Living the Sweet Life
By Rick Stanfield
The story of how Sweet Henrietta’s Treats was born is one that most people don’t know, not even most of our family. The idea of a food truck in which we baked cupcakes and birthday cakes sprouted while Tina and I slept in a borrowed car because the bank foreclosed on our home. How could this happen to us when we had just made over three hundred thousand dollars the year before and several other years before that one?
Let’s start from the beginning.
I fell in love with Tina when I saw her in our fifth-grade class and somehow knew that she was the person I wanted to marry. By some miracle of God, she liked me too. We have been together nearly every day since. We married when we were eighteen years old and had our only child, Ricky Jr., when we were nineteen. Tina and I both worked full-time, and I also attended college full-time. We loved each other and Little Ricky more than anyone could imagine.
I was accepted into the Missouri State Highway Patrol Academy in 1993, and after finishing the Academy, I served as a state trooper for several years. I also worked with the Division of Drug and Crime Control as a covert drug agent for the State of Missouri.Tina and I had always been aggressive with small business ventures since we first met at around twelve years old. We would order cheap novelties from catalogs and sell them for profit at our weekly yard sales. We stepped it up a little when we were in our twenties and decided to build a convenience store. It’s still hard to believe that a bank would loan a penniless state trooper and his wife five hundred thousand dollars to build a new store in an undeveloped area. We had never worked at a convenience store nor did we have any knowledge about them, and the first three years after the store opened were the toughest of our lives. We worked about twenty hours every day while raising our son. Many nights, Little Ricky slept in one of the booths at the store.
Then, miraculously it seemed, the store began to make money. We invested our profits by purchasing several other stores over the next few years. We had five stores at one point, and they became one of the most successful small chains of convenience stores in southern Missouri before we sold them all.
We invested heavily in real estate after several consistent years of progress. Tina and I owned four homes that were worth millions of dollars, and we had hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity. Our stores were also worth hundreds of thousands of dollars more than we owed on them, so we were financially sound—or so we thought.
Tina, Ricky, and I vacationed in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, every year and fell in love with a small section of the beach on the Gulf of Mexico. We impulsively decided to sell our homes and businesses to move. We also had a family member who had just completed a franchise model for his business. How could the stars align any better? We had buyers for most of our residential properties and all of our businesses. Perfect!
We found our dream home, paid a large down payment, and moved. We also found a location for our new business on Scenic Highway 30-A and had a couple of business partners from back home to help get everything started at the first franchise location.
Now, here’s where the story begins a free fall into homelessness.
My entire life, I had been taught that real estate investments were secure and their value would steadily increase over time. I believed this, and it always held true for me until around 2008. It seemed as if the real estate market values dropped by 50 percent overnight. As the recession took hold, people stopped vacationing, and our new business—located in an area dependent upon tourism—struggled to get off the ground. Our homes that were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars more than we owed on them were suddenly worth less than we owed. Our investments became our debts, and we couldn’t resurface.
As the recession took hold, people stopped vacationing, and our new business—located in an area dependent upon tourism—struggled to get off the ground. Our homes that were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars more than we owed on them were suddenly worth less than we owed. Our investments became our debts, and we couldn’t resurface.
Cash flow from the sale of our stores came to a halt, and we were not paid for all of the inventory left behind. We were also waiting for money from the sale of one house in Missouri which never came. It was like a financial perfect storm. We gave my vehicle back to the bank because we could not afford it, and one morning we looked outside to see that the bank had repossessed my wife’s car. My son’s followed. I had purchased my mother a car that was collateral on a loan, and the bank took it too. We were left with an old convertible that we could not drive for more than twenty miles without it overheating, and the top leaked horribly. To make things worse, it had been loaned to me by a business partner, and the license plate was expired. We bought two bicycles with money we made from cleaning vacation rental houses.
The franchisors repossessed our restaurant equipment, and our new business failed. Tina and I began cleaning houses full-time to pay the bills, but we couldn’t keep up. My son called one day to tell me he was in front of our home with his new high school friends when the police served him with an eviction notice. They posted an orange poster on our front door while Ricky watched. They gave us twenty-four hours to get out. I called the people who owed us money, but they wouldn’t answer. We had no choice but to send Ricky to a friend’s home while Tina and I slept in that old car. We had $19.70 to our name. Our family back in Missouri was barely paying their bills, and we were too proud to ask anyone else for help or even tell anyone what was going on. It never crossed our minds to ask for any public assistance, and I’m proud that we didn’t.
We had to move our vehicle frequently to keep it from being noticed because the plate was expired. We hid it by hanging our bicycles on the trunk so the police wouldn’t see. One night, while we parked at a public beach access at 2:00 a.m., it began to rain very hard. Tina and I were getting drenched, and while most people would have cried, we started to laugh and talk about the future, not the past. The smell of rain replaced the usual moldy, exhaust-fume smell of the car. The Gulf of Mexico’s waves were louder than ever but not in a frightening way; they were calming during this unsettled time in our lives.
The laughter turned into tears, but they were mostly tears of joy. It was like God had given us the answer we needed. Where else would this idea have come from?
We talked about starting a baking business and spoke about traveling the country in a food truck to help people in bad situations. We discussed making our living by attending festivals and events. The laughter turned into tears, but they were mostly tears of joy. It was like God had given us the answer we needed. Where else would this idea have come from? Two people with no bakery experience were going to make a living by selling cupcakes and cakes? Little did we know that on that rainy night, we planted the seed for Sweet Henrietta’s Treats.
Fast-forward seven years, to present day, and things are getting better. We have a food truck that we named after our border collie, Henrietta. We attend local farmer’s markets and events. The business is growing at a fast pace, and Sweet Henrietta’s Treats was named one of the best places on 30-A to buy baked goods. We are planning a Cupcake Tour across the country during which we’ll attend events and festivals and donate birthday cakes to homeless shelters, assisted living homes, and children’s homes. We also want to give a cake to people we meet who are doing good. This is a cake given for a random act of kindness; what a reward for a person’s good deed for the day! It’s a simple cake with a smiley face design on it and we call it the “Nicest Person Ever Cake.”
My family and I have been through difficult times, and it hurts me to write about it, but they made Tina, Ricky, and me stronger, better people. Although we tried to help others before all this happened, we didn’t care as much as we should have. We donated thousands of dollars and hundreds of cases of water to Hurricane Katrina victims, but I was also the guy who thought, “Why didn’t you just leave before the storm?” Now, I’m the guy who thinks, “Maybe you don’t have the money to evacuate. How can I help?” It’s simple: Do Good! You’ll never go wrong with this decision.
Sweet Henrietta’s Red Velvet Cupcakes
Red Velvet Cake
Ingredients: 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 1/2 cups sugar 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon cocoa 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil 1 cup buttermilk 2 large eggs (room temperature) 2 tablespoons red food coloring 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place cupcake liners into pans. In a large bowl, sift the sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa together. After that, add the flour to this mix. In a mixing bowl, add the oil, buttermilk, eggs, red food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla extract together and blend. Now, add the wet and dry ingredients together and blend. Pour your batter into the cupcake liners, filling them approximately 3/4 full. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. After the cupcakes cool, fill them with vanilla whipped cream.
Whipped Cream Filling
Ingredients: 4 tablespoons sugar 1 cup heavy whipping cream 2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract
Directions: Place a metal mixing bowl in the freezer and leave it for about 15 minutes. With a metal whisk attachment, blend the sugar and heavy whipping cream together until you see stiff peaks. Add your vanilla and blend for about another 30 seconds. Try to use all your filling when made because it’s best when fresh! It can be used the next day if stored in an airtight container and refrigerated.
Cream Cheese Frosting
Ingredients: 16 ounces cream cheese 2/3 cup unsalted butter, softened 4 cups powdered sugar 6 teaspoons clear vanilla extract
Directions: Now, just whip up your cream cheese and butter until the mixture is creamy. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract and whip until it’s smooth. You can always add more powdered sugar to make the frosting thicker, or more vanilla extract to make it thinner.
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