Growing up in Puerto Rico, a 6-year-old Kristina (Santiago) Lavallee ’13 often begged her mother for trips to the grocery store, just to peek through the glass display cases at the cakes and baked goods. Inspired, she returned home and eagerly practiced baking her own mini-cakes and cupcakes.
In Tampa, Florida, Kirby Lavallee ’09 launched his first business venture mowing neighborhood lawns at age 12. By the time he was 16, he had a trailer full of commercial lawn equipment and a roster of clients for landscaping jobs.
The baker and the business owner crossed paths years later while working at an Orlando Target, where Kristina regularly treated the team to her pastries and cakes.
“She was great with people, and she had a great product,” says Kirby. “I was like, ‘You’re onto something here.’ One day I called her ‘Cake Girl,’ and it just stuck.”
Two UCF degrees, a UCF engagement (at the Reflecting Pond) and a UCF wedding later, the newlywed Lavallees moved to Tampa. Kristina started working in the pastry arts field, while Kirby worked in law enforcement.
“At UCF, I got a bachelor’s in hospitality management and a bachelor’s in food service and restaurant management,” says Kristina. “Rosen College helped me learn the business side of baking.”
After working in several bakeries, she knew her real dream was opening a bakery of her own. She already had the perfect name: The Cake Girl.
At first, Kristina sold baked treats at farmers markets and events. Then the Lavallees invested in a food truck. When demand for The Cake Girl’s desserts exploded, they opened their first brick-and-mortar bakery in Tampa.
The bakery was so successful that Kirby soon joined Kristina full time. Within the 2 1/2 years, they moved to a nearby location with double the square footage. Kristina focuses on cake design, baking and operations while Kirby does sales, marketing and business development.
“A lot of people say, ‘How do you guys work together 24/7?’ ” says Kristina. “But it works for us. We each have our strengths.”
In the storefront, The Cake Girl sells mini-cupcakes, cake slices and gourmet ice cream. Cakes and cupcakes are made from scratch daily. They also specialize in custom cakes, many of which look straight out of the Netflix show Is It Cake?. Custom cake projects have included a grand prix racecar with a driver resembling the birthday boy, Baby Yoda, a bowl of ramen and an 8-foot-tall wedding cake.
During the pandemic, the Lavallees launched a new hit product: easy-to-ship, layered cake jars called Crave’n Cups. The Cake Girl has since sold 14,000 Crave’n Cups shipped as far as Alaska, Hawaii and even the U.K. Three hotels carry Crave’n Cups and restock weekly.
Kristina and Kirby hope to eventually expand via large-scale distribution or a franchise model. In the meantime, they’ll soon need a third delivery truck to accommodate their custom cake orders. They’ve experienced growth of 100% year over year, even during the pandemic.
“It’s still crazy sometimes when you look at all this,” says Kirby. “It happened so fast, right in front of our eyes.”
Kirby Lavallee ’09 and Kristina (Santiago) ’13
Baked goods made from scratch with the best ingredients and award-winning recipes
A lifelong love of baking that sparked The Cake Girl moniker
WeddingWire’s Couple’s Choice Award, Dessert Bar’s Sweetest Bakery in America — Florida, Tampa Bay Metro magazine’s Inspiring Women in Business, Dessert Wars Cake Showdown Winner, Best of the Bay Creative Loafing, People’s Choice — Best of the Best Tampa Bay Times