A Full Plate
MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
When you walk into Mrs. Kelder’ s Cakes, a compact, tidy bakery located in the heart of the village of Manlius, the attention to detail is palpable. The cookies and cupcakes in the front case are exquisitely decorated and inviting. The bistro tables are hand-painted with designs by the owner’s neighbor. The building itself embodies the vintage charm that Manlius locals love.
Certainly, customers might think, the owner—Cyndi Kelder—was born to bake. And definitely, they could assume, her bakery is the fulfillment of a lifelong goal.
But they’d be wrong.
“Probably, honestly, truth be told. . . I hate baking,” Kelder admits after a long day of filling special orders for holiday cookies and cupcakes. “I’m always artsy in what I do. So I saw this more as a creative outlet. I don’t like the mixing and the baking, but I love to decorate. The baking is just so I can come up with a canvas.”
Kelder, who worked for a decade as an athletic trainer for the Fayetteville-Manlius School District before opening Mrs. Kelder’s Cakes in 2013, says her interest in baking developed gradually. She made cakes for family events, and then gradually started bringing treats to school. The students enjoyed the sweets, and word of mouth spread.
“My practice cakes would go to school,” Kelder recalls with a laugh. “High school kids will eat that up like nobody’s business. Then, I stopped practicing.”
Kelder has since made a name for herself by applying her artistic eye to every order. Her frostings are exquisitely colored and carefully applied, and her ability to turn almost any idea into a specialty cake has made her bakery the go-to place for those seeking the ultimate birthday treat. “We try to make everything a treat for the eyes as well as the palate,” Kelder says.
When she made the decision to make baking her business, Kelder spent a lot of time developing her recipes. She could use mixes and pre-cracked eggs or substitutes, like other specialty bakers do. But Kelder thought it was important to develop fresh, signature recipes that would draw repeat customers. Her chocolate cake and sugar cookie recipes were early hits, while her red velvet recipe took more time to formulate. Currently, she has about 17 choices in the bakery case every day.
“Everything is made fresh, within hours of you picking it up,” Kelder adds. She often has flash “Happy Hour” sales on weekday evenings, when everything in the case is $1.
Kelder, an Ohio native, opened her storefront at a point in her life when few women would choose to do so. She was stepping away from a successful career while adding to her growing family. She and her husband, Derek, live in Fayetteville with their three children: daughters Mackenzie, 10, and Morgan, 8 and son Max, 4, who was just a year old when the bakery opened. Kelder credits her family—and Derek in particular—for supporting her, as the business often pulls her away from the household routines.
Kelder says her career shift was never about being unhappy in her previous job. (She made local headlines in 2011 for saving the life of a young athlete who was critically injured on the lacrosse field.)
“I was happy doing what I was doing,” Kelder says. “But the support I had from the FM community helped me to take this leap. Opportunity knocked, and it just felt like the next thing to do.”
The location for Mrs. Kelder’s Cakes was also a factor: It’s a beloved older building on a strip of East Seneca Street that is home to another thriving newer business (Ironwood) and a local landmark (Manlius Art Cinema). The Kelders did just enough work to bring out the building’s character, preserving its historic charms. Locals were thrilled by the prospect of a new tenant that was not a chain restaurant or another drugstore franchise.
“I’m privileged to be a part of this community,” Kelder says. “This is a great group of small businesses here in the village. This bakery has been very loved since Day One. It’s nice to have that kind of support for small businesses here. We have never paid for advertising, and we can’t keep up with the demand.”
Shannon Allen has been a regular customer since the bakery opened in 2013. “I live in Manlius, so I love to support local businesses whenever I can,” she says. “I will go to Mrs. Kelder’s a couple of times a month.”
Each Christmas, Allen orders a specialty gingerbread house from Kelder for an annual cookie exchange. “She blows me away with how gorgeous they are,” Allen says.
With six children, Allen has also become a regular patron of Kelder’s birthday cupcakes—and every family member has a favorite. Allen enthusiastically recommends Kelder to others.
“She is very easy to work with and has an amazing talent for decorating no matter what it is: cake, cookie cake, cookies or cupcakes. She makes great sweets!”
Syracuse resident Debra Ryan met Kelder in 2014 when she hosted a cookie decorating party for a family birthday celebration. Ryan had been looking for a baker who could make a “classic birthday cake.”
“Mrs. Kelder set up cookies, frosting and decorations for the girls and they had a great time. At the end of the party she presented each girl with a perfectly decorated cupcake topped with a little penguin, and it was that classic birthday cake I had been looking for,” Ryan recalls. “Every birthday since then, and any time I need a specialty cake, I call Mrs. Kelder. She does such a wonderful job! I have recommended her to everyone I know and they love her cakes and cupcakes too.”
While Ryan does not live in Manlius, “I think it’s important to support local businesses, especially when it’s someone like Mrs. Kelder,” says Ryan, who’s a particular fan of the chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. “She has always been very accommodating and it’s been a pleasure to be her customer.”
Today, Kelder manages her schedule to maximize her time at home. Most of the baking is done in the morning, and then she goes home when her older children return from school. Derek, who graduated from FM High School, picks up the evening routine so Kelder can return to the bakery to finish sales or meet with clients. Last summer, Derek logged a lot of hours at the bakery, too.
“My husband is a rock star,” Kelder says. “He has his full-time job and does a lot at home because I’m never there. He wakes up and does all their lunches, does the laundry. When I am not there, I feel like he’s got it under control. He’s a good egg.”
Mackenzie has recently begun to help with some of the baking (“She is very good at cracking the eggs, and I use a lot of them”), and Morgan has contributed some design ideas. Young Max has yet to find his role in the family business, which is fine with his mom for now.
“I’m very big on hygiene, so I haven’t let him do anything in here yet,” Kelder says knowingly.
Kelder plans to keep the business small enough so that she can still be involved in every aspect of it. But the one area where she would like to expand is delivery capability. Currently, the bakery has been limited to wherever the Kelders can drop off themselves. It’s not uncommon for Derek to make a cake or cupcake delivery on the way to his own business meetings. “Delivery service—that would be the next step,” Kelder says.
Despite her neat-as-a-pin storefront, Kelder admits that being a small business owner has brought its share of behind-the-scenes turmoil.
“It’s harder than I thought it would be,” she says. “I’m grateful that I have great help, and a manager that I can really trust. That’s huge. When it’s your own business, it can be hard to stop trying to do everything yourself.”
The struggles, as much as the successes, have made the bakery a learning experience that Kelder hopes her children will appreciate as they grow older. She suspects that they are already aware of the pride and hard work she has invested in Mrs. Kelder’s Cakes.
“There is something to be said for not being handed anything, for taking something you believe in and just doing it,” she says. “I want my kids to see that. Even if they don’t want anything to do with the bakery when they are older, I hope they will grow up understanding our role in this community. We are making connections and making people happy. That’s a great legacy. I hope they will understand how special that is.”
Award-winning writer Tammy DiDomenico lives in DeWitt with her husband and two sons.