Story by LISA A. LISTWA • Photos by BRETT GOLDIN
In a strip mall on Silver Springs Boulevard, tucked inside Your Heart’s Desire, a home décor and gift shop, you’ll find Betty Cakes Bakery and Café, something locals (and beyond) know as an Ocala staple.
Kandice D’Aiuto has been the co-owner/operator of Betty Cakes since 2017, along with another couple, Patrick and Mary Hill. Kandice started working for Betty 13 years ago. “After my youngest child went to kindergarten, I thought OK, now I want to do something and what is my passion? What do I want to do?”
As it turns out, her passion for baking provided the perfect opportunity. When Betty was looking for somebody to help with the baking, a mutual acquaintance suggested Kandice, and she started baking for Betty. “Baking is a family thing,” said Kandice. “We just love to bake, and it was a good, easy fit.”
Betty Williamson originally started the Betty Cakes business when a friend, the owner of the gift shop, asked if she would open a very small little place inside the gift shop. It was originally meant as a space for husbands to sit down and have a cup of coffee or piece of cake, while their wives shopped.
“It started out with just a little sugar and some coffee,” Kandice says. It has grown organically over the years, slowly increasing in size and moving from that bit of sugar and coffee into the busy space it is now—a full lunch café and custom cake bakery. Betty Cakes has an on-site kitchen for preparing lunches, where the staff often sends out well over 100 lunches. “That may seem small compared to other spaces,” says Kandice, “but when you see the tiny space we have, that’s a lot of lunches.” A customer favorite is the chicken salad plate which Kandice says is “wildly popular and has a cult following.”
“It started out with just a little sugar and some coffee.”— Kandice D’Aiuto
A team of bakers in an off-site bakery (still located on Betty’s property) whips up ready-to-go shelf cakes, custom-made cakes, and numerous other baked goods. Betty Cakes’ signature shelf cakes are some of their best-selling items. Several varieties are available and anywhere from 30 to over 100 ready-to-go cakes go out the door with walk-in customers. The cake pudding—a spin on classic bread pudding—is also popular. Betty Cakes also offers a gluten-free bakery menu and takes custom cake orders.
Betty Cakes is a unique and very special environment with a talented and creative team of people, some of whom have been there since the very beginning. “I’m blessed to be part of it,” Kandice tells us. “We treat each other like family, because we are.” She also loves the connection to people and community aspect of running Betty Cakes. “Somewhere around me, in my county, I am getting to be part of somebody’s celebration, and that is the coolest thought. That gives me goosebumps.”
The one downside to the business is that Kandice doesn’t get to spend as much time in the kitchen enjoying the baking part. “As the owner of a business, you are CEO, payroll, human resources, head of marketing, ordering, shipping, and receiving—everything. But it’s still a passion.”
In January 2020, Betty Cakes went through a renovation, preparing to move from counter service to table service. When the pandemic hit, no sooner had they begun than their doors were closed.
“We converted our store immediately,” recalls Kandice. Both the gift shop and the café went to curbside service and changed their entire concept, in order to stay alive. She is grateful for their strong, loyal customer base who placed orders for curbside pickup and purchased gift cards to keep them going.
When asked about what the future holds for Betty Cakes, Kandice laughs. “It’s hard enough to hold onto this train, as it runs me over, right now.” She is quick to say again how grateful she is to be part of a busy, thriving business and to work with so many talented and amazing people.
As for the future, Kandice says, “People often tell us they can’t get through on our phone line, and it’s true.” She would love to be able to offer online ordering to alleviate that, but she is cautious. Kandice wants Betty Cakes to maintain that special quality of the corner mom-and-pop store, a place where customers can say, “They remember me, they know what I like, they share my football team.”
“Handmade, homemade, made with love. It’s a passion,” she says. “I don’t want to lose that by becoming so large that I’m not doing what I believe in every day. Be sweeter than the cakes, and it works. When you treat somebody that way, you’ve really won their loyalty, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”