‘Cake Lady’ Bisbee will retire this summer
After years of providing cakes for special occasions in Stanton and the surrounding area, “Cake Lady” Eileen Bisbee will be hanging up her apron next year.
Originally from Red Oak, Bisbee and her husband David have lived in Stanton for the past 43 years. While she’s always had a passion for baking, Bisbee said she was inspired to turn her love of baking into a profession in the early 1970s.
“It was either 1972 or ’73 that I took a two-day course through the Iowa State University Extension, led by Mrs. Faye Wookey, who was the cake decorator in the area. She was very good. I really enjoyed the class, and it took off from there. As for learning cake making, as it was before internet, I learned from what she showed me, and taught me, and from cookbooks from the Wilton Company,” Bisbee said.
Bisbee said she was a frustrated cake decorator until Wookey showed her how to “pipe the roses.” Bisbee started off baking for friends and family before expanding.
“I started expanding to the business side of things in the early 1980s, about the time my son was one year old. In fact, at that time, when brides would put their write-ups in the paper, some would include that the cake was done by Eileen Bisbee, and that was really when I decided that I needed to turn it into a full business. I got my tax permit, and then talked with the State of Iowa to determine what I could bake in my own kitchen at home, and I only did cakes,” explained Bisbee.
Over the years, Bisbee said she kept up on trends that came and went, and tried other techniques to expand her knowledge.
“I experimented with foreign techniques, which are very elaborate, difficult, and time consuming, but they were fun to try. Fondant became popular about 15 years ago as well, and I had already tried it before it became popular,” Bisbee said. “While it makes a perfect covering on the cake, and allows for elaborate decorations, I didn’t do it much, and I’ve stuck to a cream-based frosting.”
While she’s made hundreds of cakes for weddings, Bisbee said her favorite cake to make was actually for an event for the City of Stanton, and not a wedding.
“The first big Stanton homecoming event, they went all out and were having a big dinner, and asked me if I could do cake. Initially, I was going to do some sheet cakes, but they I decided to show off, and made a huge cake in Swedish colors, and a Viking ship, and a water tower, and it was a lot of fun. Time consuming, I worked on it for a week, but it was great fun,” commented Bisbee.
As for making a wedding cake, Bisbee said the time was always variable depending on the size of the cake and the layers.
“I’d have to bake and freeze the top layers, and then I’d thaw them out and put them together two days before the event, frost them the day before the event, and then take them to the site in pieces and construct them on-site,” stated Bisbee.
In addition to her work for special events, Bisbee also led a class for kids at the Stanton School District, and showed them the basics. Bisbee taught the class for about five years before the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to it. Bisbee said she’s open to doing more classes like that in the future.
“It has crossed my mind, and I’ve done little demonstrations throughout my career. I’d probably do small demonstrations, but as far as doing it for a class, I’m not sure. Still, they might not need me, and anything someone needs to know they can find through online videos now. I’ve even learned some things from those videos myself. If I was asked though, I’d do it.” Bisbee said.
While she’ll still be baking for awhile, Bisbee said she’s planning on her official retirement on her birthday, July 18, 2023.
“I’ve been thinking about it for while, and when my husband retired, people kind of assumed I had retired to, even though I hadn’t. Part of the reason I’m looking at retiring now is because baking cakes for events is a weekend job, and I’ve been unable to attend family events due to work conflicts. Initially, I was planning on retiring last December, but I had weddings booked into September of this year, so I decided on my birthday to make it official. If anyone wants a cake prior to that date, I can still make it for them,” advised Bisbee.
After she retires, Bisbee said she hopes to travel and also plans to visit her kids and grandkids in Stanton, Des Moines, and Cedar Rapids. Still, Bisbee said she’s going to miss it.
“It’s been a big part of our lives, and I’ve been the cake lady for around 50 years, so it’s been bittersweet. And I’ve been able to work at home and raise my kids, which couldn’t have been nicer,” Bisbee commented.
As she reflects on her time as “The Cake Lady,” Bisbee said he fondest memories will be of making people happy.
“It’s a fun job to be involved with people’s celebrations. I’ll miss that, and I’ll miss getting feedback from my brides. Some of them froze the top layer of their cake and ate it on their first anniversary, and all of them told me is tasted just as good as it did on their wedding day,” Bisbee said.
Bisbee plans to keep on baking for family. She expressed her appreciation to all the people she worked with over the years.
“My first thank you is to God, for giving me the talent, strength, and courage to power through. My next thank you is to my husband and family, who have been so supportive. I couldn’t do it without them. And my third thank you, of course, is to my wonderful, loyal customers, and give them pleasure."