Thanks to its legendary caramel cake, Caroline’s Cakes has earned national acclaim and become a beloved Southern staple over the last two decades. “The cake has allowed us to be a part of so many people’s lives and celebrations,” says Richard Reutter, Caroline Reutter’s son and president of Caroline’s Cakes, of his mom’s now-famous caramel cake. “We’ve reconnected with old friends and made new ones. We call it our cake community.”
The bakery — now based in Spartanburg, South Carolina — began when Caroline dazzled guests with her mouth-watering caramel cake at Richard’s christening back in 1982.
“Friends of hers started to ask here and there if they could get one, and she said she just couldn’t say no,” Richard recalls. Over the next few years, the cakes became a favorite in Annapolis, Maryland, where the Reutter’s lived at the time. “People would come to our house and find the cake with their name on it and leave their cash or check,” says Richard. “The whole business was run on the honor system.”
Then, Caroline received a call from US Trust in 2000. Someone at the company had tried her cake and wanted to order 2,000 of them. “She didn’t miss a beat, said ‘OK’ and hit the ground running,” Richard says. “That initial order is what allowed Caroline’s Cakes to become a reality, and she realized she really had something here.”
The business grew from there, beginning with the addition of a kitchen in the Reutter’s basement and soon a storefront in Annapolis. Then, 2012 brought the company its most formative year. The Reutter’s moved their store to a much larger space in Spartanburg, South Carolina — closer to Caroline’s family — and the business was catapulted to national fame after its inclusion on the list of Oprah’s Favorite Things and a feature in O Magazine.
“We love Oprah,” Richard says. “Her presence and endorsement and her fan base are fantastic, and it’s great for us and keeps us busy, which is the way we want to be.” But more importantly for the Reutter’s, this publicity helped them connect with more customers and expand their “cake community.”
“We’re very lucky to be able to pick up the phone and talk to someone about their grandson’s graduation or how much the caramel cake means to them at Thanksgiving every year,” Richard says. “Letters and emails and phone calls about it that say things like, ‘My mother passed away and this cake reminds me of her.’ Or ‘My sisters and I have been looking for a cake like this for years, and we finally found it.’”
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The special recipe is steeped in years of tradition, passed down through generations of Caroline’s family. Her fluffy yellow cake comes packed with rich, gooey caramel icing in between each of the seven layers, with another thick layer of icing on top. “It’s the kind of caramel people can remember making with their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents,” Richard says.
The company itself has been passed through the family, too. Caroline died of ovarian cancer last year, but Richard took on her role as president, committed to carrying on her business. “I loved working right beside mom and following her lead and helping her make her ideas become a reality. I would have gladly done that for many, many years but unfortunately that’s just not the case,” Richard reflects. “So we’re in a position now of really continuing her legacy and honoring the traditions she established. In some ways, my hand was forced, but this is my dream; I am so lucky.”
Richard began officially working at the bakery right after he graduated college. But in Caroline’s kitchen, everyone started the same way. “I asked ‘What’s my role going to be?’ And she said ‘You’ll start washing dishes like anybody else. My name’s on the door, I’m the boss. Be here at 7,’” Richard says with a chuckle. “And that’s how it worked, and it was great. Anyone who was around her in the business or even outside of the business, you could really feed off her energy. She was a leader and mentor to many people, myself included. ”
“My business card still says vice president, but that’s because I know Mom would be upset with me if I didn’t get my money’s worth out of these cards I already had printed,” Richard says with a laugh.
In honoring Caroline, the Reutter’s seek to continue her goal of not just baking great cakes, but also giving back to the people who have supported them for the last 20 years. “Mom did a lot of volunteering when my brother and I were growing up, and that meant a lot to her,” says Richard. “She wanted that to be a part of this business, and we’ve kept that a part of this business, and we’d like to add on to causes we support.”
Following Caroline’s illness, ovarian cancer awareness and research have become a particularly important cause for the family. “It is important to bring attention to places where she received great treatment, like MD Anderson, and places here in Spartanburg as well,” Richard says. “We also use our cake community — who were so supportive and continue to be so supportive — to raise awareness and do what we can with this platform.”
Despite the loss of their leader, the Reutter’s are determined to maintain her legacy and continue to do good through the company Caroline built.
“She is still very much a part of this business,” says Richard. “It is and always will be Caroline’s Cakes.”
Learn more about this amazing Southern company, shop the wide variety of goods and more at carolinescakes.com.
SB TIP: Just in time for Father’s Day (or any other celebration!), we are thrilled to announce that we’re carrying Caroline’s Cakes in our SB Shop. Order the famous caramel cake (in regular or gluten-free), a caramel carrot cake (an SB office favorite!) or one of several other mouth-watering flavors. Shop them now!
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