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Business Spotlight: Small Town, Big Cakes

Darla’s Cakery owners say investment in commercial kitchen is paying off

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Within a stone’s throw of the Highlandville City Hall, the town’s popular burger house, a hair salon and residences with cats milling on porches, a rusty basketball hoop and summer-blooming flowers in a black iron kettle out front, baker Darla Liverpool has a new kitchen and coffeehouse to whip up her cakes and pastries.

This is Highlandville, population 975 at last U.S. Census Bureau count. And it’s home to 6-year-old Darla’s Pie Whole & Cakery LLC. More than that, it’s where she’s spent most of her life and learned her baking skills. The new shop sits adjacent to the house she grew up in.

“This is where I used to get the mail,” she says of the former post office, one of two buildings on the property she and her husband demolished last year to build the new shop. “I love Highlandville and wanted to do something for the community.”

That something started in her home kitchen, baking cakes for her kids’ birthdays – “I didn’t want to buy a boxed cake. I would YouTube whatever they wanted me to do, and I would figure it out,” she says – then other family and friends started asking. As word spread, so did her baking time and costs.

At that point, her husband, Trevor, recalls commenting: “You got to get paid.”

So that began the business – out of the home kitchen in 2017. Last year, Darla’s Cakery made the move to build and open the new spot, a 1,850-square-foot industrial modern farmhouse storefront, including a private room for rental. The investment tallied roughly $265,000 – mostly financed by an Ozark Bank loan, plus $40,000 self-funded with nearly every penny in their savings account at the time, Trevor says.

The return on investment was immediate in the commercial space. After years of grossing annual revenues in the $20,000s, the couple moved the business in October 2022, and they say sales ballooned to $36,000 in that quarter alone.

“Highlandville needed a place like this,” Darla says.

This year through August, they say gross sales have exceeded $72,000, and they’re hopeful to hit six figures by year’s end.

The Liverpools added pastries, such as the popular cinnamon rolls and scones, and coffee drinks supplied by Ozark-based Full Octave Coffee Roasters LLC.

Still dominating sales, though, are Darla’s specialty cakes, mostly for weddings and birthdays. She produces 25-30 per month for various celebrations, and the price range is $80-$600. Think large-scale and detailed cakes that look more like artwork than edibles. And they take a long time to craft, some a full day.

“The train cake took forever,” she recalls. “I feel like it took me three days.”

Such is the work of a cake artist. She’s currently designing a mermaid cake.

“I have a mermaid tail. And I have a mermaid face I’ll add,” she says of the multiple steps to piece together. “I call them cake parts.”

The aesthetics and tastes are starting to create buzz, with customers suggesting “Darla cakes” are worthy of competing on the popular national baking shows.

“I’ve had people tell me I need to get on one of those bake-off contests,” she admits, then acknowledges she has no idea how to even begin the process. “That sounds nerve-wracking. I would do it but want to win because I’m so competitive.

“Would you say I’m a perfectionist?” she quickly turns to Trevor to ask. “I really want to do a good job for people.”

Her signature baking ballcap tips off to customers where her heart is at: It reads “free hugs.”

The Liverpools met in the Fort Leonard Wood area while Trevor, a native of South America, was in the Army and Darla was in nursing school. That was her first calling. A graduate of Cox College, Darla says she worked in nursing until 2012, and the couple also spent 20 years traveling for Trevor’s military work.

These days, Trevor handles the finances, marketing, branding and anything else that happens outside of the kitchen – including the design and construction of the new shop. Serving as general contractor on the project, Trevor says they bootstrapped the interior work from weekly cake sales to buy the next building materials.

Darla has one other job for him: “He’s a taste tester.”

In his financial reviews, Trevor says the business’ profit margins are in the 25-30% range, and he’s looking for ways to grow that. In his marketing role, Trevor acknowledges they haven’t done much self-promotion, and that’s somewhat strategic.

“I really do want people to discover us and become advocates on their own. It’s working,” Trevor says. “It’s probably slower, but I feel like there’s more longevity for people to discover and say Darla is among the best and they tell their friends.”

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