Baker Derek Toms enjoys working with bacon and booze as his two favorite ingredients at Lucky Cakes, the business he started in April with his wife Jess. He uses 75th Street Brewery’s Muddy MO Stout to create a dark chocolate, full-bodied cupcake. Then he tops it with homemade vanilla bean frosting and finishes the cupcake with a dusting of fresh-ground espresso and cocoa powder. You’d think that would be the best-seller in his repertoire, right?
Actually, Derek says, “My maple bacon scones are the most-ordered item.”
Lucky Cakes sells its products at Crows Coffee (304 E 51st Street) and Wednesday evenings at the Waldo Farmer’s Market (79th and Wornall). They also make appearances at other area markets and local events.
Deliciously good fortune smiled on Kansas City last fall when Derek and Jess started developing their business concept, refining the recipes and testing them on family and friends. This past spring they took steps to legally form the business.
“We currently run the business from our home in Waldo and cook out of the Farm to Table Kitchen in City Market,” says Jess, who handles business operations and marketing. “ My background is in corporate and brand marketing. We are both doing what we love to do and it makes for a perfect partnership.”
Derek’s initial foray into cooking and baking began 15 years ago. He worked as a fire restoration crew captain in northern New Mexico at the time and was injured on the job. While he recovered from surgery, he helped cook in the firehouse kitchen and served his crew mates.
“I learned how to cook and realized I had a passion for it,” Derek says. “As it turns out, I was pretty good at it.”
Derek was a sous chef and baker at local restaurants in Manhattan, Kansas, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and history from Kansas State University. He started a master’s program at KSU, but transferred to the University of Denver and completed a Master’s Certificate in Environmental Management.
After graduation, the Toms moved to Albuquerque and then Phoenix. Derek found a job with the National Park Service as Chief of Resources at Casa Grande National Monument in Coolidge, Arizona.
Derek says, “While working for the NPS for nearly 10 years, I baked on the side but never really did anything big with it until now.”
Derek reached a burn-out phase in his former career. “I wanted to do something more with my life,” he says. “Something important that I was passionate about and could someday leave for my kids.”
Jess had encouraged Derek to turn his baking interest into a business for a long time. Last summer, they made the decision to rise to the occasion.
“I was tired of going to a job every day that wasn’t meaningful and that didn’t challenge me,” Derek says. “So we made the decision to move back home to Kansas City, where we could pursue my passion for food.”
Now, Derek works closely with his retail clients to develop menus and baked goods that best suit their audience. For example, he created a Crow Pie with blackberry, cardamom and mascarpone cheese specifically for Crows Coffee that has been well received by customers.
Lucky Cakes specializes in “unique and unexpected flavor combinations.” Besides maple bacon scones, he also makes lemon basil cakes, stout cupcakes, blueberry lemon mint scones, and (heaven help us), Earl Grey, jasmine, and chai tea cakes. Leave room for apple cheddar scones, sour cream sugar cookies, and jalapeño cheddar cornbread. And grab a maple bacon scone for the road purely on principle.
Derek bakes with locally sourced ingredients when he can. Participating in farmers markets helps to provide Lucky Cakes with a direct source for weekly fresh produce and herbs.
Hand pies, another specialty of Lucky Cakes, are literally a hand-sized pocket of Derek’s pie dough loaded with sweet and savory fillings.
He says, “It is a sort of a hybrid pie-pastry dough, baked until crispy and then topped with Sugar in the Raw.”
Hand pie flavors include cherry bourbon made with J. Rieger & Co.’s Kansas City Whiskey, rum apple, cream cheese rhubarb, and blueberry lemon with made-from-scratch lemon curd. His latest, a breakfast pie, combines eggs, ham, cheese and green chili.
In addition to the regular menu, Lucky Cakes takes custom orders with advance notice for special occasion cakes and other goods. Lucky Cakes also delivers anywhere in the metro.
As far as the business name, Jess Toms came up with the memorable moniker. “It’s a tribute to Derek’s dad,” she says. “His nickname is Lucky, and all of his friends used to call Derek ‘Little Luck.’”
“The nickname stuck with me over the years,” adds Derek. “That’s also why our tagline is ‘Flour, fondant and a Lil’ Luck.’”[Images via Lucky Cakes]