Ask April McClung about the earliest days of her Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes business, and she’ll tell you a story of humble beginnings.
She’ll tell you about the two Birmingham farmers markets she’d head to each weekend, with 10 cakes in the back of her car, and she’ll tell you about the rudimentary display she used — just a card table and a tablecloth.
But she’ll also tell you how those early days led to raising more than $14,000 for her two sons, led to her being able to walk away from her day job after 25 years in the corporate grind and how Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes is now nationally known.
“Now, look at us,” McClung says proudly. “We’ve been in business for eight years, we’re producing over 5,000 slices a month, and we’re selling them all over the country. … And our display is just beautiful.”
Back in 2014, it was a mother’s love that set McClung and her family on a course toward cake greatness. She and her then-husband were trying to figure out a way to raise $14,000 to send their boys on trips — one to Europe and the other to China, where he could hone his Mandarin skills.
“This was a mother’s heart to do something for her children to do something they had never experienced,” she says.
After praying as a family, McClung’s husband, a pastor, said, “The spirit says, ‘What about the pound cake?’”
“And in nine months, with one pound cake recipe, we raised over $14,000,” McClung says. “It is truly amazing.”
The recipe had long been in McClung’s ex-husband’s family, and he had been making it for years for church and family gatherings. He taught his wife how to make the cake.
“I had never baked a pound cake before, and that’s how you know it was God,” McClung recalls. “And I’m not a pound cake eater. I’m not a big sweets and cake eater.”
But she became a pound cake maker, and the cakes sold out during their farmers market visits. The McClungs raised the money for their sons’ travel, and a customer suggested McClung start a business.
Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes, named after her ex-husband’s grandmother, was born in 2014. McClung soon quit her job to devote herself full-time to the new business, and it has grown steadily since then.
The cakes — an original pound cake, plus flavored pound cakes such as lemon, key lime, chocolate, strawberry lemonade and butter pecan — are sold as bites, slices, half or full loaves, or rounds. The company also makes pound cakes for weddings.
The original pound cake is the No. 1 seller, and a strong second is the lemon blueberry buttermilk, McClung says.
Among many accolades, Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes was featured on QVC in 2020, named one of five America’s Retail Champions by the National Retail Federation in 2022 and was named Alabama Retailer of the Year in 2021.
McClung also is part of Sam’s Clubs road shows. What that means is that Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes are not on the shelves at Sam’s Clubs, but McClung will appear in Sam’s Clubs at certain times and the cakes will be available in the stores where she appears.
In December, McClung moved into a commercial kitchen in Pelham, and from there her company bakes hundreds of cakes each month. Customers can order on the company’s website and either pick cakes up or have them shipped, and Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes does a robust corporate business, too.
“The biggest order we’ve gotten is $40,000 from a business,” McClung says. “Then we have law firms. A company will commit to maybe 500 rounds and give them as gifts. … We’ll ship from the list the company gives us, and within a couple of days, the phone is ringing off the hook from the people who received them.”
The cakes aren’t cheap, with rounds selling for $55.
“It’s an expensive product, but we’re trying to scale,” McClung says. “Right now, I’m more of a Harry & David type thing, a gourmet product.”
Not surprisingly, McClung won’t divulge the pound cake recipe, but she’s quick to point out the two main ingredients.
“Love and butter,” she says. “It’s an all-butter poundcake, which is very expensive and why a lot of people probably opt not to make it that way. It’s costly.”
McClung’s son J. is a firefighter, and her other son Tre, the one who went to China, now manages the Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes kitchen.
“It’s so satisfying to see my son love what his momma loves,” she says.
McClung wants the company to continue to grow.
“Our end goal is to franchise and open kitchens in different areas,” she says.
McClung has a fairly lofty goal when it comes to annual sales.
“I’d like to get to $1.4 million, and we’re about halfway there,” she says. “From where we came from, that’s a lot. We’ve come a long way. I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Alec Harvey is executive editor of Business Alabama and Cary Norton is a freelance contributor. Both are based in Birmingham.
This article appears in the May 2023 issue of Business Alabama.