photography by Mark Batson
The Lakeland community is full of creatives, but not all of them are in the spotlight. Debbie Boyce, who has decorated cakes at Publix for 18 years, is a hidden gem of the community.
From weddings to baby showers to birthdays, the 55-year-old has helped countless Lakeland families celebrate the most important moments of their lives.
Debbie usually works behind the scenes, so having all eyes on her for an article and photo shoot was a little nerve wracking — but the excitement from her family made it all worth it. Debbie’s four children and 10 grandchildren were thrilled to see her work get much-deserved attention.
“They’re the ones who were talking me into this,” she jokes.
Debbie raised her children in Lakeland, but she didn’t grow up here.
“My dad was in the military so we moved around a lot,” she remembers. “But my grandparents lived in Lakeland.”
Debbie lived in six or seven places growing up, and even lived in Japan for two years when she was in elementary school. When her dad got out of the military, he and his wife moved to Lakeland. Debbie, then 19, moved to Lakeland with her daughter a year later.
As Debbie’s family grew, she stayed home with her children – but she stayed busy by baking. The hobby quickly grew into a passion as she practiced more and more.
“I made all of my children’s birthday cakes, made cakes for my parent’s family and learned from [decorating] books, and that’s how I started at home.”
Debbie’s baking stayed a passion project until her youngest daughter started high school. Since she wasn’t as busy at home, she decided to apply for a job at Publix.
“I figured I did it at home, so I’d give it a shot at the grocery store,” she says. “I like Publix and I enjoy my co-workers immensely. I’ve been working with them since I started. We have a lot of support and the benefits are good. I like [my job.]”
Debbie’s years of experience paid off, and she fell in love with her job as customers fell in love with her work. At the start, some of her biggest fans were the kids she visited at elementary schools.
“When I first started decorating, we did the job fairs at the elementary schools every year and the kids would love it,” Debbie remembers with a smile. “They would see us coming down the hallway and yell ‘Publix!’ because they knew they were getting cake. We’d do a little demonstration. I’d show them how to decorate a cake and talk while I decorated and they loved it.”
Debbie has also made cakes to celebrate some of Lakeland’s big changes.
“I made a cake when they opened the green Tax Collector’s office, and for the Detroit Tigers when they changed the name to Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium,” she recalls.
“We’re in so many people’s photo albums and on their phones — there’s a little piece of us everywhere.”
Barney Barnett, former vice chairman for Publix who worked for the beloved grocer for 50 years, shared with “The Lakelander” that Debbie has decorated numerous cakes for his family over the years.
She acknowledges it is heartwarming to decorate cakes for the kids, and exciting to be a part of Lakeland’s history, but Debbie’s favorite cakes to make are wedding cakes.
“I enjoy the creativity of making wedding cakes, and the sentimental aspect. [Although] I worry every single time I make one if it’s good.”
Often, wedding cakes are simply a precursor to Debbie’s long-term relationships with customers.
“I’ve had customers that I start off by making their wedding cakes, and then I make their first anniversary cakes, their baby shower cakes, and their kids’ first birthday cakes,” Debbie says. “A lot of them I see every year when they have an occasion.”
Debbie has worked at the Lake Miriam Publix her entire career, but she has also been called upon numerous times to help open new locations.
Debbie has touched the lives of her customers as well as her own family through baking.
“I bake with my granddaughter. She’ll be 10 in October, and two years ago she decided she wanted to make her cakes by herself,” she remembers fondly. “We bake at home and I show her how to do it. She loves cats, so we made a cat cake and she piped the fur on it. She even made mine and my husband’s birthday cakes this year and made me a little mermaid out of fondant.”
Since moving to Lakeland, Debbie has had a positive impact on so many people — not only with her impressive decorating, but with her quiet kindness and warmth.
“I’m big on memories. [I love] making memories with my own family, and being in other people’s memories.”
For more than 18 years, people have included Debbie in their special occasions because of her hard work and skill — and there are many more happy memories to be made.