Cora and Dora: Unusual combination, successful results
Published 12:00 am Monday, September 18, 2006
By KEVIN CHIRI
LAPLACE – They say that business can make strange bedfellows.
Case in point: Meet Cora and Dora.
Dora Cruz is from Honduras, and Cora Louque is from LaPlace. Yet the two have found common ground in the kitchen, and turned it into one of the most successful bakeries in the region.
Well known in LaPlace as “Fine Cakes by Cora and Dora,” the two ladies have struck up a friendship, and very successful business relationship, since starting the bakery in St. John Parish in 1989.
Both women had a common idea to eventually strike out on their own, and they were coming from different directions before meeting as co-workers at Gambino’s Bakery in New Orleans in the 1980s.
“I met Cora there and we started talking about starting our own business,” Dora said. “We figured if we could do this for someone else, we could do it ourselves. We saw that there wasn’t any bakery in LaPlace, so we figured we would try here.”
However both women admit the early years of Cora and Dora were so challenging that they almost quit.
“We were honestly working 80 to 90 hours a week for the first few years since we didn’t have enough income to hire help yet,” Cora said. “We would come in at 5 a.m., and sometimes work until 10 a.m.”
Dora agrees, noting it almost brought the end.
“We almost called it quits a few times,” she said. “I remember waking up in the morning and not even being able to move my fingers since we had worked them so much the day before. But I knew I was committed in this with someone else, so I didn’t want to let Cora down.”
The business was always good, the ladies said, but having enough help has always been a challenge.
“The toughest thing has always been to find and keep workers,” Cora said. “Especially since the hurricane. We have four part-time employees now, and that has always been tough.”
But now the business has grown to the point of the women dictating exactly how much business they want to take, and whether it is something that will be too difficult.
“We have done well with the business, but since the hurricane there is more business than ever since some of the bakeries in Metairie and Kenner are not open,” Cora said. “When we first started we would do anything that someone asked, but now we might not take on everything if it looks like something might be too time consuming.”
Dora came to the United States from Honduras right out of high school, planning to go to college here. Her mother had run a restaurant and hotel business, and her father died when she was only an infant.
“I was planning to go to college, but when I got here I actually went to beauty school,” Dora said.
She did that work for 10 years and got married when she was 21, eventually having two children, and now being married for 39 years. Her daughter owns a daycare center and her son is a geologist.
But when she had children she began staying home with the kids and started baking more, then went to cake decorating classes in 1978. That led to a job with a grocery store in the bakery department, then to Gambino’s.
Cora was born in New Orleans, but raised her entire life in LaPlace. Her mother worked at a match factory and her father worked 35 years for an oil company. She had one sister, who is now deceased, and a brother. Married now for 34 years, she has a daughter and son.
After graduating from Leon Godchaux High School in Reserve, she said her husband didn’t want her to work so she could stay home with the children.
“But after the first child I went to a Maison Blanche class about baking cakes, then I started baking cakes at home,” she recalled. “The surprising thing to me is that the class taught us to just use Duncan Hines cake mixes. You would be surprised how many bakeries do that.”
Cora was very talented at decorating and began to do wedding cakes, which eventually led her to Gambino’s.
“When I first interviewed for the job there, they didn’t hire me because they said my work was too fancy,” she said with a laugh. “But a few months later he called me up and offered me a job.”
Now Cora is the main decorator for Cora and Dora’s, while Dora oversees the production part of the baking.
“Sometimes we disagree, but we have learned to work things out when we have a problem,” the ladies said. “The toughest thing still is just pleasing the public. People can be very particular about what they want on their cakes.”
Cora remembers the time a lady ordered 100 miniature pecan pies, then didn’t want to buy them since she thought they were burned.
“We use dark brown sugar and they looked dark,” she recalled. “I told the lady to just taste them and she would see they were OK.”
The ladies plan a week off in the summer when the business closes down, and they take turns running the shop so they can have days off during the week.
“It is easier now that we have been here for a while, but this business always can be difficult pleasing people,” Dora added. “Still, I don’t regret it at all, and I’m just glad we stuck with it when it was hard at the beginning.”