Baking with purpose: Natalie’s Cakes emerges from the turmoil of Ferguson

Baking with purpose: Natalie’s Cakes emerges from the turmoil of Ferguson

Natalie DuBose serves her community in more ways than one.

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Natalie’s Cakes and More was founded in 2010 by Natalie DuBose. While working two and three jobs, DuBose started selling her bakery items at a local flea market on the weekends. The more cakes she baked, the more she sold. After researching on how to become an entrepreneur, DuBose established a location in the business district in Ferguson.

In June 2014, DuBose opened her doors, and popularity for her signature caramel cakes, sculpted buttercream iced cakes and cookies grew. Her passion for baking and cake decorating was being filled, and she was living the American Dream.

Six months after DuBose opened her business, she was faced with unexpected turmoil. The city of Ferguson was experiencing protesting and unrest after the verdict was released over the shooting of Michael Brown. Natalie’s Cakes and More was heavily vandalized and DuBose had to start over from scratch.

This June the shop celebrates its fourth anniversary. When asked if she ever considered walking away, DuBose responded, “No. So many times we miss our opportunities because we are afraid to say yes. I learned to say yes first and figure it out later. If it works — great. If it doesn’t — lesson learned. We try our best to take every opportunity, all while paying it forward.”

How did you rebuild in the aftermath of Ferguson?

Rioting is not covered under insurance because it’s not a natural disaster. That’s why many businesses at the time started GoFundMe pages.

After all was said and done, a little over $200,000 was raised. I was able to furnish my kitchen with industrial appliances, buy our first computer and replace the items that were damaged. It was an opportunity to rebuild the space and donate the remaining funds to other businesses in the community.

How did Starbucks get involved?

They saw me on the news and were touched by my story. The Starbucks contacts would come in every week for months asking me if I was OK and eventually offered me a partnership. Today, the signature caramel cakes are sold in 42 Starbucks. They told me my cakes were doing well in the stores and they were ready to introduce my cookies.

Tell us about your other partnerships.

Shortly after the repairs were complete, the head of Schnucks bakery department at the main office reached out to me. He said his mother got started the exact same way and wanted to ensure I was a staple in the city of Ferguson. He asked me what I did well, and I told him about my signature caramel cake. He said, ‘well, let’s start selling it for you.’ I’m currently selling my cakes at five Schnucks locations and we’ll be advancing to additional locations soon.

We also sell our cakes and cookies at Washington University, Saint Louis University, University of Missouri-St. Louis, and we just finalized a contract with University of Missouri-Columbia.

In addition, our products are located in approximately 34 neighborhood grocery markets and gas stations. It’s been a domino effect. I didn’t know any of these contacts before and didn’t do any marketing. It’s very humbling, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

What do you take pride in?

We want our customers to have fresh products and so we bake to order. You will rarely find anything frozen in our bakery. If you do, it’s because it just came out of the oven, and we are quickly chilling it so we can begin decorating.

Even though we are not a traditional employer, I’ve always wanted to be an employer of choice. I want to be a part of the growth in the community and encourage others to do so. When you work where you live you have a different mindset about how your community should be.

Will you be opening any new locations in the future?

Yes! City Foundry is on track to open in 2019 with 20 unique food stalls, and I’m one of them. I will be the only bakery at the location and plan to hire 12 part-time employees. I was also given the opportunity to help design the space I’ll be operating.

We’ve also been in discussions with a university in Illinois to operate a small cafeteria for lunches and bakery items. The project gives us an opportunity to get our feet wet in running another location so when we go to the City Foundry, we will be ready. The potential launch date could be as early as next month. Stay tuned for more details.

How do you enjoy giving back to the community?

Starbucks didn’t have to pay it forward through me, but it planted a seed for me to do the same through the non-profit organizations I help support in the community.

Moline Elementary School, Peabody Elementary School, Ferguson 360 Dance Studio, The Nehemiah Program, Connections to Success and the Save Our Sons program are a few of the nonprofits the cake shop enjoys supporting. The needs vary from supply shortages to event luncheons or bus rental fees. No matter the need, if we can’t help them, we connect them to a person or organization who can.

What’s your favorite dessert?

I love the lemon supreme cake that I make. It’s a lemon-baked cake topped with lemon curd filling. I don’t like filling on the inside of my cake, but I do like it on the top. I drizzle the top of the cake with lemon curd filling and put drops of cream cheese on top.

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