Your Hearts Desire store owner Trudy Yancey says the hardest part of her job is informing customers they’ve come to the store at a time when Betty Cakes, a lunch and dessert cafe housed in the Ocala gift shop, is closed. Moaning sets in. Then, an urgent question if there is any way Betty can be reached to make a much-needed cake. Maybe just some Taco Soup? Finally, acceptance — there will be no Vanilla Buttercream Cake in their immediate future. Dejected, they pick up a menu and imagine the Chicken Salad Croissant sandwich that could have been.
“It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen,” says Trudy, laughing.
When the cafe is open — Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 3:30 pm — the customer line starts forming by 11:45 am, weaving in between the tables and chairs. If you arrive any later than noon, be prepared to share a table with other “Betty Fans,” as her loyal customers call themselves. The intoxicating smell of vanilla cake batter and sugary icing fills the quaint restaurant that boasts a menu of over 23 cakes and soups, sandwiches, and salads.
Betty Williamson never imagined she’d be Ocala’s Diva Of Desserts when she made her first cake for her then 4-year-old son while stationed in Guam with her family.
“I wanted to make a cake with zoo characters,” says Betty. “I piddled around with the recipe until I liked it.”
Returning to the states, Betty began making wedding and special occasion cakes for friends. As a bookkeeper for the Marion County Public School system, Betty kept her day job while creating cakes at night.
Upon retirement, Betty was approached by Trudy, a longtime friend, to share space at her store. Originally, Betty thought she’d only offer desserts including cakes, cookies, brownies, and pies. However, the café proved instantly popular, so a full lunch menu was added.
And how is the café doing now?
“Oh my goodness,” says a smiling Betty, “We make dozens of cakes a day and countless brownies, cheesecakes, and cookies.”
Betty continues making her customized cakes, eliciting many happy responses when Betty’s trademark white box with green tulle ribbon arrives to a special event. Her creative concoctions come in all shapes and sizes including unique designs like a cereal box, alligator, turtle, and pool table.
Once you’ve experienced a Betty Cake, you’ll understand her popularity. This is a cake like no other with a batter that is the perfect combination of magically-moist texture and taste. All Betty Cakes have secret ingredients with the recipe safely guarded at Betty’s home. The secret mix is not made on site, rather, Betty’s husband, Colin, who is a full-time minister, makes the mix and brings it to the store each day.
“I’m hoping to patent the recipe and sell it one day,” says Betty, who requires all employees to sign a confidentiality agreement.
As if the menu isn’t addictive enough, the warm ambience is, too. Eleven employees whom she considers close friends work for Betty. Pat Lockhart worked with Betty for many years in the school system before helping her launch the restaurant. General Manager Suzanne Parks keeps the packed restaurant under control with a graceful Southern charm, asking familiar faces questions like, “Honey, do you want the Dreamsicle cake today? You haven’t had that for awhile.”
Employee Pat Lockhart has worked with Betty for more than 30 years, first in Jacksonville, then in the Marion County School System and now at the cafe serving as whom Betty calls “my friend and partner.”
Special deliveries are made to invalid friends and a call list notifies customers when their favorite lunch item is being served.
“I’ve discovered that men really love my pinto bean soup and peanut butter cake,” Betty adds, “so I give them a call when I’m making either one.”
Speaking of favorites, difficulty arises when having to choose between Betty’s famous chicken and dumplings, broccoli cheese soup, or vegetable lasagna. Feeling carb-deprived, I opted for the chicken and dumplings with fresh slices of chicken breast, carrots, celery, red pepper, and homemade egg and flour dumplings. However, I am known to crave Betty’s chicken salad on a warm buttery croissant, so it’s a good thing the dumplings were one of the best I’ve ever had.
Of course, no meal at the café is complete without a slice of cake. Recognizing the virtue of variety, my dining companion and I sampled four cakes — Vanilla Butter Cream, Dreamsicle, Strawberry, and, Betty’s favorite, Decadent Chocolate Fudge Cake. Which one was my favorite?
My friend said it best.
“Of the four cakes, I think I like them all the best,” she said, smiling while dabbing chocolate icing off her mouth.
A sentiment shared by many which is why, when visiting Betty Cakes, it’s best to follow the age-old adage, “Eat dessert first.”
Betty Cakes, Betty Cakes, Baker Ma’am
Located inside Your Hearts Desire
1915 East Silver Springs Boulevard
Ocala, Florida 34470
Monday – Saturday, 10:00am – 3:30pm
(The bakery is open until 5:30pm for special order pick-up.)