Despite being diagnosed with stage 3C colon cancer in April 2016, June Heidrick, who owned Katies Cakes, kept going to work even while undergoing chemotherapy.
She finally stepped away from the business in August this year. Heidrick died on Nov. 12. She was 65.
“I’ve never seen anyone with that amount of strength before, and I doubt I’ll see it again,” said Heidrick’s youngest daughter, Michelle Dufoe. “It was unbelievable.” (Heidrick’s eldest daughter is Marjorie.)
Heidrick was born at Toronto East General Hospital (now Michael Garron Hospital) in June 1953, before moving to Brownsdale, N.L., with her parents, Albert and Veda Austin, who have since died.
While she was growing up there, Heidrick’s father worked in Toronto. Her mother stayed home to hunt, cook, clean, and collect water from the well. The family moved back to East York on Monarch Park Avenue when Heidrick was 12.
“My mother and grandparents came from nothing,” Dufoe said. “It was her upbringing that motivated her to work harder.”
In 1976, Heidrick purchased Katies Cakes (also known as “The Store”), located on O’Connor Drive and Amsterdam Avenue, from a woman named Katherine, which is where the store’s name came from. She also convinced her mother to quit her job at Hallmark and help run the business.
Initially, “The Store” made chocolates. It was her mother who suggested they make cakes as well. That is when their business began to gain more exposure. They now sell cakes for weddings, corporations, Christmas, birthdays and even erotica.
Katies Cakes was a family affair. Heidrick’s father, a tow motor operator, and her husband, Warren, who worked in water and sewer maintenance, also pitched in at the store after finishing their respective shifts.
“They were always around, so I never had a babysitter,” Michelle Dufoe said. “Some of my favourite memories are when my entire family was together.”
“The Store” also made a decision to create a nut-free environment in 2002 after Dufoe’s son, born in 2000, was diagnosed with multiple allergies, including nuts. The decision allowed their cakes to be offered to members in the community with dietary restrictions.
Erin Marie, a customer and former East York resident, has a nut allergy and discovered Katies Cakes through her sister, whose daughter suffered from the same allergy.
“It allowed my family and I to enjoy birthday cakes and my wedding cake, which is a first for me,” Marie said. “My family is eternally grateful, and her (June’s) passing is a huge loss for her family and the community.”
Simone Vieira St. Aimée, another former East York resident, has been a customer at Katies Cakes for more than 10 years and has fond memories of June Heidrick.
“She knew me by name and made a cake for every milestone in my life, including my husband’s and children’s lives as well,” Veira St. Aimée said. “I will truly miss her.”
Katies Cakes became better known through TV spots and from being featured in the Toronto Star. Despite the attention, Heidrick preferred to stay out of the spotlight.
“She always wanted to be the person behind the scenes,” Dufoe said. “I know nothing made her happier than seeing a child’s reaction to their cakes. That was so special to her.”
Heidrick was also heavily involved in the community, whether it was participating in local charity drives and collecting donations from customers, or putting aside donation money when local charities came by — or contacting them if they didn’t stop by.
“She was a very giving person and loved helping those who didn’t have much,” Dufoe said. “It was also easier for her to make these efforts because of her status in the community, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
Dufoe, a lead associate for a telecommunication business, worked at “The Store” until 2010, before changing careers due to her scoliosis and to focus on raising her son. Since 2016, Katies Cakes has been under the ownership of her cousin, Cherie Heidrick.
“One thing that I’ll miss most about my mother is her tenacity,” Dufoe said. “She’s my hero.”