Susan Fontenot, owner of Mikey’s Donuts in Ville Platte, is pictured here with a freshly made King Cake on the Thursday before the Feast of the Epiphany. The King Cake is decorated with the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold and with a strand of beads. Inserted into the cake is a plastic baby representing the Christ child. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
An epiphany of dough
Twelve nights after Christmas is the Feast of the Epiphany which begins the Mardi Gras season. This season, that ends on the day before Ash Wednesday, is typically celebrated with purple, green, and gold beads and doubloons that are thrown from floats that parade down the streets.
Another popular item used to celebrate Mardi Gras is the purple, green, and gold colored King Cake. According to custom, these cakes honor the three kings who presented the Christ child with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
One Ville Platte business continues the tradition of making these King Cakes in store that was begun by its original owner over two decades ago. Current owner of Mikey’s Donuts Susan Fontenot explained the process of making these specialty items.
“It takes about two hours from start to finish because the dough has to rise three different times,” Fontenot said. “You have to mix your dough and then let it rise. Then you have to loaf it, smash it, loaf it, and let it rise again. Then you have to make the King Cakes and proof them where they rise in the proofer.”
The dough used at Mikey’s for the King Cakes is the regular donut dough, and cinnamon is then sprinkled into the mix. According to Fontenot, the cakes are “like a giant cinnamon roll.”
After the King Cakes are proofed, they are put in a screen and fried before being glazed with purple, green, and gold colored sugar.
Recent traditions include stuffing the King Cakes with fillings such as strawberry, blueberry, chocolate, lemon, and Bavarian creme. Fontenot said that the most popular at her business is cream cheese filling which is made in shop by mixing cream cheese with powdered sugar and milk.
Fontenot explained that Mikey’s makes cakes year round. “We do Christmas cakes, and for Easter we do the pretty little colored cakes with the egg in the middle,” she said. “We do birthday cakes, and we do the footballs with the blue and gold or the purple and white.”
“King Cake season is our busy, busy season,” she continued. “This is when we’re the busiest. Right now, we’re just making a couple each day, but then, as Mardi Gras gets closer, we’ll get really busy. Usually the Friday before Mardi Gras day is our busiest day because everybody’s bringing them to work.”
She also explained that Mikey’s no longer ships King Cakes. As Fontenot said, “We used to ship them, but then people were always calling us because they didn’t get their cake. We didn’t want to be responsible for delivering it.”
Mikey’s started making the King Cakes under the guidance of the original owner Michael “Mikey” Deculus. According to Fontenot, the King Cakes from there grew and grew and have gotten more popular.
Fontenot’s brother, Danny LaFleur, bought Mikey’s from Deculus in 1999. “He worked at Cameron Iron Works,” Fontenot said. “I don’t know what made him want to quit Cameron and come over here. He wanted to have his own business, and Mikey had it for sale.”
“We all thought he was crazy,” she continued. “He was going to leave a good job at Cameron with all those benefits. He had a wife and two kids, so it took some nerve. But, he did it and did really well with it.
LaFleur soon started employing family members, which continues today that most of the employees are family. “We always worked with Danny on Sundays when he bought it,” Fontenot said. “He did it for a few months by himself, then we started working so he could have a couple days off.”
Fontenot got more involved in the business when she retired from the LSU AgCenter. “When I retired, Kagan, my son, was just out of high school,” she said. “He wanted to learn from his paran, so Danny taught Kagan. We would work one week, and Danny would work the next week. It was a sweet deal because we would work seven-and-seven.”
After the untimely death of her brother last year, Fontenot and her son Kagan bought the business from LaFleur’s daughters. “Whenever he died, it was like nobody else could do it,” Fontenot said. “Kagan could do it, and Kerry could do it because he had been doing it on Sundays the whole time.”
“It’s been around for so long, and it’s a career for Kagan,” she continued. “Eventually we’ll take time off, and he’ll work more than us. And later on when Danny’s grandsons are old enough, they may want to buy it back. Hopefully we’ll keep it in the family for years to come.”
While keeping Mikey’s in the family is important for Fontenot, the most rewarding thing to her is what it means to the community after taking over the business from her brother.
“The most rewarding thing is knowing we kept the business going,” she said. “There’s so many people who have left Ville Platte and come to visit. They always want their Mikey’s donuts and King Cakes.”