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How Mom’s Fruit Cake Became A Family Business in Her Honor
Celebrating Thirty Years of Homestyle Goodness
IT ALL STARTED with Anna Mary Byler, a kind and devoted Amish Mennonite mother of twelve. She was well known for her baking skills, and especially for her chock-full-of-nuts fruit cake. She baked the fruit cakes in October each year, sold some in the family hardware store, and gave many away to family and friends during the holidays.
Anna Mary, 61, passed away in her sleep in September 1991, just before fruit cake baking time. Later that fall Anna Mary’s seventh child, Barbara, wondered aloud “if Mom’s fruit cakes would sell in our [country store].” Her husband expressed doubt, saying “such an expensive cake won’t sell in our market….” and the conversation turned to other things.
Christmas drew near. Barb made one of Anna Mary’s five-pound fruit cakes “for our Christmas. I’ll bake it and set it on the counter in the store. If it sells, I’ll make another. If it doesn’t sell, we’ll enjoy it for our Christmas.” She decorated the cake, wrapped it in plastic wrap, and brought it into the store through the rear entrance.
It Sold Before It Was Set Down!
A customer was entering the store just as Barb was bringing the cake in. Taking one look at the cake the customer exclaimed, “I want that cake!” The first fruit cake was sold before it was even set on the counter!
Barb scrambled to quickly bake more cakes. The final cake sold at closing time on Christmas eve. We didn’t even have one of Anna Mary’s fruit cakes for Christmas that year!
But this was only the beginning.
The next fall we set up a state inspected bake kitchen, and proceeded to bake fruit cakes. In 1992 and 1993 we started marketing them in upscale area grocery stores. Within a few years we were producing several thousand pounds of fruit cakes in the Christmas season. They were shipped all over the U.S. and a few foreign countries by mail order. In 1997 Anna Mary’s Fruit Cake was recognized by the National Mail Order Association as one of the top five hundred products in the USA. The cakes were mixed and packed into the pans, and decorated by hand.
Thirty years later we’re still mixing, packing, and decorating by hand.
We transitioned to a few new locations and facilities and eventually relocated to Arkansas. Our six children have (mostly) fond memories of long evenings at the bakery during the fall baking rush. They would often come to the bakery after school and stay until we went home for the day. When they weren’t building elaborate houses out of boxes in the storage/packaging area they would be helping to label the cakes or assisting Daddy with packaging and boxing. It was truly a family venture.
Sales of fruit cakes revved back up after the economic downturn in 2008-2009. At around the same time, we began producing Anna Mary’s delicious green tomato relish, which soon became a local sensation.
In 2013 we quietly established Homestyle Heritage as our parent company. Because of its legacy of quality and its popularity we retained “Anna Mary’s” as our product brand. At the same time, we took the suggestion of many customers and chose to rebrand the fruit cakes as “Gourmet Nut Cakes.” (We also wished to confront the negative stereotypes of “fruit cakes” that has been generated by other fruit cakes.) It was a hit! “We’d be NUTS to call it a fruit cake!”
A Continued Commitment to Anna Mary’s Legacy
And that is where we find ourselves today – making and marketing Anna Mary’s traditional homestyle nut cakes and green tomato relish as well as our growing line of gourmet pickled products. While our story has had some ups and down, we are blessed to be the business we are today. Our company is the product of countless hours of hard work, many experiments, many tons of nuts, and frankly – a good bit of nuttiness. But most of all, our story is a testament to the goodness of God. We are grateful for our customers — from that first customer on that fall evening in 1991 to the thousands of current customers thirty years later. We exist today because of the blessing of God, many discriminating and loyal customers, and of course, because of Anna Mary Byler. Her legacy lives on.