First-year M.Div. student Krystal Hanegan and her husband Michael’s family looks like many others, but beneath that façade lies an incredible secret: the couple are visionary bakers. Their company, Cake the World a Better Place, has designed hundreds of one-of-a-kind cakes that channel recipients’ lives into confections that are as tasty as they are touching.
The two began their unlikely journey with a cake they made for their son’s first birthday. “We didn’t think it would take very long,” Michael laughs, “but we ended up literally pulling an all-nighter.”
Despite this inauspicious beginning, however, they were hooked. Their creations soon became ubiquitous at friends’ birthday parties—a refreshing change from the bland monotony of store-bought sheet cakes. It didn’t take long, however, before Krystal and Michael realized their baking’s potential to speak to life’s deeper moments, as well.
Their favorites are cakes they made for Bella, the daughter of Michael’s best friend. “The morning after Father’s day, we found out she had leukemia,” Michael says, “she was four.” They made a small cake for her, delivered with a bunny she could hold while undergoing chemotherapy. “Sharing that cake in the oncology ward with her family,” he adds, “was a sacred meal.” But then, one year later, they had a chance to make a cake for the birthday celebration that no one was sure would come. “It’s not my most technically crafted cake,” Krystal admits, “but it is a cake that celebrates the life of a little girl that is irreplaceable to her family and the world.”
In addition to the difference their cakes have made in others’ lives, the Hanegans are also overjoyed by the effect cake-making has had on their family. “It’s helped our children recognize that there are lots of ways to bring gifts to the people you care about,” Michael observes. Krystal concurs, adding that it’s “shaped them to welcome more people into our lives not as guests or visitors, but as family.”
Indeed, she is clear that she views this mission of welcome as something that far exceeds concrete offerings of flour and sugar. “We have to stop thinking about hospitality as a program, or something that is just a ‘gift’ to certain people,” but instead rethink gift-giving within the larger frame of what it means to live in community.
Throughout, the Hanegans have discovered their art’s ability to transform gatherings and enrich the lives of those around them. “Birthdays get buried in birthday presents,” Michael notes. “The thing I’ve enjoyed the most is watching the way that the center of gravity shifts back towards the person we’re celebrating and towards each other.”
“It’s about intentionally shaping our communities,” Krystal agrees, “towards sharing, caring, providing, and concrete practices of welcome and inclusion.” Indeed, as Michael notes, all gatherings should aspire to foster this atmosphere of mutuality and love. “Host and guest become really blurry, which is just good theology,” he says. A testament to how this one family is making the world a better place, one cake at a time.