Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Sweet Cakes, Friendly Faces; Cafe Eloise Started with a Simple Idea

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Sweet Cakes, Friendly Faces; Cafe Eloise Started with a Simple Idea

Article excerpt

Byline: KAY DAY

Eloise Kerr caught the entrepreneurial spirit when she was a child. She'd buy a box of candy from a sales truck that called on her Selma, Ala., neighborhood. Then she'd resell it at school.

She's a full-time entrepreneur now, with a restaurant that's become a gathering place for the community. Cafe Eloise is in Tin City Antique Mall on San Jose Boulevard in the heart of Mandarin.

Kerr knows people in just about every business along the main traffic artery in her community. Since moving to Mandarin eight years ago, she's met hairstylists and dentists, doctors and teachers, lawyers and other restaurateurs. Members in one of the oldest garden clubs in Jacksonville, the Mandarin Garden Club, eat in her cafe every Thursday.

She met all these people by way of her cakes.

Arriving in Jacksonville for a visit with her aunt in 1997, Kerr hadn't planned to settle down, but her aunt here became ill. Then another aunt in Orlando passed away.

"I had to stay and take care of the estate," Kerr said. Meanwhile, her aunt's Jacksonville church was trying to rebuild. Then she happened to watch Oprah Winfrey's TV show about making a difference in the community.

She conceived the notion of selling little cakes to raise money for the church.

"During my walks in the morning, I would go through neighborhoods." Pretty soon, basket on her arm, Kerr began to knock on residential and business doors to sell her cakes. News of the tasty cakes spread. People began to call her "The Cake Lady." And within a short time Kerr, who retired from the U.S. Army in 1996 with a rank of major, had raised more than $13,000 for the church's building fund.

One thing led to another and the restaurant space in the antique mall became available. The business people and residents who loved her cakes figured her cooking must be as good as her baking. …

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