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From one cramped kitchen, a Lenexa bakery churns out 40,000 rum cakes every holiday season

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Deftly pouring batter into rum cake molds, Marisela Rivera makes the most of the small kitchen at Jude’s Rum Cakes in Old Town Lenexa. The business has been turning out thousands of fragrant cakes that ship around the country during the holidays.

From their small storefront in Old Town Lenexa, Jude’s Rum Cakes has been turning out thousands of tasty treats that ship around the country. It all started with a bottle of Panama rum and one family recipe.

The ovens are heating up inside Jude’s Rum Cakes, a narrow storefront in Old Town Lenexa. Owner Craig Adcock is vacuum-sealing finished cakes so they can be shipped out to customers.

“It's kind of a shotgun, long and narrow, kitchen space but it seems to work for us,” Adcock says. “Today, we're doing a combination of teaser cakes, the muffin size, the small and the large. And we do everything out of this little kitchen — 900 square feet.”

Rum cake season starts in early October and begins to taper off after the holidays. The rest of the year Adcock operates a small, farm-to-table restaurant called Table Ocho. He says staying busy keeps him going.

“The six months with the restaurant and the six months with rum cakes just kind of intertwine, and it makes for a good life,” Adcock says.

Adcock's cake-baking started 22 years ago with a birthday cake. His mother-in-law, Judy Erb, baked him a rum cake. She used an old family recipe and a bottle of rum he brought back from Panama, where he served with the National Guard. The two worked together to perfect the recipe, and sold 80 cakes their first year.

Since then the business has grown. Now Adcock’s kitchen turns out 40,000 rum cakes a year.

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
With rum cake season heating up, owner Craig Adcock has been facing the rising costs of packaging and shipping. It’s caused him to reluctantly raise the price of his rum cakes. He says longtime customers have been supportive as he navigates supply chain issues.

“So there's 6 ounces of rum in every cake, but it seems to just really balance out and layer everything between the butter that becomes the oils, the eggs, the mix,” Adcock says. “It's a nice balance. No rough edges.”

When he first started out, Adcock bought pallets of rum from a distillery in Haiti. When a catastrophic earthquake interrupted his supply, he used a New Orleans distillery for awhile.

But after a few inconsistent batches he says it made sense to create his own brand. It’s made with Louisiana sugarcane, barrel-aged two-and-a-half years and produced in small batches by the craft distillery Rocheport Distilling Co. Adcock says the switch also reduced their carbon footprint.

Back in the kitchen, Marisela Rivera is buttering Bundt cake pans. After 15 years working with Adcock, rum cakes have become a part of her holiday tradition.

“Yes, I love (them) every time, and my family too,” Rivera explains. “Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and for birthdays, too.”

Sourcing the finest local ingredients is Adcock’s mission. The pecans he uses in his rum cakes come from a 200-year-old orchard in Nevada, Missouri, and Adcock has tried pecans from all over. 

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Golden cakes cool after baking in the oven. After soaking in Adcock’s custom-made brand of Trademark Denied Rum, they are vacuum-sealed and frozen to keep them fresh.

“Missouri pecans, they're just phenomenal,” he says. “So I grew up in Mississippi. We had 13 trees on our property and so I know pecans because that's what we did all damn summer and into the fall is, you know, crack damn pecans.”

When Adcock moved to the Kansas City area, he discovered that the smaller, Missouri pecan trees are the original, native ones.

“The ones that we had in Mississippi are a hybrid,” Adcock says. “So the ones in Mississippi are bigger, but these are smaller. But they pack more punch.”

Adcock says running a small business means constantly adapting to a changing landscape. Staying nimble is key.

“This is kind of my anxious time because I'm ordering everything,” Adcock says. “I’m also balancing my budget. And there's so many moving parts that sometimes you forget how intense it is, but, you know, everything's kind of coming together.”

This year supply chain issues have caused his costs to go up.

“The supply chain is real,” Adcock says. "Like my same cake boards, three years ago I was paying like 19 cents, now I'm paying 55 cents per round ... and then my boxes went up like 30%.”

It’s a cost Adcock has reluctantly passed on to his customers.

“People have been really, really great,” Adcock says. “I think it's important to be transparent and, you know, just take people on the journey with you.”

With the cakes out of the oven, Rivera adds the rum glaze. The warm, buttery smell fills the kitchen. 

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Adcock holds a rum cake encrusted with Missouri pecans as a fresh batch of cakes cool behind him.

“When it’s really cold outside, it’s kind of cool because my side of Old Town smells like rum cakes,” Adcock says. 

Next door at Heart of America Locksmith, service manager Alex Gravino says the afternoon bakes can be a distraction.

“Their kitchen lines up with the back of our store so any time we're walking back there and they're cooking, it just kind of bleeds through the wall,” Gravino says.

“It's the smell of rum mixed with pastry,” Gravino continues. “You’re just over here trying to do work and, all of a sudden — I'm hungry now.”

For Adcock, the customers who return each year make the hard work worthwhile.

“It's fun to be able to do what you do and for people to appreciate it, to get it, and to allow you to continue doing what you do,” Adcock says.

Rum cake season heats up in the weeks after Thanksgiving. Until then, he’s back to sealing up finished cakes, so he’ll be ready when the orders come in.

Julie Denesha is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Kansas City. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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