Charleston Gazette-Mail, July 26, 2016

It was like a tornado picked up Teri Blevins’ life, spun around everything that she had worked toward, everything that she loved, and then threw it down.

The parts were still there. She had her three sons. But so much had changed.

“My marriage was over. My career was over,” Teri said. “It just was a really lonely, really bad place.”

For a long time after the divorce, Teri and her boys were just barely scraping by. Cable was one of the many luxuries they couldn’t often afford. For entertainment, Teri and her boys became “the king of DVDs,” she said.

But when she could afford cable and when she had control of the remote, Teri would turn it to the Food Network for company.

Her favorite came in the form of a booming, blue-eyed Southern mom cooking up some home recipes from her Georgia kitchen. “Paula’s Home Cooking” had just launched on the Food Network in 2002. It was Paula Deen’s first television show. And Teri’s favorite to watch.

Through the TV screen, Teri found a friend in Deen. She found a voice that sounded like her mom. She found the Southern hospitality she received as a kid sitting in her aunties’ kitchens.

Through watching Deen cook in her Savannah home, Teri found a passion she had forgotten she even had.

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It smells like bacon in the back of Lil’ Bit of Heaven Cupcakes. Teri just cooked some for a jalapeno popper beer bread she’s going to make.

She’s never made the bread before, doesn’t have a recipe. But it sounded good.

“Yesterday, I was making bacon cheddar bread. Just sitting here working and not really paying attention, and then all of a sudden, I went ‘Jalapeno poppers. That would be fabulous!’ ” Teri said smiling. “Every recipe I have, that’s pretty much how it goes.”

As she’s chopping jalapeños and eyeballing how much flour to pour into a bowl, Teri is answering questions from an employee trying to take a cupcake order. She’s telling her kitchen staff, Shelly Cottrill and April Drumheller, what kind of buttercream to use for an order. She’s talking to her husband, Dan Blevins, who normally works in the front of the shop, but comes back often to visit with his wife.

Standing behind a long stainless-steel table in her bright, busy kitchen, Teri doesn’t have to move from her spot to manage the cupcake business that she and Dan have spent years building. She’s answering the phone, eyeballing how much bacon to add to the dough and chatting with her staff, who act more like her family, from behind the table.

It’s a Friday in the shop. Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest for Lil’ Bit of Heaven Cupcakes in St. Albans. When the shop has a lot of orders to get out that day, spending 12 hours in the kitchen isn’t uncommon, Teri said.

She starts her days early, stays late and only serves cupcakes she’s made fresh that day. On light days, she might get there between 6 and 7 a.m. to start baking 30 to 40 dozen cupcakes. On heavy days, if they have multiple weddings or events, Teri and Dan have been known to arrive at 4 a.m. to make upwards of 80 dozen cupcakes in one day.

When the couple decided to move the cupcake business from their home in St. Albans to a storefront at 95 Olde Main St., they knew sales would increase. Since they opened the business in 2010, they watched their followers steadily grow.

But they had no idea how busy their new storefront on St. Albans’ tiny downtown street would be.

“We probably outgrew this building two weeks after we opened,” Teri said.

For the first two days that they were open on April 22 and April 23, Teri, Dan and their small staff didn’t catch a break.

“We knew it would be really busy. We didn’t expect it to be line-out-the-door-and-down-the-street-in-the-rain busy,” said April Drumheller, a member of Teri’s small kitchen staff.

Over the course of one year, Teri will craft 130 different kinds of cupcakes. She’ll make everything from wedding cake to death-by-chocolate to strawberry champagne to peach daiquiri. She treats every kind of cupcake like an individual dessert. And is always looking to make new ones.

It isn’t just cupcakes that she’s crafting. Recently, Lil’ Bit of Heaven has offered homemade cinnamon rolls and pepperoni rolls. They’ll rotate different kinds of bread, like the jalapeño popper experiment.“She’ll wake up thinking about things to make,” Dan said.

And they’ll play around with larger desserts, like party stacks, where Teri layers 6-inch-round cakes between layers of buttercream and fresh fruit.

“I get to bake for people’s happiest days. And that’s a huge honor. And that’s a huge blessing,” Teri said.

But she also hopes that her desserts and breads can bring some joy to someone in a time of struggle or grief.

“We can’t fix what’s going on. We can’t fix what’s wrong, but we can make our tummies happy,” Teri added.

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The more Teri watched Deen’s cooking show, the more she realized how much she had in common with the self-made celebrity chef.

Deen’s parents died when she was young. Teri’s mom, Linda Bush, died from cancer when Teri was 14. And her father, Paul Bush, died the following year from a heart attack.

Deen had her sons young. Teri got married and gave birth to her first son before her 17th birthday. Deen was a divorced mom raising two boys. Teri was divorced and raising three.

Deen followed her passion for cooking to launch a catering business and then a successful restaurant, which eventually led to her television career. The more Teri watched Deen, the more she got back into cooking, she said. She started spending time in her kitchen. She started coming up with her own kooky recipes.

“She brought back to me the love of making food for people,” Teri said. “As silly as it sounds, Paula helped me to heal and helped me to realize that my life wasn’t over.”

In the past six months, Teri has been asked to bake for Paula Deen and for Jennifer Garner’s recent flood fundraiser in Charleston. She’s got photos big and small hanging throughout her shop of customers enjoying her cupcakes on their wedding day or birthday.

There’s a photo of Teri with her arm around Deen, who she’s had a reason to meet and cook for on multiple occasions.

But it’s not baking for celebrities that brings her the most joy, Teri said.

It’s cooking for her mom’s best friends. Women like Sophia Dillon who welcomed Teri into their kitchens, who helped her feel safe when she lost her parents, and who never failed to remind Teri of her potential.

To learn more about Lil’ Bit of Heaven Cupcakes, visit www.lilbitofheavencupcakes.com.

Reach Anna Patrick at anna.patrick@wvgazettemail.com or 304-348-4881.

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