Friday afternoon, Good Friday before Easter, and Lil’ Bit of Heaven Cupcakes on Olde Main Street in St. Albans was busy.
A steady trickle of customers was coming in to pick up orders for the holiday, or stopping by to get cupcakes or dinner rolls on their lunch break, or maybe just a cup of cookie dough.
Three, sometimes four, women worked the front counter, filling orders and replenishing stock, while in the back another three, plus owner Teri Blevins and her husband, Dan, worked on cakes and pepperoni rolls.
Holiday weekend aside, Blevins sighed and said, “This is a pretty normal Friday for us.”
Yes and no. It was also two days before Blevins was scheduled to make her television debut on “Bake You Rich,” the new cooking competition show on Food Network.
Easter Sunday was episode one of the new series, starring Buddy Valastro from “Cake Boss.” The show pitted bakers from around the country in a contest to have their best creation distributed nationally by Valastro.
As customers stopped in to pick up their orders, a few of them wished Blevins well or told her how proud they were that she was going to be on the show.
After being sworn secrecy by the network attorneys since January, Blevins had finally been allowed to let her friends and customers know about a week before her Food Network debut. She posted a note about it on Facebook. Hundreds of people commented or shared the news.
Friday afternoon, Blevins was beaming.
“Getting to do that was a massive dream come true,” she said. “And it was such a great experience.”
“Bake You Rich” was great exposure for Blevins and her bakery. She also thought it was great exposure for St. Albans and West Virginia.
“We’re not what a lot of people who aren’t from around here would expect,” she said.
Blevins filmed with “Bake You Rich” in January, but just getting on the show went back to around September of last year. It was a slow process. Many applied to be on the show.
“I was told everything from 1,200 applicants to 2,200 people applied,” she said. “So I’m not sure, except that out of that, the producers picked 16.”
To be considered for the contest, each applicant had to submit a signature item for the judges.
The owner of Lil’ Bit of Heaven Cupcake sent a pepperoni roll.
“It’s like I told my husband,” Blevins said. “I’m not the only girl who knows how to make a cupcake.”
And Lil’ Bit of Heaven Cupcake’s pepperoni rolls aren’t your run of the mill pepperoni rolls. Blevins makes the yeast roll dough by hand every Thursday.
“I don’t use a mixer,” she said. “A mixer can add air or, depending on the humidity, change the consistency of the dough.”
The dough, slightly sweet, is an old family recipe she got from her son’s grandmother years ago.
Blevins makes 22 batches, which she said comes out to around 200 pinwheel-style pepperoni rolls with mozzarella cheese that resemble cinnamon rolls.
The rolls are soft, savory and, quite frankly, amazing. The rolls often sell out.
To make more, she thought she’d probably have to use a mixer and she’s not sure she’s ready to chance it, just yet. Why mess with something that already works?
The pepperoni roll got her into the starting 16 contestants.
“Of the 16, I was the only baker who submitted a savory pastry,” she said, shrugging.
The pepperoni rolls got her in the door. The first round of the contest, however, involved making a showstopping dessert that was 12 inches tall, 10 inches wide and was completed in two hours or less.
That’s trickier than it sounded. While some of the props and ornaments could be pre-made, most of the work had to be done on-site in the television studio.
Making, baking, icing and decorating a cake in less than two hours could be challenging for someone making a birthday cake out of a box mix, but Blevins said she got it done — with 11 seconds to spare.
The production people, she said, were all very concerned that she wouldn’t make it, that it was too much pressure and not enough time, but Blevins told them, “This is my every day.”
The baker said the producers of the show didn’t necessarily know what to make of her. During the taping, the other contestants came through her cooking area looking for cooking tools and materials.
Blevins said she helped them find whatever they needed.
Before the judging, a producer told her that watching her, they’d wondered if that was some kind of strategy to help her get ahead, but she said, “No, I’m just raised right.”
“That tickled them,” Blevins said.
However, Blevins didn’t make the cut. Valastro and his judges sent Blevins and her chocolate strawberry truffle cake home, but she said, “I wouldn’t change anything. I wouldn’t change what I did, the cake or how I did what I did. I made a beautiful cake.”
The producers were very kind to her, she added. They checked on her after the judges made their decision and Blevins said she appreciated that.
After she got back to St. Albans, the baker made a batch of pepperoni rolls and sent them to the studio in New Jersey as a thank-you.
“I got text messages all day when they arrived,” Blevins said, smiling.
Getting on the television show was really just icing on the cake for Blevins, who began her bakery out of her kitchen almost 15 years ago.
This week, she’s celebrating three years of being at her location on Olde Main in St. Albans, but she’s proud of her appearance on Food Network. Of course, she was disappointed. Going forward and eventually winning the grand prize for her bakery would have been sweet, but it wasn’t everything.
Besides, Lil’ Bit of Heaven Cupcakes already ships products around the country. Paula Deen orders from her.
Blevins may not be a reality show champion, but she’s a success. Business is good.
“Last year, we did 57 weddings in 52 weeks,” she said. “That’s not bad.”
She also has a lot of friends and devoted customers — and just because she appeared on one cooking show doesn’t mean she’s finished with television.
“One gentleman [on the show] told me he’d tried for eight different shows, that he’d gotten close each time, but that this was his first time getting on camera,” she said. “I would absolutely do it again. It was a great experience.”