“I have been baking since I was 16,” says Mildred Byrd, owner of Millie B’s Desserts. “My specialties are cinnamon rolls and pound cakes. My baking has always been for family and friends, but in February of this year I decided to follow their advice and start a business.”
Byrd bakes in her large home kitchen. “It was quite a process to get my kitchen certified by the health department,” she says. “Lots of paperwork! However, I did pass the inspection on the first visit. It was a surprise inspection. I had no idea there would be so much involved. There is a 21-page application for business license approval. The ingredient label must also be approved.”
Byrd bakes several sizes and flavors of cakes. Most of her business comes through referrals. A vendor at Virginia Peninsula Foodbank’s Tastefully Yours in April, she also has a presence at several area farmers markets. “The festivals and markets have been very successful for me,” says Byrd. Cake sizes range from miniature to medium to full. She is currently testing a “mini-mini” cupcake.
“I have perfected my cake recipe,” she says with a smile. “But I will do special requests, trying new flavors. My family is spoiled. Whenever they visit me, they hope to take a cake home.” Byrd buys cakes “to check out the competition.” She is currently expanding her corporate account business.
“I’m still working out the ‘kinks,’” Byrd says. “Packaging can be a challenge. Finding the right size box for different size cakes has been difficult.”
Byrd grew up in Gloucester. “I took home economics classes and watched my mother baking,” she says. Byrd was also developing her singing voice. “I was in the school choirs and sang solos in the church and at weddings. I sang ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ at graduation,” she adds.
Byrd majored in elementary education at Virginia State University. Her college roommate was from San Jose, California, and convinced her to move there. She taught for 19 years: kindergarten through eighth grade. She became an administrator and retired in 2008. “I needed to reinvent myself,” she says. Byrd returned to Virginia, where she had relatives.
In addition to baking, Byrd continued to develop a singing career. She was a soloist for Louie Bellson at the Sacred Music Concert in San Jose. Bellson was a drummer of renown and former husband of Pearl Bailey. She also toured Europe with a singing ensemble. “I wanted to see more of the world,” she says. Opportunities came for singing in concert halls, schools and churches. Some were paid; some were volunteer.
“I have some wonderful memories,” Byrd says. Her repertoire covers opera, gospel and music from the 50s to 70s.
Byrd still visits California every year. “And I mail cakes to my friends there,” she says. “I like to bake for those who don’t bake, and I love what I am doing. I am in a happy business.”
TO YOUR HEALTH:
Millie B’s Desserts
Address: Port Warwick, Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: Mildred L. Byrd, owner
Business: Cinnamon rolls and cakes