By Stephen Dawkins
You might expect, upon entering Cakes n’ Candy in Clanton, to be greeted by the inviting and irrestible smell of freshly baked cakes.
And there, at the front counter, are a number of delicious-looking treats: caramel, chocolate, pound, red velvet and coconut cakes, to name a few, along with an assortment of candies.
But a tour of the rest of the facility might offer a surprise for many local residents.
The business that opened in 1988 as a small retail store with five or six employees now produces cakes wholesale for grocery stores around the Southeast.
Sue Cleckler opened her store across the street from its current location, at 104 Seventh St. S. in Clanton.
When the store moved, the staff started catering, and at one point there was a restaurant connected to the bakery.
In the 1990s, Sue and her husband and business partner, Junior Cleckler, got a taste of what would become the focus of their business.
The grocery giant Bruno’s placed an order for some cakes.
“They called and said they didn’t want many because they were too pricey,” Sue Cleckler recalls. “They said we’d have to come back and pick up [the unsold cakes].”
Then Junior picks up the story.
“We hadn’t gotten back to Clanton, and they called and said they were out and needed more,” he said.
The check from that first wholesale order, in the amount of $2,235.05, still hangs in a frame on a wall at the store. The cakes were sold for about $10 each.
Eventually, the couple began working with a broker. Now, Sue’s cakes can be found at locations in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina.
The two primary business partners are Piggly Wiggly stores and Associated Grocers, which includes the Sav-Mor Associated Foods store in Clanton.
Cakes n’ Candy has become even more a family business as the Clecklers’ daughter, Stacey, serves as the office manager.
Sue is the president of the company and remains involved in the day-to-day operations. Junior serves as vice-president and brings a wealth of business experience.
“I’m just happy to be the husband,” Junior Cleckler said.
The Clecklers say one of the reasons for the business’ success is the quality employees working there every day. Those workers can advance, as evidenced by Nathaniel Thomas, who started working at the bakery as a driver and now is a manager.
The store now employs 30 people, who can produce more than 1,500 cakes in one day.
Instead of trying to find more locations to carry the cakes, the focus now is expanding the already-diverse line of offerings.
Recipes for sweet potato and pumpkin cakes are being perfected. Those will complement the buttermilk, lemon, coconut, chocolate, caramel, red velvet, German chocolate, peach, key lime, strawberry cakes, among other seasonal and special varieties.
Cakes n’ Candy makes birthday cakes, wedding cakes, cookies and cupcakes upon request.
Also, a small retail kitchen allows the business to offer items not to be sold wholesale, including sweets, different types of soup, chicken salad and pimiento cheese.
Sue’s caramel cake has always been her specialty.
She was an accomplished cook who perfected a technique for making the caramel, which was called “burned” or “cooked” caramel. The real trick was translating the technique to larger portions.
Then, someone suggested making a “split-layer” cake that would feature more layers–and thus more caramel.
“It’s an art,” Sue Cleckler said. “There aren’t very many people we’ve taught that are good at it.”