Tucked into a corner of the kitchen in Spartanburg Methodist College’s cafeteria, freshman Marshall Langley gets to work.
Before him are rows of bright green cupcakes. He injects them with lime filling – it helps keep the cupcakes moist, and the tang balances out some of the sweetness – and then he tops them with cream cheese icing. The key lime cupcakes are a hit.
“I get compliments all the time, people saying something was really good, that they enjoy the variety,” said Langley, dressed in his black-and-red chef’s jacket. “And that motivates me to keep creating new things and make them better.”
Langley, 18, was born in Eastern North Carolina and moved to Spartanburg when he was 9. He graduated from Dorman High School in January 2019 and is studying science at SMC with a strong interest in microbiology.
Baking is a passion for Langley, one he discovered on his journey to college.
In the 11th grade, Langley had the opportunity to start working at Daisy Cakes in Pauline through a culinary arts program at the R.D. Anderson Applied Technology Center. Daisy Cakes and its founder, Kim Nelson, gained national fame in 2011 thanks to an appearance on the reality TV show “Shark Tank.”
In October 2017, Langley started working at Daisy Cakes and began learning the trade. His hours and responsibilities grew, and Langley took the extra courses needed to graduate high school early was so he could spend more time working in Pauline to save up money before going to college.
When he started at Spartanburg Methodist last fall, Langley thought the desserts in the dining hall could have a little more flare. He wondered aloud if maybe he should try making them.
Word got around. It wasn’t long before Langley heard of an opportunity for him to pick up some of the baking duties. He started in early November at just a few hours a day, but that escalated to about 30 hours a week as Thanksgiving approached.
Langley likes to find recipes and put his own spin on them – adding Jell-O mix to cakes and cupcakes help with color, flavor and consistency, for instance.
“When I first started here, I made cupcakes and cakes – about 25 cupcakes a day, and it took two days to go through them. But now, I’ve been making 150 to 200 a day, and they’ve been going by the end of the night. It’s crazy,” Langley said.
“I got a lot of experience on how to bake at Daisy Cakes,” Langley explained. I also learn new techniques and recipes from YouTube videos. It’s a hobby for me. I find it really enjoyable. I always wanted to try different recipes out, but never really had the time or energy when I was at home. But now that I’m at SMC, I can do it and make money, so I’ve been trying out different ideas.”
Kansas City, Kan.-based Pioneer College Caterers is the contract food service provider for Spartanburg Methodist College.
Pioneer’s food service director, Jeff Rehn, said about 60 students currently work for the outfit – some only put in a couple of hours a week, others work more. He said you can’t know a student’s skill in the kitchen until you see what they can do. Langley impressed him from the start.
“You never know how God’s going to work and the doors that are going to open and close,” Rehn said. “Before Marshall came in, we needed help with desserts. And for someone to walk in like that, who is a student, and take it to the next level, was just really very neat.”
Rehn’s goal is for students to not only learn food service skills while working for Pioneer Catering, but also how to manage their time, be accountable and take ownership of their work. He checks in with his student workers to make sure they are keeping up their grades, so he knows whether to scale their hours back.
Langley’s typical day consists of classes in the morning, baking from roughly lunchtime to dinnertime, and then studying and doing homework in the evening.
“My thing is, I hate being bored,” Langley said. “I don’t like sitting down for 10 minutes and just doing nothing. I like to constantly keep moving and doing things. I just love working. At some points, I worked more than 50 hours a week at Daisy Cakes. That’s why I love working here at SMC – I don’t see it as a job, but something that’s just fun, something to do that I enjoy.”
While the food industry does employ some microbiologists – large-scale production facilities in particular need them to check and maintain safety and quality standards – Langley’s career focus right now is in the pharmaceutical field. But he’s been thinking recently that perhaps he can use a pharmaceutical career to save the money needed to one day open his own diner or restaurant, one where he would be in charge of the cakes, cookies and pies.
“I kind of fell into baking,” Langley said. “Before I started at Daisy Cakes, I didn’t think it would be that enjoyable. But it turned out to be really fun, so I’ve kept it up.”
In just a few short weeks, Langley’s reputation has grown. Rehn said he’s been approached at Pioneer-catered events about the new student baker in the kitchen, and a recent batch of strawberry cupcakes was particularly well-received.
But if you have a favorite, get it while it’s hot.
“I try not to make the same thing twice,” Langley said.