Fruitland couple make best of their situation by baking

Monday, October 18, 2004

A lot of people have dreams of owning their own business, being their own boss. But sometimes dreams are fragile things.

Fruitland's Kevin and Palmi Henry had aspirations of owning a bed and breakfast. But in 1999 Kevin Henry was diagnosed with a neurological disorder that will take his life. Their lives and dreams were put on hold.

Now the two have taken their situation and turned it into the impetus for Lil' Miss Muffin and Stuff, a reincarnation of their dreams.

Kevin Henry's disorder is so rare it doesn't even have a name. Its symptoms are referred to as spinal cerebellum ataxia, which basically means his spine and brain are deteriorating at an accelerated rate. The disease drastically affected his mobility and forced him to quit his job as a security guard at Westfield Shoppingtown West Park.

As the disease took hold of him, the demands on Palmi Henry's time to take care of him took her away from her job as a shift worker at Procter & Gamble. The economics of the situation became a growing problem.

"We had to figure out how we were going to make a living," Palmi Henry said.

They found their answer in one of Palmi Henry's talents.

"I was always the person at work who brought in baked things," Palmi Henry said. "I was the oldest of four children, so I always baked as a kid."

Palmi Henry figured out that she could bake at night after her husband went to bed and deliver her goods with their van in the morning before he got up. This would still leave the afternoon open to take him to his doctor appointments and strengthening classes. The only question was whether the demand was there.

For a relatively small investment of $5,000 to convert the basement of their house into a bakery and muffin factory, the couple decided that it was worth a shot to find out.

"We figured we could afford to see if it worked," Palmi Henry said. "It's all about taking an idea and going with it."

Take it and go

That latter statement soon became the maxim of Lil' Miss Muffin and Stuff, established in April 2002.

Palmi Henry started small and simple, cooking traditional breads and muffins and selling them at the farmers market in Jackson and delivering her wares to a few businesses in the area. One of her first sales was at the Jackson courthouse, where she sold a tray of muffins to employees there, netting $50. Word spread.

Within six months, Palmi Henry was able to quit her job at Procter & Gamble and dedicate her time to the business. Now she's too busy with deliveries to take part in the farmers markets.

As her business grew, so did her willingness to try new things and flavors in her cooking. Keeping with the premise under which the business was started, she just took ideas and went with them.

For instance, when her son, Kyle, needed something to take to school and she was out of chocolate chips, she cut up Butterfinger candy bars and baked them into muffins. The tasty idea spawned a line of candy bar muffins.

Also, as the daughter of a diabetic, Palmi Henry took some of her mother's old recipes and created a line of low-fat, sugar-free muffins. She also went with the Atkins swing and developed a menu of low-carb muffins.

Palmi Henry also decided that muffins didn't have to be just for breakfast, so she began experimenting with muffins that actually taste like dinner.

"There was a lot of trial and error involved," Palmi Henry.

Those experiments yielded a selection of meat-flavored muffins like country ham, maple sausage and cheddar, cheeseburger, pepperoni pizza and the Mighty Mini Meat Muffins. These, she said, are a big hit among her male clientele.

She also started getting requests and submitted recipes from her expanding customer base to make things other than muffins like cinnamon rolls, baklava and sticky buns.

Amid the rising success of their business, Kevin Henry has been more than just a spectator. His condition -- he's now in a wheelchair -- hasn't kept him from getting involved. He recently took online courses in Web design and he has built and updated the business's Web site,

Palmi Henry has also recruited her sister to move down from Michigan to help out with the business, which just hired another person as its first employee. Now armed with a staff, Palmi Henry is ready to take her Lil' Miss Muffin and Stuff onward and upward.

Her latest venture is a contract with Pam Kakes Cakes Design of Jackson to provide cakes for weddings, birthdays, baby showers and other events. She is also looking into starting a weekly Friday cake route to go with her Wednesday muffin route in Jackson. On the routes, Palmi Henry takes her wares on a cart to local businesses for sale. Any business or agency can request to be added as a stop on her route.

When she gets a spare moment, Palmi Henry looks back on the past five years with mixed emotions. Through all the adversity, she said, she and her husband are grateful for what they have.

"Sometimes when God closes one door, he opens others," she said.

335-6611, extension 137

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