhill Estates, Alverno Court and the Farm Hill Vista condominiums. In all, his appointed rounds take him to about 300 addresses. Instead of his chef whites and a toque, he wears postal blue with a wide-brimmed hat to prevent sunburn.
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The 49-year-old Guzman is an unassuming but seriously gregarious person who has no trouble striking up a conversation. But how does that happen while delivering the mail? Postal customer Katherine Machemer, a Farm Hill Vista resident, says it’s because he “goes above and beyond what most people would do.” When the pandemic hit, Guzman came up all the way up to the third floor of her building to deliver packages. “We really got to know him because of the pandemic,” she says. “We kept ordering more and more things and he was the only person we would see. Ring the doorbell and he’d deliver it and we thanked him for bringing all our essentials.” One thing led to another through those little interactions and they became friends. In fact, says Carina Jacobs, another neighbor in the condo complex, Guzman has helped create a feeling of community among the locked-down residents. “We’ve just been very fortunate to have such a wonderful person as part of our almost daily routine,” she says. “He’s just a very generous, kind-hearted person—and he’s funny too.”
Baking is just one of the talents of this renaissance letter carrier. Growing up in Long Beach, Guzman showed an interest in the violin at about the age of 10, took lessons, and by the time he was in high school, he was the orchestra concertmaster, capable of performing a Mozart concerto. Locally, he’s played with the Redwood Symphony and the Palo Alto Philharmonic, but Guzman currently only plays violin for Peninsula Covenant Church services. And of course for his postal customers. He’s become such a part of the Farm Hill Vista community that he gets invited for weekend social gatherings. When he hears that a child is having a birthday, he plays “Happy Birthday”—or a little bluegrass for the grown-ups. “People really enjoy it,” he says.
Guzman recognizes that a postman has a schedule to keep, so he’s done most of his pastry deliveries on his day off. At first when he showed up with one of his deluxe creations, the reaction was, “How can a postman make something like this? … To me, it was just a regular cake but to them it was real fancy.” As he and his customers got to be friends, he filled them in on his eight-year background as a Ritz pastry chef. He’s even taken time on his days off to teach some cooking classes. Guzman, who makes all the goodies in his apartment kitchen, enjoys giving his creations away. “I don’t think really about the cost of it. I just think how they enjoy it and how I can improve my skill even though I’m away from my pastry life.”
Adela Novotna, another Farm Hill Vista resident, was surprised last Christmas when Guzman gave her 8-year-old daughter Misha a “Lego nutcracker,” the same toy he’d also enjoyed putting together as a kid. Unbeknownst to her mother, Misha had asked him for a Christmas present (roller blades). “I had to explain to my daughter that he’s a mailman, not a Santa Claus,” Novotna says and adds, “He just brings so much joy … He’s unique.”