On A Corridor Of Chaos, Natalie’s Cakes Thrives One Year After Mike Brown’s Death
It’s been a year since parts of Ferguson burned – twice.
The first time happened on August 9th, 2014, after 18-year-old Mike Brown was shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson. The second time was on November 24th after a grand jury decided to not persecute Wilson.
When all was said and done, over a dozen businesses had been damaged or completely destroyed by the unrest. The vast majority of damage has fallen on the shoulders of small businesses. One of those businesses badly damaged was Natalie’s Cakes and More, which is located downtown along Ferguson’s main business district.
Last year we profiled Natalie Cakes shortly after the first round of unrest. Then, its owner, Natalie DuBose, was a new proprietor and her shop had only been open two months prior to Brown’s murder. A single mother who had worked a series of dead-end and disappointing jobs, the cake shop was her life’s dream finally realized.
Thankfully, it survived the night of unrest, but DuBose was worried about what effects the city’s growing reputation of hostile racial indifference was going to have on business. Images of a burning Ferguson, along with a heavily-armed police force, were beamed out through the media to the entire world. Foot traffic along the normally active business corridor had ground to a halt and cake orders were being cancelled as customers were reluctant to travel to the city out of fear. In spite of the uncertainty, DuBose said then that she was hopeful things would get better.
But it didn’t, at least not at first. On the night of the grand jury announcement the cake shop, along with several others along the corridor, had been attacked and looted. Although her store didn’t burn, it had its windows smashed, its storefront trashed, and suffered thousands in damages. With no way to pay for repairs, DuBose said then that she felt like all the time and money she had put into her dream had gone up in flames, just like the rest of Ferguson.
That was until her story was profiled by a local news station who just so happened to be out on the business corridor the moment DuBose discovered the damage to her business. National news outlets would pick up the story and Dubose’s tear-soaked face would become a symbol of the innocent bystanders who were affected by the unrest.
DuBose’s story would resonate with people. Donations poured in from all over the world through a GoFundMe page DuBose had established to help pay for repairs. Some donations came from dubious supporters including the Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh and members of the conservative right, which tried to use her story as a counter-narrative to the Black Lives Matter movement. But in a matter of a couple of weeks, DuBose had raised over $217,000.
Today, Natalie’s Cakes is busier than it had ever been. Not only was DuBose able to rebuild her storefront, which includes a full baking kitchen, she’s also hired 13 new employees to help her keep up with all the new accounts she’s receiving. She’s also acquired several new prestigious customers: Washington University and Starbucks Coffee, which is now featuring her signature caramel cake at several of its local coffeeshops as part of its efforts to support Ferguson in its economic recovery.
“Not to mention I have a ton of smaller accounts from local sales, which is kind of keeping us busy,” Dubose told us. “It’s all so crazy, but I feel blessed.”
DuBose said that she has been encouraged by the phone calls, donations and letters she continues to receive from supporters from around the world. They have been following her progress through Facebook and Twitter and their support is a reminder that hard work does pay off.
“I am just grateful that I can truly live my dreams. I don’t have to work two or three jobs anymore. I can just take my kids to school and pick them up from school and still be able to come back and do what is is that I truly love to do. And that is bake cake and decorate. So when I say I am truly grateful, I mean that words can’t express my gratitude for being at this point of my life right now,” she said.
DuBose said that she is still in a state of shock and awe at all of the opportunities, which have come her direction. More specifically, she said that she is genuinely surprised by how far she has come in one year. She recalls a time when she couldn’t count $12 in her register and had to take on a job at a hotel to make up for what she wasn’t making at the cake shop. “I told God that things had to get better and He made it happen,” she said.
DuBose realizes she is fortunate: many of the businesses affected by the unrest will likely never return. To the right of the cake shop used to be Dot’s Accounting & Tax Service. And to the left of her is a traffic law firm, which still wears the boarded up scars from when it had its windows broken. And West Florissant Avenue, which is right around the corner from where Mike Brown died, is littered with the burnt shells of where area businesses met their final demise.
DuBose is not sure why her story resonated so much with people, but she said that she now plans on using her blessings to be a pillar in the community. She is most proud that she is able to offer jobs to mostly young people, which helps to promote economic development and recovery in Ferguson.
As far as how she feels about the conservative right using her story for their own interest, she said “Honestly, I don’t get involve in politics because at the end of the day, all I am trying to do is take care of my children. And all I have to say to them [the conservative right] is thank you.”