by Ki Hackney

If most ideas for new businesses don’t get past a discussion
at the dining room table, what about the ones that enjoy coffee and dessert? The mouth-watering, seven-layer caramel cake (above) was served originally as a birthday cake at Caroline Ragsdale Reutter’s son’s birthday. Mother-of-son’s-friend after mother after friend-of-mother called to ask for this old-fashioned Southern comfort food, baked according to an old family recipe. Within days, Caroline was in her own small business, which eventually grew into a formal kitchen that expanded to fill the entire basement of her house in Annapolis (where, luckily, my sister-in-law found her) from which her layer cakes were being shipped coast to coast. In 2000, the U.S. Trust in Palm Beach placed an order for 2,000 Seven Layer Caramel cakes to distribute as gifts to their customers. “I love a challenge,” says the infectiously enthusiastic entrepreneur, “so I went right to my lawyer’s office and incorporated.”

Clockwise from top left: Chocolate Caramel Delight; Chocolate Coconut Cloud; Coconut Cloud; Chocolate Coconut Delight.

Today, Caroline’s Cakes has its own commercial kitchen and storefront in an urban shopping center, with a mailing list of 5,000 regular customers. During any holiday period, the staff can be found shipping up to 1,000 cakes each day. The layered varieties are the favorites, and the top three are caramel, chocolate and coconut (although this one has only five layers), although giving coconut a run for its money is a classic, four-layer chocolate layer cake with caramel icing called Montana Gold.

It makes you hungry, doesn’t it? Well, you can order by fax or phone, and it takes one or two days to get to you, depending upon where you live. Each cake is wrapped in film, then in signature purple cellophane and placed in the company’s bright red tin. In case you are wondering, all cakes are shipped frozen, and in the summer, they add dry ice to the packing box to make sure these yummy desserts -- that feed 14-20 people and weigh in at 5 pounds per -- stay cool and fresh. And here’s the important bonus: all cakes can be thawed and re-frozen as often as necessary for up to six months.

Southern Chocolate
Caramel Cake
Montana Gold
Sinfully Chocolate

While you are waiting for the cake that you just ordered to arrive, Caroline and her husband are probably taking more of her delicious confections on the road. They hook up a trailer behind her car that holds 170 cakes to help raise money for Breast Cancer in Charlottesville, Va; a halfway house for battered women in Delray Beach, FL; a conservation alliance in Jackson Hole, WY; a school for troubled children in Lake Forest, IL; a fundraiser for an organization that provides grants to botanists in Pittsburg ... and, most recently, a Junior League benefit in her native South Carolina. Caroline pauses on this last benefit to note: “We bring two vans of cakes here, because we always sell out.”

Besides the cakes, her determination to maintain quality and insisting on “getting better instead of bigger, because,” as she says so clearly, “good is the enemy of great,” Caroline’s super charge is the public. “It’s people that feed me,” she says. “I guess I was meant to do this.”

Caroline’s Cakes
Toll Free: 888-801-CAKE (2253)
Annapolis, MD: 401-349-2212
Fax: 410-349-2213


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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/