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Talking Shop with Wes Kinsey, co-owner of My Daddy's Cheesecake
Wes Kinsey knows a thing or two about cake, whether it's a layered wedding cake or a dense, rich cheesecake. After 35 years in the baking business and thousands of cakes, he's retiring and has sold his interest in well-known Cape Girardeau bakery and restaurant My Daddy's Cheesecake to his partners, Kevin and Susan Stanfield.
Question: How did you get interested in baking?
Answer: I grew up on a farm in Southern Illinois where everybody had to help with chores around the house, whether it was work in the field or cooking. I really enjoyed cooking, even as a child. In 1972-1973 I got involved in a home-economic project at my house school in Wolf Lake, Ill. It was an experimental program for rural schools done by the state of Illinois. It was a two-hour-a-day, two-year-long project. It was more of a vocational class. One year we ran a bakery. We did all the different jobs from being the bottle washer and mopping the floors to doing the purchasing and the pricing, the bookkeeping. We had to make money at it because what we made bought our supplies for the next project. It wasn't funded by the school. The second year was running a restaurant for a year. We sold meals to students and teachers who would pay to come in and eat with us rather than eating in the school cafeteria.
Q: Do you remember your first big cake-baking project?
A: My older sister got involved with cake decorating and we began to work together when I was a senior in high school. We got to that point where we started doing cakes for family and friends. Our first layer cake took us a week to put together. We were nervous wrecks. It was a 25th anniversary cake for my parent's good friends. The whole family worked on it. From there, it just built. I bought a house in Cape Girardeau and put a kitchen in the basement for my sister and I to work in. We worked out of my house for years and were doing anywhere from five to 10 weddings a weekend. We worked full-time jobs outside of doing the cakes. We worked every night, all night sometimes.
Q: You worked for many years with the Wilton Enterprises, a leading manufacturer of cake decorating supplies. How did your career there evolve?
A: When J.C. Penney's opened in the West Park Mall, I went to work for J.C. Penney and Wilton teaching cake decorating classes. In 1981, I went to Wilton in Chicago and took a series of classes from them, graduating from the Wilton School of Confectionary Arts. The schooling took your basic knowledge and fine-tuned it and expanded it into foreign techniques. ... About two months after I graduated ... they called me and offered me a job in their publishing department. I did decorating for photography and published six books, wedding cake books, birthday cake books, encyclopedias. They were set up to be instructional. We had an artist in-house that would sketch on paper what she'd dreamt up and we would take those ideas and apply Wilton tools to them, develop existing technique and create new techniques and new products in order to perform certain new techniques. The gum paste mix Wilton sells now is a product I helped formulate. Decorating for the camera is much different from decorating for the public. The camera is critical of your work and shows all the things that could go wrong. We'd use a Styrofoam dummy cake and decorate it with real icing. It would take us about two weeks to do a cake. My wife, Ann, and I got tired of the Chicago winters, so I started asking about other opportunities within the company. They had an area development position where I would teach teachers conducting classes at stores like J.C. Penneys and Michaels, and I moved from Chicago to San Antonio. ... They transferred me to Atlanta after about a year and a half, then about two years later they transferred me back to St. Louis. Then they wanted me to go back to Chicago and teach, but I just didn't want to go back there, so they gave me an ultimatum: Do it or else. I took the or else route. We moved back to Cape in 1989, and I opened a store on Broadway called Crown Cake & Party.
Q: When did you first become involved with My Daddy's Cheesecake?
A: In the winters of '94 and '95 I helped Tom Harte down at My Daddy's Cheesecake. They were in that holiday baking season and their mail order business was just phenomenal. They weren't able to make enough and keep up with the staff that they had, so Tom and Lashay Lows asked me to help out. I knew the business was for sale. Lashay and her husband Joe wanted to move to Arizona, and I knew Tom was wanting to retire. So one day, Tom and I went to lunch and he said we really would like for you to take this over. ... By the end of lunch, I'd bought the store. My wife and I took over Aug. 26, 1996.
Q: How has My Daddy's Cheesecake grown and changed over the years?
A: When we took over we had about five part-time employees in 900 square feet downtown. We did cheesecake, a few pastries and some coffees. We began to add a few sandwiches, and I started doing my wedding cakes. We were to a point where we had maxed out what we could do in that 900 square feet. We could seat about seven people and put a few tables out on the sidewalk when the weather was good. I was approached by a couple building a new development on Cape LaCroix Road. We moved out there on Valentine's Day 2002 to 2,500 square feet and added all kinds of hot meals, breakfast and lunch. We had meatloaf, fried chicken, pot roast, a lot heavier food that what we have now. Heavy, comfort food. We added a media room we could rent out. We added tons of new pastries and pies.
Q: At what point did co-owners Kevin and Susan Stanfield join you at My Daddy's?
A: The only downfall was that wasn't our best location. We really struggled out there. ... In February 2004 I told the staff I was going to close the whole thing down. I was burnt out mentally, physically. The cash flow was terrible out there. We had 15 people working for us and all we were doing was working to pay the bills and pay everybody else. ... The Missourian came and did an article saying it was the end of an era. In response to that article, people started coming forward and saying "How can we help?". Susan and Kevin Stanfield were a couple of those people. They owned the Blimpie and had been in the restaurant business a long time. They really knew restaurants and franchising a lot better than I did. My expertise was in the bakery. The part I loved the most -- decorating, working with the brides and creating new products -- I had abandoned to be the bill payer. We worked out a partnership deal with them in April 2004. Soon after we won a contract with Dierbergs Supermarkets in St. Louis and started supplying 14 items for their frozen bakery section. Our products are in more than 20 of their stores. About a year into that partnership we knew we needed to move, we were maxed out on space again. It took us about nine months to build this 5,500-square-foot building on Broadview Street.
We built and opened a store in Clayton, Mo., in 2009. It was a corporate-owned store. We wanted to prove our concept would work outside of Cape Girardeau. We later sold that store to Mike and Leah Schwarz of Baldwin, Mo.
Q: How will you be occupying your time in your retirement?
A: My wife has a list of honey-do jobs for me. I'm going to do a bunch of stuff around the house that I've put off for years and years. I'm going to take a few months off and relax, unwind. Figure out what I want to do for the rest of my days. I am so open to any kind of job outside the food business. I love interior decorating. I have two boys, Nathaniel, who is at the University of Missouri, and Truman, who is at Central High School. Until we get Truman out of high school we'll stay in Cape Girardeau, but once he leaves, my wife and I will look at relocating wherever the boys end up.