This is a story about heart, hard work and good luck. The central character is Debbie Moerman, born in Bozeman, Montana, who made it to Texas as soon as she could.
Her family moved to Stephenville when she was in the fifth grade.
“My dad was an accountant who raised Simmental cattle," she said. "At one of the shows, he met a man from Stephenville who offered him a job and he jumped at the offer to come down here. But it was culture shock. To us, Stephenville was a big city.”
She got used to the big city, attended Stephenville High School and graduated from the University of North Texas. Nineteen years ago, she married her husband, Andrew. Many of those years she was an educator and currently teaches third grade.
The Moermans were living in Comanche when she got the idea for her baking business and began selling her first products. In 2001, they moved to Dublin, settling near the Veldhuizen Family Farm cheese store. And this is where it gets really interesting.
Dublin was having its annual Dr Pepper birthday celebration and she reserved a booth for Debbie’s Specialties at Alleyfest to introduce people to her gift baskets and baking mixes.
“I didn’t have any idea how popular the Dr Pepper birthday celebration was," she said. "I’d never even been to the Dr Pepper museum at the time.”
By 11 a.m., she’d sold out of the Dublin Dr Pepper Cake mixes and people who sampled the cake were going to Old Doc’s Soda Shop asking for it.
“They had no idea what everyone was asking about – I didn't even know them yet. Later that afternoon, the managers came over and sampled the cake. They were very complementary and asked if I could visit with them the following Monday. They wanted to sell my cake mixes in the shop and insisted that I keep my name on the label along with theirs. We agreed on a handshake.”
So began a long, cordial relationship.
“Every year after that, they’ve asked me to make their birthday cake. Now it’s made to serve a thousand people. It’s been about 14 year or so since I started that,” she said.
There’s more to the story than a stroke of luck, however. Like millions of small business owners, Debbie’s faced challenges and made tough decisions. More than once, she felt like giving up, but she was encouraged by her husband and her grandmother, who advised her not to quit.
“My grandmother was a little like me when she was younger. She invented a brand of pre-made pie crusts and went around asking stores to carry them," she said. "But there were difficulties and she didn’t carry through. She regretted that.”
When it came, success was so rapid that Debbie had almost no time to think about it. But she and her husband thought deeply about how to keep their home life balanced.
“We never took out a loan on our business. We financed it all ourselves. We kind of want to stay small," she said. "We want to succeed, but our main focus is our kids.”
But wait. That’s not the end. There’s another twist to the story.
When Dublin Dr Pepper became involved in a dispute with its parent company and everything was up in the air, Debbie had to think: Was there another way to distribute her product?
Out of the blue, she sent an e-mail to HEB. Months went by, but one day there was a reply. Their buyer was interested and wanted to talk.
The meeting went well. Very well.
“I was so surprised that they’d be interested. They selected our product to be on their shelves in 180 stores," she said. "So, when the Dublin door closed a little, another door opened.”
Humorously, Debbie says her long-term dream is just to take it one day at a time.
It seems to be working.
To see Debbie’s full product line and learn more about her story, visit her website at www.dspecialties.com.