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Photo by Lee Tomkow
Craig AdcockMr. Craig Adcock, owner of Jude’s Rum Cake (KC, NOL A,and Key West) and Belly Up BBQ – based in Kansas City.www.judesrumcake.com
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I am very thankful to Mr. Craig Adcock, owner of Jude’s Rum Cake (KC, NOLA, and Key West) and Belly Up BBQ – based in Kansas City, for his time for this exclusive interview. I am very excited to share this interview with all of our readers as this is the first time we have ever interviewed someone about rum cakes.
I thank you, Craig, first and foremost, for your service to our country and secondly for your absolutely delicious rum cakes. I wish you all the very best!
-Margaret Ayala, Publisher
Q: How did you get star ted in the rum cake business?
I’ve always been a BBQ guy that happens to make a rum cake. My Mother- in- law (Jude) made a birthday dessert for me in 1996, it was a Rum Cake. She used a rum that I brought back from a trip to Panama. Over the years, the cake gained momentum and exposure across the nation. In 2008, I left the corporate world to become a full - time rum cake maker and caterer. Over the past 10 years the rum cake started to take the spot light, so now, I am a rum cake guy that happens to barbeque (and drink a little wine).
Q: How many different rum cakes do you currently make?
I make one flavor of rum cake in 4 sizes. I would rather do a few things very well, than several things not so well. I source my rum from Old New Orleans Rum located in the 9th Ward in New Orleans. My pecans come from Nevada, Missouri and are the best I have ever tasted (and I grew up in MS with 25 pecan trees and a single pecan cracker – funny, those pecans were a hybrid of the Missouri pecans). I try to source as many products locally as possible. Nordic Ware provides all my cake pans and I use Ergo Chef knives (both American companies). My shipping boxes are made in KC, my vacuum sealer is made in KC, and all the restaurants that share the cake on their menu are locally owned and believe in the concept of reciprocal spend.
Q: Do you ship your cakes throughout the USA?
Yes! Last year, we produced 15,000 cakes. I think I took the road less traveled. Ten years ago, we produced 75 cakes. In 2012, we hit 15,000. About 80% of my business is direct to consumer and has grown word of mouth. I am in two retail outlets – One in KC (McGonigles Market) and one in the Napa Valley (CalMart) - - both mom and pop type shops with a commitment to excellent products and customer focus. In the past, I have sold the cakes in some of the ‘high profile’ stores, but it just wasn’t a fit for me - - too much focus on ROI, instead of the customer experience.
Q: Do you ship your cakes outside of the USA? I f so, where? If not , do you have any plans of going international?
I often ship cakes to soldiers overseas. I also include a seasoning packet of my bbq rubs and a handwritten note thanking each for their service. My wife and I both are prior military, so I understand, respect, and truly appreciate each service member’s commitment. It’s really cool when I receive photos from across the globe of clients that have shared the cakes with friends and family. I would like to expand my international shipping; I just need to figure out the shipping costs and how to make the costs feasible. When I ship a $50 rum cake to New Zealand, the shipping is $48 - - ugg!
Q: Do you have any plans to develop new rum- flavored cakes?
I have toyed with the idea of creating a cake for the mass market, but then again, I ’m not a huge fan of synthetic extracts, commodity nuts, and all the byproducts.
Q: Is there something unique about your company and/or product(s)?
Most people don’t know that I own and operate 2 businesses. Next to the rum cake business, I also operate Belly Up BBQ - - a gourmet grilling and catering company. I really dig the ‘experience.’ I cater for small groups and travel of ten to cook for winemakers, chefs, musicians, and friends (rum cake is ALWAYS included on my menu).
I am fortunate to have business year round. I have several restaurants that share the cakes on their menus across the nation. The cakes are currently shared on (locally owned) menus in Key West, Tampa, Des Moines, Kansas City – MO /KS, New Orleans, and Napa Valley.
Typically, the rum cake side kicks into full production mode in early September through late January. The bbq side of the business kicks into gear February – September. There is definitely cross over and the days are PACKED ! The two businesses allow me to shift back and forth between each and not become complacent.
Q: What have been some of the greatest challenges/obstacles you have encountered thus far?
I think the greatest challenge has been sustaining a small business over the past 4 years (economy). My product is a luxury item and people do love it, but when discretionary spend becomes limited, sometimes, I feel the impact.
Another challenge is maintaining ongoing relationships with restaurants, suppliers, vendors and customers. It is not that difficult, but as we’ve grown from 75 units to 15,000, so has my list of partners and customers. I want to ensure their experience is optimal.
The other significant challenge has been maintaining the ‘Quality’ of the cake - - when I made 100 cakes, it was easy to source the best products. As I grew, I had to make sure that I would have access to 1000 lbs of pecans over the 4q – even in down harvest years. I feel very confident in my partners and their commitment to their craft and our relationship. The first 9 years of the business, I sourced my rum from Haiti. The product was great, but the company was not flexible to work with me on alternative and green packaging. After the earthquake, the product was somewhat limited in the US (I was right at 5% of their US consumption) - - I loved the product, but I longed to bring the spend back to the States. I found an interim rum, but it wasn’t a reciprocal relationship. After Katrina devastated New Orleans, I really wanted to help - - I toured Old New Orleans Rum Company last year, and the rest will be history - - these kats are really cool, committed to the community, green, located in the devastated 9th Ward, and overall nice people running a solid business (after Katrina, they had 12 barrels floating).
Q: Could you describe to our readers your everyday activities? In other words, how much time do you dedicate to product development, marketing, etc…?
During 1Q and 2Q, we typically bake about a week a month. The 3rd and 4th Q, we don’t stop baking! My catering business allows me to travel quite a bit. I spend much of my time marketing and trying to develop and maintain relationships with industry peers and new customers. I spend quite a bit of time on social media platforms – Facebook is an incredible tool if used properly. I also use Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. I am fortunate that my customers repeat orders each year and often share with new friends. The business is growing, and there is always room for another customer. As any small business owner will acknowledge, there are no set hours for work. We are always working, marketing, sharing and trying to grow the business.
Q: Have you had to adjust your rum cake flavor/ingredients to keep up with changing patterns in the market?
No. I will not sell an inferior product. I have maintained quality ingredients over the past 10 years. Now, I am about as local as I can be (rum from NOLA, pecans from MO, pans, knives, and packaging is local). My rum cake prices have not changed in 8 years. I still have people that raise their eyebrows when I tell them the cake is $50. I tell them about my products and commitment to locally sources products and let them decide. I have tried to pass on my savings (in bulk item purchases) to the customer by not increasing my price.
Q: Do you have any advice for anyone who is considering starting his/her own rum cake business in the USA?
Plan to do a lot of dishes! Our 11 year old goddaughter stays with us a week each summer. She summed it up by saying, “people think that caterers and smal l business owners make a lot of money. I mean, you make money, but you have to spend a lot on ingredients and products, and then you spend a lot of time working, cleaning and delivering. It’s a lot of work for not much money.”
Beyond that, try to connect with some people in a similar business. Some people will share insight and lessons learned, some won’t (stay away from the latter). Do the right things for the right reasons, and BE NICE!
I ’m an open book to my peers, to the point that sometimes, I even get taken advantage of, but hey that ’s life. If anyone wants to chat, give me a call, I ’m always at the other end of my cell phone.
Q: If people want to contact you or want to know how to get a hold of your rum cakes, how may they reach you?
My website is www.judesrumcake.com I also take orders by phone 913.526.6708. My Facebook and other social media platforms are under Craig Adcock, so you can reach me there also.
Q: Is there a particular message or comment you would like to share with our readers?
Thanks for taking the time to read this and get to know me. If you’re ever in KC, please give me a shout and swing by the kitchen – we’ll pop some corks and have some cake!