RECIPE FOR SUCCESS: An interview with April McClung of Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes

April McClung is the owner of Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes, which bakes, sells and ships 17 different flavors of pound cake by the slice, snack size or whole cakes – rounds or loafs – from downtown Birmingham.

When April and Lacy McClung’s two sons had the opportunity to be student ambassadors to China and Europe, they didn’t know how they would pay for the trips, so the family held hands as Lacy prayed.

April recalls that after the family released hands, Lacy said, “The Spirit says, ‘What about the pound cake?’ ”

Lacy’s grandmother, Emily Magnolia McClung, had shared her pound cake recipe with Lacy when he was a teenager. Lacy, who runs a construction business and is a part-time minister, had been making his “Big Mama’s” pound cake for years for family gatherings, gifts and special occasions. As the years progressed, he updated the recipe. The McClungs’ friends found the dessert so addictive, they started calling it “crack cake.”

I’m an excellent cook,” said April, “but my husband was the baker of the pound cake.”

So, Lacy taught April and their sons, Lacy “Tre” McClung III and John “J” Alexander McClung, to make the cake, using the family recipe he had perfected. “I had never made any kind of cake before 2013,” said April.

The family baked and sold cakes using that original recipe at farmers’ markets and over social media.

In nine months, with one pound cake recipe, we raised over $14,000,” said April.

While the trips were paid for and taken, April realized the family’s pound cake project was more than just a fundraiser. It was time to put her business management degree from the University of Florida and Master of Business Administration from Barry College to work.

Birth of A Business

Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes became a full-blown business in July 2014.

April McClung in her kitchen at The Annex in Birmingham.

I went to college at 16 and came out at 21,” said April. “I had been managing people for a large insurance company for 25 years. I believe that the skill set I have in business, prepared me for this.”

At first, she rented out space at the Chef’s Workshop in Hoover that she shared with others to bake what has now grown to 17 different flavors of cakes.

In five years of business, we are producing over 5,000 packaged slices and hundreds of cakes every month,” said April. “We ship all over the country. We are in restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, Amazon, and we do a Sam’s Club Road Show in the Southeast.” Previously, the cakes were sold in 28 Walgreens in the metropolitan Birmingham and Tuscaloosa areas as well as at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.

Elevator Pitch
In 2017, April applied to MSNBC’s “Your Business” to make an elevator pitch to Sam’s Club buyers.

I was notified after about four to five weeks that I was one of the five entrepreneurs who were selected to come onto the show,” she said. “They flew me to Secaucus, N.J., where I gave my elevator pitch. The buyers of Sam’s Club loved the product.

Sam’s Club invited her to Bentonville, Ark., for further discussions.

Because I’m a small business, I opted to do a road show,” said April. “I didn’t have any distribution at the time.

Besides a kitchen staff, April also employs a demonstration staff that travels with or for her to Sam’s Clubs, local farmers’ markets and events to sell Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes.

I’m able to go to any Sam’s Club in the country and set up my display and sell,” she said.

Bigger Kitchen

In late 2018, April moved her business to The Annex, a culinary incubator in downtown Birmingham.

It takes a lot of eggs to make a batch of Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes.

Here, we have our own kitchen facilities,” April said earlier this year in an interview in her kitchen at The Annex. “The staff bakes Monday through Wednesday, sometimes on Thursdays, and we keep office hours.

Emily’s is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday at The Annex. “We utilize this location as a showroom for pickup,” said April. Customers go to emilysheirloompoundcakes.com to order cakes either for shipping or for pickup locally. “Our store is our website,” said April.

Most Thursdays through Sundays, April and her demo staff travel to Sam’s Clubs, where they set up a table, offering samples and selling slices and the various sizes of Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes.

Her sons, now 21 and 18, still help. “It is all-hands-on deck,” said April. “They do everything from cooking to delivering to even running our events. We go to seven to nine farmers’ markets each week. We are all in awe to see what God has done.”

Legacy
And the company continues to pay tribute to the woman who inspired the original flavor of its pound cakes.

In its logo, the “i” in Emily’s is dotted with a magnolia blossom and the backdrops used at their road shows and events are red, Emily Magnolia McClung’s favorite color.

While Emily died in 2002, 12 years before Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes began, her legacy lives on in the taste of those cakes.

It is rewarding to see how God was able to use something that we have had in our household for generations and produce something that makes people so happy,” said April.

When we sample this cake, people do everything from laugh out loud to cry,” she said. “It brings back so many memories that our slogan is ‘bringing back precious memories with just one bite.’ ”

April has big plans to bring those memories and the taste of their Southern pound cakes to even more people.

Her vision includes a manufacturing plant “where there would be tours of people coming to visit to see what we do, how this got started. How one little cake, grandma’s pound cake, thrust us into just a whirlwind of blessings.”

I envision operating in anywhere from 50 to 100 Sam’s Club stores every week,” she added.

And ultimately, “a multimillion-dollar operation is what I’d like to see.”

THE ESSENTIALS

Founded
July 2014

Number of Employees
10

Mentor
No one person; I have established relationships with diverse backgrounds and a myriad of experiences and use those as my “go-to” as needed

Smart Move
Applying to be on MSNBC “Your Business” to give my elevator pitch for an opportunity to do business with Sam’s Club

Learning Moment
Don’t be so quick to borrow money; make that a last resort option!  Brainstorm ways to finance yourself.  It may be a little more inconvenient, but it will be worth it.

Wisdom Shared
With so much competition in the marketplace, customer service, professionalism and kindness are what set you apart and will be the ultimate divide. Treat every customer as if he/she was the only customer you had, and it will pay off for years to come.

MEMBER SINCE 2017
Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday at The Annex, 113 12th St. N., Birmingham, AL 35203. Shown here is the lemon blueberry buttermilk pound cake with a lemon glaze. For shipping or to order cakes for pickup, visit emilysheirloompoundcakes.com 

Story by Nancy King Dennis
Photos by Brandon Robbins

This article is the cover story of the November 2019 Alabama Retailer