Business Monday

She kept a promise to her grandmother and turned a family tradition into a business

Marie Boone cracks an egg as she prepares to cook in her Fort Lauderdale home, June 21, 2017. Boone of Marie’s Divine Desserts has built her own cake-and-dessert business, working out of her home. She uses mostly family recipes.
Marie Boone cracks an egg as she prepares to cook in her Fort Lauderdale home, June 21, 2017. Boone of Marie’s Divine Desserts has built her own cake-and-dessert business, working out of her home. She uses mostly family recipes. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

As Marie Boone’s grandmother spent her last days in the hospital, she shared a deathbed wish with her granddaughter: Keep up the family baking tradition. Neither of them knew then just how far the dream would carry Boone.

“I took her vision of cakes and multiplied it into something bigger,” Boone said.

For the past five years, Boone, 33, has been running Marie’s Divine Desserts out of her Fort Lauderdale kitchen. She started her single-woman operation by selling a few cakes to family members after her grandmother’s death.

Today, she sells a dozen or more custom-designed cakes every month — inspired by designer-patterned zippered purses to model cars with working headlights — along with smaller desserts, like Rice Krispies treats. (No pies, apple or otherwise.) Last year alone, she cracked more than 350 eggs into her desserts.

Customers come from Coral Gables to West Palm Beach, drawn by her secret family recipes and her specialty designs.

“Most of my time is spent baking,” Boone said with a laugh. “I don’t really get weekends.”

Cake flavors range from 7Up pound cakes decorated with cartoon characters to boozy chocolate tortes. For those whose sweet tooth calls for something bite-sized, she also sells chocolate-dipped Oreos and strawberries, cupcakes, cake jars, candy apples and cake pops — her most popular item. In the past 12 months, Boone sold more than 1,200 of these doughy delicacies on the end of a stick.

A plain pound cake can cost as little as $25, while cake designs sculpted with fondant icing start at $60 and have run as high as $350 for a four-tier wedding cake. About 70 percent of her business comes from individuals’ orders; the rest comes from sales at vendor booths and events.

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A designer-themed cake baked by Marie Boone. Boone has built her cake-and-dessert business, Marie’s Divine Desserts, working out of her Fort Lauderdale home. She uses mostly family recipes. Provided by Marie Boone

Krishendaye Adderley, 36, has been one of Boone’s customers since the beginning. Although the two knew each other in elementary school, they were out of touch until Adderley came across pictures of Boone’s decorations on Facebook. Adderley put in a birthday cake order and has been a loyal customer since.

“When you’re having a birthday celebration,” Adderley said, “you don’t want to have doubts about whether anything will be done right. I know at least with my cake, it will.”

The year Adderley’s birthday fell on Super Bowl Sunday, Boone made her two cakes: one decorated as a football field, complete with LED goalpost lights illuminating the field and players, and a second buttercream cake with mango-and-key lime icing.

“People loved it,” Adderley said. “They took more pictures of the cake than they took of me!”

Although Boone started her business in 2012, she was 8 when she learned to bake in her grandmother’s kitchen 25 years ago. Every week, her relatives gathered in the Liberty City home, where she helped her grandmother stir the sticky batter and ice the cakes that capped off their family dinner.

Her love of baking grew over the years. Boone earned a reputation for the desserts she brought to family events. At Florida Memorial University, and later at the University of Miami — she worked at both as an administrative assistant — she often brought in cakes for coworkers.

Friends who tasted her baked goods encouraged her to start selling them. Her first big success was a pink-and-purple “Doc McStuffin”-themed fondant cake for her cousin’s 5-year-old daughter’s birthday.

After Boone posted the picture of the decorated cake on Facebook, people liked and commented on her work. Boone was overwhelmed.

“Once I saw the love I got for it,” Boone said, “I thought, ‘I can do this.’”

Getting customers was slow at first, she said. She had just left her job at the University of Miami after a worsening multiple sclerosis diagnosis prevented her from working. At the time, she was trying to support herself and her two daughters, DéMari, now 12, and Ianna, 10, with disability payments.

“I was totally worried, not knowing how my health was going to go every day,” she said.

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Marie Boone spreads icing on a cake in her Fort Lauderdale home, June 21, 2017. Boone of Marie’s Divine Desserts has built her own cake-and-dessert business, working out of her home. She uses mostly family recipes. CHARLES TRAINOR JR ctrainor@miamiherald.com

But business took off as friends spread the word and Boone promoted herself on social media.

“Once I started putting [pictures] out on Facebook, it grew like wildfire,” she said of her business. Her business’s Facebook page currently has over 200 photos and nearly 2,500 likes.

After she joined vendor groups on Facebook, she received invitations to sell her goods at community events, where she expanded her customer base. Last year, her business earned $12,000, which supplements her disability and helps her pay her bills.

Monique Favors, 37, has been close friends with Boone for years and has watched her push through her illness. In 2016, Boone was scheduled to bring a cake to Favors’s baby shower when Boone experienced a seizure in the morning. But by the afternoon, Boone arrived at her friend’s house with a complete table of butterfly-decorated desserts, which were all devoured by the end of the party.

“I admire her strength,” Favors said. “She’s just determined to please her customers. To see her deal with her illness and still provide customer service is a great quality.”

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Candy apples made by Marie Boone. Boone has built her cake-and-dessert business, Marie’s Divine Desserts working out of her Fort Lauderdale home. She uses mostly family recipes. Provided by Marie Boone

Boone has taken decorating classes at the local Hobby Lobby to learn new techniques, invested in an edible printer, and expanded her menu. But some things she won’t change.

Boone still exactly follows the recipes copied down in her grandmother’s handwriting — down to the brand of butter and flour. Everything is mixed in the same white KitchenAid standing mixer she used as a child. Most important, she says, she follows her grandmother’s golden rule to avoid a collapsed cake: “Once the cake is in the oven, no one goes into the kitchen.”

That rule used to be hard for her daughters when they were younger, she said. But now her older daughter DéMari has started helping in the kitchen and delights in dipping strawberries and Oreos in chocolate.

And while DéMari used to talk about growing up and becoming a fashion designer, Boone said her daughter now dreams of joining the family business and continuing her grandmother’s wish for another generation.

It’s a dream that Boone shares. “I want to get an actual storefront,” she said. “That’s my biggest dream. Get a storefront, leave it to my daughters, and hope it grows even more.”

Marie’s Divine Desserts

Owner: Marie Boone

Where: She works out of her home in Fort Lauderdale. For orders and information visit mariesdessert.com, or call 954-589-8456

Cost: Varies by dessert. Basic cakes start at $25, fondant cakes start at $60. Contact for price.

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