Dean Jacobs, founder of Dean’s Cake House, passes away at 89

Published 6:30 pm Friday, June 28, 2024

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Andalusia has lost an icon of its flourishing food industry on Tuesday with the passing of Wilma Dean Jacobs, founder of Dean’s Cake House.

While her baking business had humble beginnings, Jacob’s seven-layer cake quickly became a must-have, not just locally, but across the state and beyond. Jacobs was working in a grocery store deli in the early 1990s and would often bring in one of her own cakes, bringing rave reviews and requests for more from customers. In 1994, at the age of 60, she opened Dean’s Cake House, which grew to filling order from across the South and became a must-stop for many beach travelers. According to its website, about 60 percent of the business’s customers are out of state.

Among the early supporters who encouraged Jacobs to take the leap into the food industry was Patricia Barnes, creator of Sister Schubert rolls.

“I first met Dean when I was in Troy and was just beginning my roll business. She came over and said she was thinking about starting a cake business because she had been making them at Piggly Wiggly. She asked for advice — I was new to the business myself — but, told her she had to believe in herself and give it all she had. She did that and had a wonderful product, so the success she had was no surprise. Our friendship grew over the years and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her and her family. We never had a get-together at my bakery where we didn’t have a Dean’s cake,” Barnes said.

The success of Dean’s Cake House allowed the business to grow to 18 employees, many of them senior citizens, who produce about 400-500 seven-layer cakes per day, in addition to other products like brownies, cookies, lemon cheese cake, fudge and hundreds of two-layer cakes.

Sonya Hutto worked alongside Jacobs for 14 years at Dean’s Cake House.

“Miss Dean ran a fast-paced business, wanted work done the right way, and cared so much about her customers as well as her employees,” Huttos said. “Her age did not define her, as she did not slow down. She ran circles around people much younger. She loved meeting new people and getting to know her customers, whether it was their first time coming in or a repeat customer. I really looked up to her and had a close bond with her. She had a heart like no other, has definitely left a legacy, and made a huge impression on my life. She is going to be greatly missed.”

Over the years, Dean’s Cake House has been featured in multiple magazines, newspapers, and television shows. In 2021, the business was recognized by Governor Kay Ivey as part of a “Made In Alabama” Showcase, a program that recognizes the achievements of the state’s homegrown businesses and industries.

Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson said Jacobs and Dean’s Cake House helped make the city unique and known to people far outside its borders.

“Mrs. Dean and her delicious seven-layer cakes helped put Andalusia on the map, and caused a whole lot of people to stop in Andalusia on their way to the beach to stock for vacation, or take a cake home when they headed north,” Mayor Earl Johnson said. “All over the country, when I say I’m from Andalusia, people respond with ‘Dean’s Cake House!’”

Mayor Johnson said all of Mrs. Dean’s cakes are good, but his personal favorite is the seven-layer chocolate.

“That one would be awfully hard to beat,” he said.

“I was sorry to learn of her passing this week,” Johnson said. “We extend our sympathies to her family, and to the cake ladies, who were extended family to her.”

A funeral for Jacobs will be held Monday, July 1, 10:30 a.m., at the Carolina Baptist Church Family Life Center. Interment will follow at the Carolina Baptist Church Cemetery. Mrs. Jacobs’ full obituary is available here.