men in ugg boots Caroline Cakes founder dies
Caroline Ragsdale Reutter, who went from baking her family’s southern caramel cake in her Annapolis basement to shipping those treats and others worldwide, died Saturday. She was 66.
She died surrounded by family at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston where she was being treated for ovarian cancer.
Caroline’s Cakes grew out of the house and eventually into a large space in a shopping center by the Bay Bridge before she decided to move back to her native South Carolina in 2012, and start baking there.
Production continued at the Route 50 location, along with a small gourmet shop two doors down, until May of this year. Sons Richard and Charles work in the business, too.
There are legions of Caroline’s Cakes addicts, from Hollywood’s Julia Louis Dreyfus and Sidney Poitier to hordes of obsessed unknowns to whom she ships some 50,000 cakes each year. Thousands more are sold annually at Caroline Ragsdale namesake shop on Route 50, a mile from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.(Iris Krasnow, Correspondent)
“Mom always believed in serendipity,” her son Richard said. “She was born March 13, 1951. on Saturday.”
The idea to plunge into the bakery business came after she served her first caramel cake at son Richard’s christening luncheon in 1982.
So many guests commented on the concoction, which can take hours to prepare because of the precarious caramel preparation, that she started to make it for friends, then to sell at the Anne Arundel County Farmer’s Market.
Soon she was making cakes full time in their Hillsmere home. A few years later, they build a new home near Wild Rose Shores on the South River with an open basement that was turned into a commercial kitchen.
“People around Annapolis would come to the house to pick up their cakes,” said her husband of 43 years, Charles “Chick” Reutter. “If we were busy in the basement or she was on the road at a food show they would pick them up out of the freezer in the garage and drop their money into a red cake tin.”
He said they used the cake tin for close to 18 years, “and in all that time no one every walked away without paying. It shows you something positive about human nature.” The Big Red Tin as it was dubbed is on display in Spartanburg.
The company’s big break was a dash of serendipity itself.
In 2000, a call came from a Palm Beach financial services company asking if she could bake cakes for them to use as holiday gifts for clients of three southern Florida offices.
“She asked, ‘How many do you need?’ They said 2,000,” her husband said. “Now this was a woman making about eight cakes a day at the time. But she had the good sense to say, ‘Sure.'”
The business grew and grew. In recent years they have shipped more than 50,000 cakes around the globe. Not just caramel cakes either, there are over 50 varieties lemon, coconut, carrot, chocolate, blueberry lemon, and more, in four or seven layers.
Another huge break came when her caramel cake was featured in the 2011 movie, “The Help.” It wasn’t a fluke, it was guerrilla marketing.
It seems Reutter sent 16 cakes, with press kits, to executives at Dreamworks Studios. The taste did the rest.
That spun into numerous appearances on national television, the Today Show, 20/20, and the like.
The rich and famous are fans. Julia Louis Dreyfuss, Sidney Poitier, even Oprah.
“Though we moved to South Carolina we have never lost our love for Annapolis,” son Richard said. “Caroline’s Cakes would be nothing without the friendships, relationships, acquaintances and support from the Annapolis community.”
“What she cared about was people, she loved the relationships, talking to people. She never met a stranger. And a bright spot in everybody’s day.”
One bright spot provided here in Annapolis came when, after the diagnosis last November, the decision was made to stop production in Annapolis and find someone to take over Caroline’s Gourmet Take It Away shop.
They turned to one of the employees, a Honduran emigree, Lidia Rodriquez and her husband, George.
Lidia had worked for about five years there, first in the bakery production side then moving to the deli.
“It is so sad. I must say thank you to Caroline. She gave me the opportunity and the time to learn the business,” Rodriguez said.
“She was a great example. How she raised her family, how she treated the employees. I will remember her every day when I turn the key to open the store.”