Updated: May 5
Lloyd’s Carrot Cake Is a Heavenly Way to Eat Your Vegetables
It smells like home. Even a block away, it will still smell like home.
That’s at least how I have always seen Lloyd’s Carrot Cake. Every memory one might have that is warm, lovely and smells like cinnamon-and-sugar goodness fresh out of the oven, just might lurk in this Riverdale bakery. It’s what chef and Horace Mann alum Alex Guarnaschelli described as “the Katharine Hepburn of desserts.” Just follow your nose off the 242nd Street stop on the 1-train, and search for a sign with a dancing carrot.
Tucked at the bottom of the hill and across the street from Van Cortlandt Park, Lloyd’s is undoubtedly a neighborhood favorite which folks from near and far continue to regard as a culinary staple. Operating from a storefront in Riverdale since 1985, it produces over 1,000 cakes, pies, cupcakes and muffins a week.
To reiterate, it is indeed a neighborhood staple. As we speak to the owner, Betty Campbell-Adams, people flutter in and out with great smiles, each professing their love for Lloyd’s. From New York City firemen picking up five orders, to a member and coordinator of Van Cortlandt Track Club coming in and exclaiming victory in getting the last carrot muffin from the morning rush: “I walked a long way for this! Highlight to my day.”
However, Lloyd’s baked products have traveled even longer distances. Devoted customers have bought cakes and hand-delivered them to family and friends on international trips to the Philippines, Canada, China and Nigeria. However, the best story she’d been told was how one carrot cake reached American soldiers in Iraq, wrapped in T-shirts.
If distances aren’t enough to testify its reach, there are other measurements in time and great stories. The six-hour-wait lines during Thanksgiving are certainly nothing to scoff at, and people have been seen trudging to the store through blizzards. The nearby schools indulge happily in Lloyd’s cupcakes as a weekly treat. There is also a fond story of a customer who comes in every year with an empty plastic cake container and tries to pass a Lloyd’s cake off as her own recipe to her family!
“Everyone has their own way to show their love of it. It’s a true testament to the product,” Betty says with a smile.
Her late husband, Lloyd Adams, was the creator of the Lloyd’s Carrot Cake business, and a wonderful big-framed portrait of him hangs behind the counter. The cake stems from a family recipe passed down from his grandmother, to his mother, and then to him. It was a treat he would bake for friends after playing basketball. After a time working as a counselor in a hospital in Harlem he decided to turn his cake-baking into a career. Betty laughs telling the story of how her husband broke the news to her as they were still dating: “You bake?!” was her astonished reaction.
Still, Betty remained supportive. Lloyd and Betty eventually married, and thus began a journey of growth for Lloyd’s Carrot Cake. A pizza oven was installed in the basement of Betty’s father’s home in East Harlem, and a determined Lloyd endlessly baked, distributed and networked for his passion project. While working as a director of marketing for a cable company, Betty would come home from work and help him grease baking tins. “He was determined, very determined. It took a few years, but it definitely took on a multiplying effect.”
Local businesses owners tried his cake were thrilled with its taste, and word of mouth traveled well with praises. In 1986, they moved onward to opening their Riverdale storefront with the intention of baking for wholesale distribution, but customers couldn’t get enough and soon after they began retail sales. As the Lloyd’s staff beeline in and out of the nearby supply area, it’s clear the proof of such great product lays in their care. “We do everything manually, with natural whole ingredients, no frills.”
The bakery currently goes through 700 pounds of carrots a day, nearly doubling their capacity from years prior. They are grated twice for a smooth texture and provide the backbone to the moisture of the cake, along with signature touches Lloyd added to his family recipe: more eggs for sponginess, more cinnamon for warmth, amongst other delicious secrets.
As years have passed, more delights adorn the Lloyd’s menu, as well as the opening of their additional store in Harlem and their juice bar, Joosed, where natural juices, smoothies and teas take center stage next to their sweet treat predecessors. As the Lloyd’s Riverdale storefront faces Van Cortlandt Park, they see many an athlete and their cakes have been provided as favorite prizes for relay races and events. They proudly sponsor many of them. “Joosed—it definitely provides a balance. They’ll come for their healthy treat, even if it’s the cake they might want more!” A fantastic carrot on a stick in front of someone, indeed.
Lloyd Adams passed in 2007, yet the legacy of his passion only continues to thrive. It is something Betty and their son and daughter remain aware of, but embrace.
“We’re working twice as hard as before, but this is my own,” she says. “Certainly carrot cake isn’t a partisan product, but from all I’ve seen, it’s been purchased and loved by so many. I hope it only brings more people here, and that we can continue helping a cause.”
Words by Caroline Choe and photos by Clay Williams