Old Louisville residents have been enjoying Coco’s Cakes, a new bakery and breakfast/lunch spot on West Oak Street, since May.
Long before opening the business, Shacole “Coco” Henderson had a lifelong relationship with food, starting with her grandfather’s catering business.
“As a young child, I did grow up just being in the kitchen with my grandfather,” Henderson tells Insider. “Him and my grandma had their own catering business when we were younger. My grandma would cook a lot, and my granddaddy would always be baking.”
But like many before her, Henderson had no interest in the family business.
“When I got to be about 13, I kinda was, like, ‘Oh no, I don’t like baking, I don’t wanna be in the kitchen.’ So I got into designing clothes. I ended up designing half my friends’ prom dresses. I sketched up what it was gonna look like, and we found a seamstress who put them together for us. I wanted be a clothes designer. Couldn’t nobody tell me anything else.”
Henderson also designed tattoos for several of her friends.
Her dreams were put on hold, however, when she became pregnant shortly after high school. While carrying her first child, Henderson got a job at a local Kroger. She applied for a position as cashier, but a friend from high school happened to work in the bakery, and she helped Henderson get hired as a cake decorator.
“I said, ‘I can’t decorate cakes!’ And she said, ‘Yes you can, you can draw, and plus, I tasted your brownies and stuff before.’ I was, like, ‘Yeah, I can bake, but I can’t decorate a cake.'”
But Henderson quickly realized she had found her calling.
“I fell in love in two weeks,” she says. “It felt perfect, and it was crazy because I thought design was my passion. The baking part was just natural, and the creativity and the design part that came from the decorating is what I fell in love with.”
Henderson’s grandfather was happy to help further her education.
“He was, like, ‘Come on over here, I got some tips to show you!’ He showed me how to do different borders and roses. It was a whole big thing.”
After baking and decorating an elaborate cake for an aunt’s birthday, Henderson shared images of the concoction on social media, and requests for her services started pouring in.
Henderson relied on her grandfather again for advice, and with his guidance, she began making cakes out of her home. It was a good source of extra income, but Henderson wasn’t focused on making it a full-time business yet.
She originally intended to call her business Erance’s, but her grandfather convinced her otherwise.
“He said to keep it simple: ‘Everybody knows you as Coco. Just call it Coco’s Cakes.'”
Henderson worked at a variety of businesses, including Kroger, Sam’s Club, Homemade Ice Cream & Pie Kitchen and Dairy Queen. And at each place, she decorated cakes. She also continued to take on more difficult jobs from home — jobs that would be turned down by her employers due to their complexity. Henderson was always up to the challenge.
Eventually, she became tired of working on other people’s terms. One employer wouldn’t make her full time, despite the fact that she worked more than full-time hours. With a child at home, Henderson needed benefits. One employer valued quantity over quality, and that grind didn’t feed Henderson’s artistic leanings. Another job simply worked her too hard during her second pregnancy.
“I was working 80 hours a week lifting 70 pound cakes,” she says. “The breaking point for me was when I went to the doctor and he said, ‘These are your options, you can either quit your job, or you’re gonna lose your child.'”
Finally, as a result of a forced internal transfer, Henderson was moved off cake decorating and put in a grilling position.
“They hired too many decorators, so they took the person that could come in the earliest, which was me, and put them on the grill. I commend anybody that is on a grill. It got to the point that I was leaving work literally crying.”
Henderson turned to her grandfather again, even though he could no longer use words to guide her.
“So then, my grandfather had passed, but I talked to him a lot, and I prayed on it,” she says.
Henderson knew it was time to start her own bakery. She turned to the Louisville Metro Community Services’ Microbusiness Program and went through eight weeks of classes that culminated in writing a business plan.
“I worked on it all day, every day, from the time I woke up till the time I went to sleep,” she says. “So I finished my classes, and I went in front of a loan committee.”
She worked hard in the months leading up to the businesses opening and searched tirelessly for the perfect location before settling on a spacious storefront at Oak and Garvin streets in Old Louisville.
Coco’s Cakes is now open for business with breakfast and lunch offerings, fresh bread and a wide array of sweets.
Part of writing a business plan and getting a loan was projecting profits.
“And actually, from my projections I made, we’ve been doing double,” Henderson boasts. “It’s going really good.”
When Henderson talks about her success, she’s almost giddy, but she swears it’s not just about the money.
“I came to realize that money is not all important, as long as I have a job that can take care of me and my kids, to where we’re comfortable, and I can be happy every day. Every day I walk in here, I’m happy. I love it.”