Sweet Success – Covington County Woman Turns Family Recipes Into Baking Business
Dean Jacobs, 68, doesn’t consider herself gutsy or artsy, but close observation reveals otherwise.Going from a few cakes a day at an Andalusia deli to 460 cakes a day at Dean’s Cake House eight years ago was quite a challenge, she said. At 60, risking money she had saved through the years working for a supermarket and deli to start her own business wasn’t a matter of guts, said Dean, but the notion did give her pause.”I didn’t even have social security to depend on right then, and I knew I could lose everything,” she said.Despite the misgivings of some family and friends who advised her it might be too much work or too expensive, Dean knew what she could do. “I’ve always been a worker and I felt like that would get me through.”She knew her sock-it-to-me cake perfected at the deli was a hit, and she felt her made-from-scratch two layer cakes would be popular, too. Then her 7-layer half-cakes iced in chocolate, caramel or lemon-cheese began flying from her store like they were baked from air, and she knew she was in business.Limiting her cakes to one store in small towns and never more than two or three in large cities, Dean’s Cake House supplies more than 35 locations in two states with her melt-in-your-mouth creations. Customers find them in gas stations, minute shops, grocers, bait shops and produce stands. The orders have increased until finally one of Dean’s customers called to say, “I don’t know what you are doing, but keep it up because my business is getting better and better.”Asked about her marketing secret, Dean smiled. “Some of the gas stations are my best customers,” she said. “My cakes sell best where regular people shop.”The Cake House ships thousands of cakes each week, as Dean and her staff of 23 mix, bake and ice her culinary wonders.Looking around her shop, Dean protested her artistic ability, pointing out family members’ gift items of photography and folk art as “the real artists.” She is modest. As any good cook will tell you, the art of baking is one that requires creativity, patience, imagination and dedication and more than a pinch of skill.So Dean, how many women can you put in a kitchen without a fight about how to do this and when to do that? Dean said it’s not a problem with the ladies of Dean’s Cake House. “Every now and then we pop off at each other, but it’s rare,” she said.”Everyone worries about this place like it’s theirs. They take pride in it and they’re positive in their attitudes about the Cake House even when they’re not here. Everyone knows their job and they help each other out, too,” Dean added.On weekends and at extremely busy times, some family members pitch in. Husband Gene Jacobs is the official handyman. The ladies start calling his name when he comes in the door, and he’s quick to take on the task.”I tell the girls they get more out of him than I do,” Dean laughed.”Customers from outlying states arrive to stock up their freezers with cakes, cookies, date bars, pound cakes and more. Dean says the 7-layer cakes taste even better if they have been frozen. “If someone comes to town to visit, they most always carry back some to their families.”I’m still enjoying it to the hilt, but in the afternoons I’m so dead tired, I think why are you doing this?” Dean said. “The next morning I’m rested, and I know why I’m doing it. I enjoy it, and it relaxes me. I love it.”Dean’s other “relaxation,” yard work, goes untended when things are busy, and she rarely has time to cook at home anymore. “I cooked dinner last Sunday, and I told my family, ‘Look. This was made at home.'”And that’s the real secret of Dean’s cakes. They’re homemade at Dean’s Cake House.
Dean doesn’t share cake recipes, she said, but secrets? It’s not shiny pans, or black pans. Makes no difference Dean says, “It’s caring about what you do and taking your time to do it right. And it helps to have a real good recipe.”Cakes are found at Dean’s Cake House at 115 Snowden Drive, Andalusia 36420, (334) 222-0459 or any one of 35 locations throughout south Alabama and north Florida.