“At the end of the day, we are all here to help each other out. That is what makes a community.”
It all started in Nanny’s kitchen, where a 2-year-old Maryellen sat in the middle of the table, covered from head to toe in flour, sifting cup after cup of the magical, floating powder to her heart’s content. Eyes wide with curiosity, Maryellen captured every detail as her grandmother, Nanny, gracefully danced throughout the kitchen, preparing every last morsel from scratch. As the years passed, Maryellen moved from the middle of the table, to a chair pulled up to the counter, to right by Nanny’s side, where she has never left, even if in spirit.
This sacred time shared in the kitchen exposed Maryellen to more than family recipes. Nanny’s wisdom about life, love and everything inbetween seeped into each fold of dough, whisk of batter and zest of flavor, guiding her life today.
“Nanny said, you never leave a room without kissing and hugging everyone. Now, when I leave a room, I have to plan 20 minutes ahead just to say goodbye.”
Throughout her childhood, Maryellen found sanctuary in Nanny’s kitchen during some very tough times. Her parents divorced when she was seven and only three years later, Maryellen’s father passed. “When he passed, I felt like I stepped into the shoes of an adult. Mom had to work two, sometimes three jobs to provide for my older brother and me.
My mom, Joyce, is my hero. I learned early on what a strong, independent, hardworking woman is and I am the woman I am today because of her.”
Embracing her independence at a young age, Maryellen announced on the first day of kindergarten, at the age of four, “Mom, you don’t have to walk me to the bus. I can do it on my own.” With tears in her eyes, Joyce did not want to stifle her daughter’s independence but she was not ready to cut the cord just yet. Sensing her mom’s sadness, Maryellen decided to make sure her mom knew just how much she loved her, that day and every day.
Each day at school, Maryellen would save 35 cents from her lunch money. On the walk home from the bus stop, she would visit a flower shop and buy a carnation for her mom, which she would give to her with a hug and kiss – as per Nanny’s recipe. Each petal helped turned tears to joy, and Joyce knew right then and there that her daughter was a determined young woman, blessed with a beautiful soul.
Determined indeed. Maryellen has not stopped to rest since her days sifting flour in Nanny’s kitchen. Graduating from Marple Newtown High School at 17-years-old, Maryellen took an interest in studying physical therapy and occupational therapy at West Chester University. However, while in school, Maryellen was given yet another blow from life when her stepfather became ill.
Maryellen soon realized that she would need to help support the family financially. “Everyone is dealt a hand of cards and you have to play them how they lay. Whoever you believe in, they are going to give you only what you can deal with.” Turning to what she knew best and playing the cards she was dealt, Maryellen started her own catering business.
The first round of clients included friends and neighbors, but the list quickly expanded as word of Maryellen’s reputation for excellence spread. Savvy businesswoman right from the start, Maryellen differentiated her catering company by offering added services. “I would hire some of my college girlfriends to watch the kids at the party. I held informal cooking lessons for the guests as I prepared the dishes in the kitchen. Most guests wouldn’t leave the kitchen and it turned into a cooking party. And as Nanny always said, ‘If you can’t have fun doing it, what’s the point?’”
With an early taste of success, Maryellen realized the traditional route of college and then career was not her path to take. One night, in particular, while catering a party, an observant guest made a comment that Maryellen remembers even today as she recalls the shift in her life’s path. After surveying the exquisite dessert spread, the guest pulled Maryellen aside, stating with a hint of frustration, “Do you know where your calling is?” Until that point, Maryellen never considered her natural ability in the kitchen as her calling, but more so as a means to help her family. “When you have a calling, sometimes the hardest part is finding it. I am lucky. I found my gift. Once you find it, the passion to give it is unceasing.”
Maryellen’s passion has created a landmark in West Chester, PA. Cakes and Candies by Maryellen is not just a local bakery where you grab and go. Maryellen’s has become an extension of Nanny’s kitchen where time slows down and you remember what counts in life; connecting with your friends and neighbors with a few sweet treats made from the soul and, of course, a hug from Maryellen.
|“One of my favorite customers is a 7-year-old girl who has a special request for her birthday every year. She bursts through the doors and runs to hug me every time while asking, “Can you make my jellybean cake again?” It gives me such joy to make her birthday cake and such pride to know she chooses me to do so every year.” |
Whether it is baking the special request jellybean cake for her favorite client’s birthday or donating hundreds of petite cupcakes, cakes and gourmet bakery items to countless charity events in the Chester County community and beyond, Maryellen’s passion to give has made her a hero among us.
The list of contributions would go on for pages, but this list includes highlights of organizations close to Maryellen’s heart:
The ALS Association, The Alzheimer’s Association, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, American Red Cross, The Hamels Foundation, Safe Harbor, Domestic Violence Center of Chester County, West Chester Recreation Department, Chester County Hospital, all local high schools and all local fire and police departments, just to name a few. “If we can’t work together, what’s the point? I pour labor and love into my donations so the cause can pour labor and love into furthering education and finding cures.”
If you are lucky enough to catch Maryellen in the wee hours of the morning or late into the evening, you will find her dancing around the bakery with the music blaring, joyfully creating the next labor of love. Through all the hardships Maryellen has faced, and there are many more not even mentioned here, she has still not lost sight of her calling or her community.
Nanny’s original sifter is hidden in Maryellen’s bakery today, reminding us all that sometimes you have to sift through the arduous part of life to get to the sweetness. “At the end of the day, we are all here to help each other out. That is what makes a community.”
Thank you for being part of our community Maryellen. You are a hero among us!
Stop by Cakes & Candies by Maryellen on Saturday, May 18th from 8:00am to 3:00pm for a FREE Cupcake to celebrate Maryellen’s latest award – Voted Best of West Chester by the West Chester Press!
Cakes & Candies by Maryellen is located at 1332 West Chester Pike, West Chester, PA 19382.