THREE RIVERS – What started as a hobby and soon grew bigger than its founders ever imagined is now a Three Rivers landmark — The Piggy Cakes bakery located at the corner of North Haborth (Highway 281) and Alexander Street in Three Rivers.
Since the business opened in April 2018, delivering delicious sweets (and the occasional loaves of bread), the results which have kept the mother-daughter team of owner/baker Mary Wernli and Melissa Rena so busy speak for themselves. As of Nov. 14:
• More than 7,000 cupcakes sold
• 317 custom cakes designed
• 1,200 cheesecakes made
That doesn’t count the numerous cookies, muffins, cinnamon rolls and other baked goods, such as pecan bars, that customers have enjoyed over the past year and a half.
Reyna said the bakery attracted more business than she thought it would, “especially for a small town.” In addition to local customers, people traveling on Highway 281 have noticed the towering Piggy Cakes sign and stopped in, and it’s the delicious baked goods that keep them coming back.
“Someone from Dallas said she was driving to the Valley and saw our sign, and she had to stop in,” Reyna said. “We’ve had customers from all over come in. One guy is a truck driver who travels all over the United States, and when he’s in town he has to get his coconut cake.”
“He told me it was the best cake he’d ever had, but maybe he was just being nice,” Wernli said with a smile.
The hardest part of starting the business has been keeping up with demand, Reyna said.
“It’s just the two of us, and when we started we didn’t even have a big mixer, just two tiny mixers,” she said. “It was tough keeping up with what everyone wanted when we first started. Now we can just crank things out, and we’ve refined our recipes, so it’s gotten much easier.”
Wernli worked as a nurse before retiring, and Reyna worked at the nursing home in George West. The idea of being able to work together in a bakery was something that intrigued them.
The first cake Wernli and Reyna designed was for a co-worker of Reyna’s husband at the Live Oak County Sheriff’s Office.
“My husband told me he needed a chihuahua cake for a co-worker,” Reyna said. “I asked if he meant a cake for a chihuahua, and he said no, a cake that looks like a chihuahua. That cake got everything started.”
Impressed by the way the cake turned out, employees of the sheriff’s office asked for another cake, and got one with a Mr. Grinch theme for Christmas.
“It sort of snowballed from there,” Reyna said.
They started out working in Wernli’s home kitchen, but quickly saw the need to expand.
“Working out of her kitchen got to be too much, so we started looking for a building,” Reyna said.
The former Finders Keepers boutique, which previously had been a restaurant, was available, and it seemed the perfect location.
“I waitressed here when I was in high school,” Wernli said. “It had sentimental value to me, so I bought it.”
The building is not far from the Gurwitz Center, which was previously a appliance store which her father, Bill Tullis, owned and operated.
The bakery’s location has helped result in booming business, but the quality of the food is what keeps customers coming back.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell my mother that her cheesecakes are the best — better than the Cheesecake Factory,” Reyna said.
Piggy Cakes started making keto products for people who want them, and they have been big sellers.
“We probably sell as much keto products as we do regular items,” Reyna said.
Wernli said her favorite thing about the job is cooking.
Reyna said getting to spend time with her mother and other family members is a big highlight.
“Me and my mother are best friends,” Reyna said. We’re together six days a week, and this job allows us to spend time with other family members who come by, too. That’s been the biggest benefit.”
Because of demand, those who want specialized cakes should place their orders two or three weeks in advance. During the holidays, even more time is needed, often 4-6 weeks.
“A lot of people don’t realize the amount of time it takes to make and decorate a custom cake,” Reyna said. “It takes a while.”
Piggy Cakes may be in a small community with limited options, but that isn’t a reason to inflate prices, Reyna said.
“We try to stay reasonable on prices,” she said. “People come from San Antonio and they tell us they come here because the big city places can’t beat our prices.
“We try to keep it affordable, but we do the best work that we can. We don’t want to be that business that charges outrageous prices.”
The bakery’s best-seller is the maple bacon cupcake. Reyna said those items were slow to sell at first, because people weren’t sure they would like the combination of bacon with a cupcake.
After samples were offered, the cupcakes became a big hit.
“When it goes on the shelves, it’s often sold within minutes,” Reyna said. “We candy the bacon and it’s delicious. We had people drive up from Alice because they had heard about our maple bacon cupcakes.”
Cinnamon rolls and cheesecake are also big sellers — “they fly off the shelves,” Reyna said.
She said the cinnamon rolls are her favorite items from Piggy Cakes, while Wernli likes the pumpkin cookies.
What does the future hold for the business?
For now, the bakery is enough to keep Wernli and Reyna busy, but at some point, they have talked about adding tables where customers can sit and enjoy food, and possibly even an Italian restaurant on site.
However, the costs and extra people needed to make that happen mean those plans will continue to stay on the back burner for now, Reyna said.
As long as the artwork outside, designed by Cal Garcia of Corpus Christi, continues to draw out-of-town visitors to Piggy Cakes, and area customers continue to flock to the bakery, Wernli and Reyna are staying plenty busy.
Piggy Cakes is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (excluding major holidays). Wernli said if customers call in advance, they can stay open a few minutes later to give people a chance to reach the bakery before it closes.
Jeff Osborne is the editor of The Progress. He can be reached at 361-786-3022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.