The love of food and the entrepreneurial spirit is embedded in Danielle Stoll’s DNA.
“My grandparents opened the Moracco Supper Club (in Dubuque) in the ’60s,” she said. “Then, my aunt took it over, and now, my cousin. So, it’s still in the family.”
Stoll, 45, who opened Nothing Bundt Cakes in Dubuque in December 2021 with her husband, Chris, worked at the supper club as a teenager. She also was surrounded by family members who owned businesses. That piqued her interested in becoming a business owner.
“My dad’s a farmer,” he said. “I have an aunt who’s a farmer and another who owns a flower shop. My dad and all five of his sisters own their own businesses.”
Stoll had a 12-year career as a chemical engineer at John Deere, but the idea of becoming a business owner always was in her purview.
“I wanted to own my own business, but I was never set on a bakery,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do something, and I started looking at franchises right from the start.”
Stoll — mother of Landon, 19; and Colton, 14 — would explore franchise possibilities at various intervals, then put her research away for a while.
“I was raising two boys and working,” she said. “I’d look, then put it away for another year, and then I’d look again.”
Stoll had never heard of Nothing Bundt Cakes, but a coincidental visit to one got her interested quickly.
“We’re a hockey family, and we host a Dubuque Fighting Saint every year during the season,” she said. “They’re in my home and far away from theirs, so we always like to celebrate their birthdays, so we ask what their favorite cake is.”
When the player’s favorite cake turned out to be white chocolate raspberry from Nothing Bundt Cakes, Stoll had no idea where to find one.
“I had never heard of it,” she said. “Then, the player’s mother saw we were going to a tournament in Chicago and she called and said, ‘Oh, there’s one right where you’re going to be. I’ll order it there and you can pick it up.’”
The first Nothing Bundt Cakes bakery was opened in Las Vegas in 1997 by Dena Tripp and Debra Shwetz. Offering a modern take on the classic bundt cake, Nothing Bundt Cakes uses its proprietary recipes for cakes and cream cheese icing to create a consistent product.
But if you’re thinking that a bundt cake is just a bundt cake, think again. Along with classic flavors like lemon, red velvet, carrot and vanilla, Nothing Bundt Cakes also has introduced flavors like key lime, snickerdoodle and strawberries and cream.
The really fun part comes with the customization of the cakes for special occasions with flags, bows, flowers and other decorative items.
Along with full-size bundts, the store also offers smaller “bundlet” cakes and “bundtinis,” which come in a boxed dozen.
The front of each bakery also is a “storefront” of gift items, including things like serving platters, coffee mugs and home decor.
Stoll was sold and put in her application for the Dubuque territory, which covers the area from the Quad Cities to Platteville, Wis., and also includes the area east to Galena, Ill., and west to Dyersville, Iowa.
Stoll went through the initial application process, which culminated in an interview with the CEO and Nothing Bundt Cake’s marketing executives. But then, the company wanted Stoll to open her store in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“One of the requirements for franchise owners is they have to live local to their store,” Stoll said. “I would have had to move, to uproot my family. I wasn’t going to do that.”
Stoll was ready to drop her application, but her husband told her not to stop the process.
“He was my encourager, my cheerleader,” she said. “He said, ‘Just keep pushing through the process. You can always turn them down if they don’t change their minds.’”
Ironically, Stoll was in the Eastern Iowa Airport getting ready to board a flight to visit her parents in Arizona when Nothing Bundt Cakes’ corporate office called and told her the Dubuque territory was hers.
From start to finish, the entire application process took more than a year.
Stoll has about 25 employees, including manager Kate Lueken, a former food and beverage manager who was looking to slow down a little bit.
“I was looking for a retirement job,” she said. “Something with better hours. In food and beverage, it was morning, noon and night, and it was getting to be seven days a week. I had done it for a long time, and I just didn’t want to do that anymore.”
Lueken said her connection with Stoll during the interview sold her on the job.
“I just felt like we clicked right away,” she said. “She was so friendly and nice, and willing to do whatever she could to make sure there was a good balance.”
Lueken said she also was impressed by Nothing Bundt Cake’s organization and policies.
“I just kind of fell in love with the whole process,” she said. “I wanted to love coming to work every day, and now I do.”
The motto of Nothing Bundt Cakes is “Bringing Joy,” and Stoll takes that seriously.
“We get involved with a lot of community events, donating cakes for fundraisers and that kind of thing,” she said. “My son says, ‘Mom, you’re giving too much away,’ but it always comes back. I really believe that.”
Stoll has made the bakery a family affair, with Chris handling much of the marketing, and Landon and Colton working in the store. Her parents, Dan and Luann Hillary, also have been huge supporters.
“My dad helped me bake when we got really busy, and he can fix anything,” she said. “And my mom is my decorator. She won’t take credit for the decorating out front, but I’ll buy a bunch of stuff and she’ll come in and arrange it all. It’s a family thing. They all help. Two of my older brother’s children also work here.”
Stoll said it’s not just about selling cakes, but offering a complete experience to anyone who walks in the door.
“We ask, ‘How can we help you celebrate?’, she said. “What is the celebration about? Can we help with candles or decorations? How many people are you serving? Or is this just a sweet treat for you? Those are all things we’re genuinely interested in knowing about.”
While Stoll’s business acumen has been an important aspect of opening the franchise, she said being involved in the community and having a supportive extended family have been high on the list as well.
“We really put our hearts into it,” she said. “And that’s the joy part.”
Michelle London writes for the Telegraph Herald.