Alumnus Credits Wake Forest with His Sweet Success

12.14.2022 Alumni News, MBA

As the president of his family’s small business, Richard Reutter (MBA ’16) has expanded Caroline’s Cakes to a nationally recognized company. Alumni Council member Emily Batista (MSBA ’18) talks with him about his journey to Wake Forest, his advice for building and expanding a family business, and how people are the heart of his sweet success.

Emily: You’ve worked in your family business for almost 18 years. Did you always see yourself working for your family business, or is this an unexpected twist in your career path?

Richard: First of all, I’d like to start by saying my business wouldn’t be where it was today without the connections and experience that I gained at Wake Forest. Before I embarked on my career journey with Caroline’s Cakes, I had always enjoyed helping Mom in the family business before I was paid to do so. On breaks from boarding school and college, I would help with shipments. I was planning to go to law school after college up until graduation day, when I decided to take a new path and started job hunting. At that point, Caroline’s Cakes had just opened its first storefront. Mom approached me about a year after graduating and said there was an open position within the business if I was interested. That position was a dishwasher, and I took it. It was really important to my mom that I experience the business, inside and out, and grow from the ground floor.

Emily: What made you decide to attend the Wake Forest MBA program almost 10 years after graduating from college? Were there skills you needed or desired to be successful as President of Caroline’s Cakes? Why did you choose Wake Forest?

Richard: When I graduated college, Caroline’s Cakes was based in Annapolis, Maryland. Shortly after graduation, I had applied to the MBA program at the Darden School at the University of Virginia – and was denied admission. I called the admissions office and told them there was a problem with my application, because I was supposed to be admitted. Unfortunately, that didn’t get me in, but it did get me an interview. From there, I was told that I needed professional experience to really be successful in the program. I took that to heart and got to work. Fast forward 10 years and Caroline’s Cakes had grown to a point where we needed that extra level of business expertise. My brother-in-law, Mac, had applied to the Wake Forest Charlotte MBA program and encouraged me to apply with him. When I got to Charlotte and walked through the doors, I immediately saw myself there.

Emily: Your mother’s cakes have been included on Oprah’s favorite things list an astounding four times – 2011, 2017, 2020, and now in 2022. What does that mean to you, your company, and your mother’s legacy?

Richard: It means a tremendous amount to be acknowledged on a national level as a small business. The process of being included on Oprah’s favorite things list happened purely by word of mouth. Mom never knew a stranger and eventually someone on Oprah’s team heard our story and knew our product, and we got the opportunity to send them a cake for consideration for Oprah’s favorite things list. This year we are honored to have also been included in the New York Times 2022 Holiday Gift Guide. My next goal is to have Mom’s story put in print in the New York Times. The worst thing you can hear is no, so why not try? Almost everything I do is done in an effort to make my mom proud. This business is very close to my heart. I have a personal connection to so many of our customers because they know our story and we want to know their stories. The cakes we sell are a “want” product, not a “need”. While I personally think everyone should want cakes, it’s our customer relationships that drive demand.

Emily: What advice do you give to other business graduates working for their family business?

Richard: I encourage people to be aggressive about getting their story out there. The MBA coursework really encouraged me to apply what I was learning inside the classroom to my business and my life. While I was studying at Wake Forest, finance was the most challenging and most rewarding subject. Through my coursework, I took a hard look at the financials of Caroline’s Cakes; I learned how to navigate changing economic conditions, how to be competitive in contract negotiations, and how to establish successful business relationships.

Emily: What is your favorite Caroline’s Cake, and how did the motto “Eat Cake. Be Happy.” come to pass?

Richard: My favorite cake is, and will always be, our 7-Layer Caramel Cake. This cake was first served at my christening in 1982. From there, it was word of mouth that transformed my mom’s hobby into a business. Our company motto, “Eat Cake. Be Happy.”, is as simple as it gets. We think everyone should eat cake and be happy. It’s how we want to treat our customers and all our employees at Caroline’s Cakes, because taking care of people is the foundation of this business.