Cara Carel of Rocky Hill Cakes has been involved in celebrating the special occasions and milestones in the life of many local families. Her amazing cakes have served as the centerpiece of hundreds of showers, weddings, birthdays and anniversaries and they taste as good as they look.
Now celebrating five years as a family-owned, home-based business, Carel, who had no ambitions to become a baker, can’t quite believe she’s marked this major milestone. After working in accounting at Apache Lumber, Carel worked for the state, for Scholastic and First Christian Church, where she operated a Sunday school day care. In 1996, she started her own day care, first in Jefferson City, and in July of 2002 moved it to her home in Russellville.
She married Mike Carel, now a technician for RICOH USA, in 2001 and they have four children, so she didn’t have time to bake much for her own family.
“My mom always made the cakes in our family – for my wedding and for her grandkids’ birthdays. I really had no interest in cakes whatsoever,” said Carel.
After her mother passed away in January of 2009, family gatherings and celebrations changed dramatically.
“I took my oldest son to Walmart to pick out a birthday cake and he seemed sad, so I asked him what was wrong. He told me he wanted me to make him a birthday cake like his grandma had always done,” she said.
That was the beginning of her cake baking, and over time, she perfected the process. Soon her cakes and cupcakes were in demand by friends and family who urged her to go public. She did in June of 2011 and her business has continued to grow, mostly through word-of-mouth marketing on Facebook.
“I didn’t want to call it that so my husband asked me what brought me peace and tranquility. I found it in my kitchen in our house on this old rocky hill in Russellville. So Rocky Hill Cakes was born.”
“My first cake making efforts were not pretty, so for Mother’s Day one year my family enrolled me in a cake decorating course. After it was over I had tons of questions. Mike and I were both interested in how to do things better so I continued my education. My mother’s spirit guided me and I feel her when I’m in the kitchen baking. For the longest time I would not bake a cake without wearing a T-shirt that she had given me as a souvenir from some of her trips.”
“My clients aren’t coming to me for a German chocolate cake; they want a work of art.” As a member of International Cake Exploration Societe and Icing Smiles, Carel is a sugar artist and her cakes are her canvas. “I use sugar to tell a story. It’s very rewarding to use your own two hands to tell a bit about who the cake is for and to bring happiness and joy.”
“I love spending time with Mike in the kitchen. We enjoy this time more than hanging out on the couch watching movies. He started helping me because he loves me, but baking really brings us together. We have to be in sync to make things happen, and to overcome a hurdle on how to put a project together. He doesn’t do the baking or piping but he does a lot of fondant work and edible image printing. But if I deliver an order and he’s not with me he wants to know how they liked it, he enjoys seeing their reaction, too.”
“Caring for children, you learn patience and acceptance, but most of all it opens your heart up in a different way. Having a day care is like having your own kids, only you don’t pay their college tuition. I’ve watched these children grow and come to know them and each one has a different personality. The day care was challenging though. People pay more for their vehicles in a month than what they want to pay for childcare. The assumption is we’re not doing anything, we’re just wiping noses and bottoms, so when people ask what you do they ‘pooh-pooh’ you. But we’re often the child’s first teacher.”
even after she closed her day care late last year. “The other day I came home and there was a wind chime hanging on my porch, and I found out it was from one of my day care families who thought more of me than being just a provider for them. I miss the day care. It still chokes me up.”
“I have had kids in that school for 15 years. My son started there in kindergarten and then graduated from Helias. My youngest one is in first grade there. I love that school and have wanted to be a part of it for many years, but my first obligation was to my family. Now, I am finally working there in after care and next year I will take over as head cook in the cafeteria. I will also now be able to utilize the commercial kitchen for Rocky Hill Cakes.”
“Sometimes when you’re friends with clients they take advantage of you, but not Kim [Bishop]. She enrolled her oldest son, Richard, with me in November of 1999. The next year she enrolled her youngest son, Dakota, when he turned two. After I moved the day care from Jefferson City to Russellville, I became close with Kim. She was with me through the labor and birth of my daughters, Mikayla and Amanda, and would have been for Becca, too, only she was born a month early and Kim had just left for vacation. Bishop was also by my side when we lost our son Zachary, my mother and father-in-law. She is everything a friend should be. Selfless, supportive and fun loving.” Bishop, who is an OR scheduler at Capital Region Medical Center, also helps Cara in the St. Martin’s Catholic School after care.
“I’ll only eat a Cara cake. She puts a lot of love and passion into her cakes, and they taste good. She’s my sister and she’s always been there for me.” – Kim Bishop