For Kristina Lavallee, life keeps getting sweeter. Founder and namesake of local dessert company, The Cake Girl, Lavallee’s rise to success is already a sweet tale. She first dreamed of owning her own cake company as a little girl, growing up in Puerto Rico and baking with her mother, a chef and caterer, specializing in gourmet foods. The family moved to Orlando when Lavallee was 15, and baking became a way to stay rooted to her heritage.
Lavallee continued baking for family and friends as an undergraduate at the University of Central Florida, so her boyfriend, at the time, and later her husband, Kirby, jokingly bestowed upon her the moniker of “the cake girl.” A double major in hospitality management and food service and restaurant management, LaVallee worked full-time, after graduating, at local bakeries and then Publix. During this time, she was baking made to-order cakes and other popular items, like her mini-cupcakes, on the weekends. Eventually word of mouth and the success of Lavallee’s seasonal pop-up locations led to the launch of The Cake Girl dessert truck, in 2016.
Lavallee’s progression from darling of Tampa Bay area markets and festivals, to her successful mobile dessert truck to her first brick and mortar store, in 2019, makes her a local story of grass-roots triumph.
Already well-known, around the Tampa Bay area, for her award-winning cake designs (like her infamous “GOAT” cake for Tom Brady’s “100th” birthday), she and Kirby, her business partner, continue to layer in sumptuous accolades like Best of the Bay to Sweetest Bakery in America. Their next step? To franchise The Cake Girl’s delectable combination of craftsmanship, work ethic and plain deliciousness across the state and nationwide.
Lavallee will rely on the same recipe for success as The Cake Girl goes national: hard work and creativity. As she explains, “we’re looking for someone who has the same kind of vision that we do, the same kind of passion for business; sweets artisans doing the same kind of thing that we’re doing right now.”
Official applications open January 2024, but they’re already being inundated with interest from nearly every state and across Florida, Lavallee says.
“It’s so exciting to see interest from like-minded people outside of our bubble, in Florida, people who see our products, and concept, love it and want to open their own shop somewhere else,” she says.
Part of The Cake Girl’s appeal lies in its personalized, creative approach. Cakes are custom and made to order. The legendary GOAT cake is simply one among many.
From a zippy blue convertible for a recent birthday to a three-layer extravaganza topped with a finely detailed airplane to commemorate Spirit Airlines’ inaugural flight to Charlotte from Tampa International Airport, LaVallee says she is happiest rising up to the challenge of bringing to life her customer’s imaginative requests.
Although LaVallee’s artistic craftsmanship is truly amazing, it’s the taste that brings her customers back again and again.
“I always say that you have to have a beautiful, gorgeous product,” Lavallee says. “But it also has to taste good – it cannot be one or the other. It must be both.”
Lavallee’s creativity is also on display with the diversity of tastes she offers. From the beginning, Lavallee created dozens of flavors for her mini-cupcakes, brainstorming ideas with Kirby and their extended family on a road trip to Yosemite across the Western states. Now, with 85 different flavors, 12 new flavors each week, a commitment to constant flavor innovation was with them from the start. But it’s not just with tasting; LaVallee also launched a new product to combat the changed market when the pandemic hit.
Not even a year after the grand opening at its location, in North Tampa, Lavallee quickly conceived of an individual-serving, cake in a cup, Crave’n Cups, an easily and safely deliverable sweet creation to satisfy her customers’ demands during lockdowns. Still a popular item, the Crave’n Cups are delivered nationwide and have helped to build The Cake Girl brand far beyond Tampa Bay. Another specialty is the Puerto Rican cake, a deceptively simple, and moist, almond cake and a proud reminder of the little girl, baking with her mother in a balmy island kitchen.
That image still holds true today. Despite all the success, Lavallee is down-to-earth and personable, admitting that “everything is hands-on and hard work and, believe it or not, we’re still learning. There’s always new trends and new things that people want in baking and so it’s one of those industries where you must stay creative and keep challenging yourself to succeed.”
From developing special recipes to satisfy gluten-free or vegan requests to brainstorming their newest upcoming flavors, Lavallee obviously enjoys the constant creative challenge.
Lavallee has also kept it all in the family.
“My husband and I run the whole business together. He’s my full partner. I oversee the production area while he loves to do the business side of it, marketing or networking,” she explains.
Even as The Cake Girl moves to the franchise stage, it seems that Lavallee will keep this same family-oriented focus that has proven to be, with all the other ingredients, a recipe for long-lasting and far-reaching success.
“You only live once, so I always say, if you don’t take that risk, you’ll never know what the outcomes will be. Obviously, it is a scary thing for anyone to take that leap of faith,” Lavallee says. “But if I would never have tried, I would never have known that we could be successful.”♦