When Bob Barker celebrated 40 years in business last month, the Fuquay-Varina Company served dinner and dessert to about 300 guests. The company is the largest manufacturer of items used by prisons in the country. In addition to providing things like beds, toothbrushes and toiletries to prisoners, the Bob Barker Company also supports programs that encourage men and women serving prison time to become upstanding citizens when they return to life outside of the jail cell. At their anninversary party, they celebrated the talents and literally enjoyed the desserts of a former inmate, Keijuane Hester. Here is his story.
After a drive north on Highway 55, just past the sign reading “City of Durham” and right before you get to the CVS drug store, you will see a brick complex like many being used for offices now, named Bentley Ridge Complex. From the road however, you can see windows looking out on the highway. These windows give us a view of Favor Desserts, a growing and popular bakery for cupcakes, pound cakes and cakes of all kinds. Favor Desserts was founded by Keijuane Hester in 2004. From the outside one would never suspect there was a bakery inside with two large tables, lots of counter space, a large mixer, refrigerators, ovens and very active employees.
Keijuane is not your average baker or master chef. Mr. Hester, raised in a poor but loving home, went astray and was convicted, tried and imprisoned for four years for his crime. While in prison he worked in the kitchen, knowing that was the place where he could get the good food, and was taught how to bake. After serving his time and trying to get his life going again for two years, he needed to make money. One of his relatives didn’t believe he could really cook and challenged him to bake something. Keijuane accepted the challenge and from there came the idea to bake for his income. He started out “One man, one cake pan, and one vision.” (This byline is written on the back of his business tee shirt, with the company name on the front.) In order to market his products, he went to every store, barber, hairstylist, or business he could contact and advertised his business with samples of his cooking. He sold each slice of cake for $2, and word began to spread like wild fire about how tasty his cakes and cupcakes were. His products are being sold to eight Durham restaurants, as well as North Carolina Central University and Shaw University.
The real story is not just about his wonderful cooking but about the wonderful life he has chosen and made with God’s help. When asked how he decided on the name, “Favor Desserts,” he said he believed he needed God’s favor to make the business work. When asked what advice he has for others facing hard times, he gave several answers: 1) “Start small and set goals,” 2) Be committed. (When he got discouraged he would visualize himself succeeding). 3) “You can’t quit!” 4) “When you get tired, your will has to kick in.” He explained that he grew up with “have-nots” which created a hunger. “I stay hungry so I won’t get “hungry.” 5) “Surround yourself with positive people who want to see you succeed. They are the ones who help you through the hard times.” 6) Take in from your world what you need to make you what you are but you have to figure out your purpose first.” 7) “You have to be a giver.” 8) “Sacrifice and courage” are necessary to accomplish goals.
At 37, he has not only a family now, married to Pamela Hester, but a business with 7 employees. The Unemployment Commission helps people find jobs by paying their salary for the first 90 days, after which the employer decides whether the person is right for the job. Most of his employees are trial employees whom he hired.
Mr. Hester speaks about six to seven times a year to high schools, graduations and prisons. He said he always brings cupcakes for everyone, when he can. He tells people they should “never give up.” “You can turn your life around with one single moment.” “You are who you think you are.” He believes that “adversity can be used to help prepare you to do what you are meant to do.” Mr. Hester puts his words and compassion to work in other ways. Before his recent birthday, he fed 150 homeless people. Starting a coat drive for 1000 coats and toboggans to help the needy is his present project. He believes in using his money to “reach back to give others opportunities.”
Keijuane Hester is definitely a successful, hard working, humble, compassionate man with a vision, and a bright future. It will be interesting to see how his business has grown in a few years. He just may need to move to an even larger building. More information may be seen at his website: www.favordesserts.com.