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Business Observer Thursday, Sep. 10, 2020 2 weeks ago

Bakery, after weathering shutdown, takes a big bite of success

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Tampa entrepreneurs use pandemic closure as an opportunity to innovate — and come up with a hit new product.

The Cake Girl, a locally owned Tampa bakery that opened in June 2019, has bounced back with vigor from the COVID-19 economic shutdown. Founded by the husband-and-wife team of Kirby and Kristina Lavallee, the company saw its sales plummet 50% in March, when it, along with most other restaurants, cafes and walk-in bakeries, was forced to close its doors to combat the spread of the coronavirus. 

Courtesy. Kirby and Kristina Lavallee, co-owners of Cake Girl bakery in the Carrollwood area of Tampa.

But the forced closure allowed the Lavallees some much-needed time to develop and roll out a new product, the Crave'n Cup — a small cake in a jar, essentially — that quickly became one of the bakery’s best-selling items. Crave'n Cups, which sell for $7 apiece, are individually packaged and can be shipped in the mail — making them an ideal treat for a society suddenly obsessed with hygiene, social distancing and no-contact commerce. 

“It gave us two weeks to sit down and review our business plan and say, ‘OK, how can we use this time to shift positively into doing something that could take us to the next level?'" Kirby Lavallee says. “If it wasn't for the quick thinking and the shift and just being innovative and fluid, I don't know what position we would be in today.”

Kirby Lavallee says sales of Crave'n Cups have more than made up for the decline in walk-in traffic, so much so — Mid-Florida Credit Union bought 1,400 for its employees — that he and Kristina have accelerated their expansion plans. They’re opening a second Cake Girl bakery, in Wesley Chapel, and bought a van to help keep up with the surge in pandemic-related orders for home delivery. They're also hiring, seeking at least one additional cake decorator at their Carrollwood location. 

A third Cake Girl location is in the early stages of development, and the Lavallees see franchising and a national brand in their future if they can maintain the unexpected momentum that has driven them to innovate and think big during the pandemic. 

“If we hadn’t gone and done that,” Kirby says, referring to the Crave'n Cups launch, “I think we would have lost our market share. But by doing that, we were able to increase our market share and be kind of a shining light during a dark time."

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