By Anna Grace Moore
Photos by James and Rachel Culver
April McClung never wanted to start a business. She always felt called to action but preferred to work behind-the-scenes, acting as the hands and feet of Jesus.
Never did she ever want to be front and center–leading a half a million dollar business, posing for magazine covers or doing T.V. interviews; but, the Lord had a calling for her life, and she was obedient.
Born and raised in Miami, Florida, April was raised by a single mother and worked hard throughout school to afford her college education. She attended the University of Florida and got her MBA in finance.
April later moved to Birmingham, Alabama, to marry her then husband, and together, they welcomed their two sons, Lacy “Tre,” and John “J.” Alexander McClung. April has lived in Birmingham for the last 25 years with 21 of those years being in Pelham.
Tre and J. grew up in the Briarwood Christian Schools system, and in high school, they first learned about traveling abroad–something that unbeknownst to April would be the catalyst in her journey of “obedience.”
Ten years ago in 2013, Tre and J. got the opportunity of a lifetime to travel abroad as student ambassadors with the non-proft, People to People. Although People to People has since ceased operations in 2015, it did serve as a travel service organization first established under President Eisenhower to enhance young people’s understanding of different cultures and foster friendships between people groups.
April says her journey “of obedience” first began in fundraising for her sons to go on these trips. Tre. wanted to go to China, and J. wanted to go to Europe. April says she felt it appropriate for Tre to go to China because he completed two years of Mandarin in high school. She says she wanted J. to go to seven different countries in Europe, so he would understand that the world was much bigger than Pelham, Alabama, where he and his brother were raised.
The cost for each trip was around $7,200, totaling both boys’ expenses at $14,400. April says she and her then husband worked especially hard for every penny they made, and these trips–at least on paper–were not feasible, but she yearned for them to go.
“This was just a mother’s heart to give her sons something she never had,” April says.
She and her then husband prayed together, and while she was a bit skeptical at first, he assured her the Lord would provide for both of their sons to go on their trips. So, April signed them up to go, and naturally, within about a week, she completely flipped out.
April says she came home and said, “What the heck did I do?’’ About 10 minutes later, April’s then husband told everyone in the house to “stop moving,” so he could listen to the Holy Spirit.
April says he told her that the Holy Spirit asked him, “What about the pound cake?” April says she nearly blurted out laughing, thinking, “What of it?”
Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes gets its name from April’s then husband’s grandmother, Emily Magnolia McClung. Emily’s favorite flower, a magnolia, is in the letter, “I,” in the name, and her favorite color, red, is in the logo, too.
April’s then husband began teaching her the generational family pound cake recipe while she began putting her degree to work, marketing her children’s opportunities through letters to friends and family about their new pound cake fundraiser.
They began selling round pound cakes for $40 a cake. April’s co-workers began buying more and more pound cakes and gave her the idea to begin working at farmers markets.
“By January 2014, we had raised about $6,000, and I thought, ‘Lord, that’s a good start, but that ain’t $14,400,” April says.
Soon the farmers markets’ springtime season opened up, and April began working at an Urban Cookhouse-sponsored farmers market in SOHO in 2014.
“We realized that we had tapped into nostalgia because people would say, ‘This taste takes me back to my childhood. It reminds me of my grandmother,’” April says. “We would sell the whole cake for $40, and week after week, we started selling out.”
At this point, April switched departments at her work, and she and her team started competing in work competitions for earned comp time. In her newfound time off from work, April began working at a farmers market at the Summit, where she started making serious contacts.
One customer asked her to set up shop, selling her pound cakes in Williams Sonoma and in Belk. Another customer worked for Circa and shopped for high-end customers, who she says wanted to buy April’s products.
These pop-up shops propelled April’s business and helped her to raise more than enough money for Tre and J.’s travels. Now with a whole pound cake business and more customers than she could keep track of, April says her faith was again tested: could she go out on her own?
Though weary of the unknown as a new business owner, April yet again took a leap of faith and applied for her LLC in July 2014, officially opening Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes one year after fundraising for her sons’ trips.
April continued to work at farmers markets around Birmingham, but her first “big break” was at Pepper Place. Of the 180 vendors at Pepper Place at that time, April says she was the first to sell pound cake.
April’s first Saturday working there, she took 20 round cakes, 100 cake slices and multiple “loaf cakes.” She began selling her products at 7 a.m., but by 10:15 a.m., she had not one crumb left.
One customer introduced her to the owner of Chef’s Kitchen in Hoover, where April first began baking in a commissary setting. She and her family would bake all of the cakes on Mondays after work to sell at farmers markets on the weekends.
April is quite business-minded, having worked in management for 25 years. She sought out students, stay-at-home mothers, anyone who wanted to make a little bit of extra money, and she supplied them with her products to go sell at local markets around town.
“I was running seven markets sitting behind the desk in corporate America,” April says. “I had not even left my [corporate job].”
Not long after, word spread like wildfire about the savory sweets that is Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes. Event organizers for the 50th Anniversary Bridge Crossing in Selma, Alabama, asked April if Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes would be the official cake of the jubilee.
ABC 33/40 did an interview with April about preparing for the jubilee, and the business officially took off.
“One year after we started the business, I walked away from a six-figure income,” April says. “I’ve never looked back.”
Today, April says Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes produces 5,000 packaged slices and hundreds of cakes a month.
“When I hired my consultant, I wasn’t even paying myself, and that was three years ago,” April says. “I’m so grateful for what God has done.”
April has since appeared on networks such as MSNBC. Her pound cakes were also served at Gov. Kay Ivey’s inauguration on January 15, 2023.
“I think God has truly blessed my heart,” April says. “This business has been [amazing].”
Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes can be bought in-person at Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes in Pelham, at Tony’s Hot Dogs, at Embassy Suites on Highway 150, at local farmers markets and at Sam’s Club during the Sam’s Club Road Show.
Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes are also available on the business’ website, emilysheirloompoundcakes.com, and on Amazon, too.
“I never wanted my own business, but I would hear [the Holy Spirit] say, ‘The cake is good, but the anointing is in the story,’” April says. “I’m obedient to His word. That story is what sells the cake.”
April’s story has touched the hearts of thousands of customers, and April never forgets a face. The customers, she says, always provide an opportunity to share what the Lord has done in her life.
If the Lord can use her and her then husband’s grandmother’s pound cake recipe to create a business and spread the Gospel, then He can and will use anyone for a greater purpose, April says. All one has to do is be obedient to the calling on her life.
To purchase some of Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes, inquire about business orders or see a list of pop-up events, visit emilysheirloompoundcakes.com. Emily’s Heirloom Poundcakes is located at 125 Hayesbury Drive Suite C in Pelham. It is open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.