VIDEO: Cupcake comeback: Joplin woman ‘still fighting tornado’

The tornado a year ago took her home, her cars and her business, but not her spirit. In true-grit fashion, Liz Easton decided early on to fight back. She was not going to let the tornado get the best of her….

JOPLIN, Mo. — The tornado a year ago took her home, her cars and her business, but not her spirit.

In true-grit fashion, Liz Easton decided early on to fight back. She was not going to let the tornado get the best of her.

“My husband will tell you I’m still fighting the tornado,” she said. “And, I guess I am. I feel like we have been violated. I just want back everything that was taken from us.”

Today, Cupcakes by Liz, one of the things the tornado blew away, will come back in a new storefront at 2310 S. Main St.

“I was faced with two choices,” she said. “I could curl up in a ball and wither away, or I could rise up from the ashes and give God the glory.”

The fight to come back was not one she would face alone. She had people in her corner who wanted her dream to come true as much as she did.

The concept for her new shop started with a sketch that she gave to Joplin architect Jeff Millard. He helped her design a functional structure that would meet city codes. Her contractor, Trace Hawke, went the extra mile to help keep her project within her budget. He wanted to create a model for the rebuilding of Joplin. Joplin Building Materials and Ornamental Iron, of Miami, Okla., helped her keep her costs down. Justin Buerge, with First State Bank, made sure the financing was in place.

“It was a sketch on a piece of lined paper,” Millard said. “She knew what she wanted. It has a New Orleans flair to it.”

Millard said that despite Easton’s losses in the storm, “she always had a great attitude. It seemed like everybody wanted to see this happen.”

Hawke said: “Being a Joplin resident, well, I love Joplin. I just wanted to help her and give Main Street a much-needed boost. I wanted a good-quality building, but we had to keep the price down.”

Hawke, with Franchise Building & Consultants, has constructed many Sonic Drive-Ins and Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt buildings over the past 22 years.

“It’s a block-structure building that’s the same size building as a Sonic,” he said. “I had a lot of material in stock in my shop that fit her project. I like a good challenge. It was like, ‘How can I make this happen?’ I wanted to give the best I could give with the least amount spent. We were able to do that.”

Granite slabs from houses destroyed in the tornado were recycled. The windows in the shop originally were intended for a Sonic. Hawke had stored them in his shop for eight years thinking that somebody might need them someday.

“It really worked out,” he said. “You know, I’ve been all over the U.S. To be able to come back and work at home, and help my hometown and utilize my abilities, well, it’s been a joy to be able to do that and to help a neighbor.

“I did not know Liz and Jim before this, but they inspired me to want to go in and help them get through this and make it better than it ever was. Hopefully, it’s an inspiration to the rest of Joplin to help improve the town. That’s the goal. That was the inspiration.”

It took two weeks for Hawke and his workers to erect the structure, but it has taken months for Easton to decorate the interior and exterior and create a whimsical place where one can escape the tornado-ravaged landscape outside her doors.

Millard said, “I hope it serves as a model for others to come.”

Easton got started in the cupcake business about six years ago when she made them for a friend who was having a dinner party. Today, she’s baking hundreds of cupcakes a week.

Her inspiration to become a baker was her grandmother.

“She loved to cook,” she said. “The secret to being a good cook is that you have got to love it. If I don’t feel it, it’s not going to happen. If I’m having an off day, if I’m not emotionally right, I am not going to cook right.”

She opened her shop in 2010 in a leased building at 2310 S. Main St. She and her husband had renter’s insurance, but as the business grew they failed to get additional coverage for freezers and other items they would acquire. When the tornado hit, they, like so many others in Joplin, were underinsured. They only things they could salvage were an oven and a dented metal sink.

When the shop opened, its hours of operation were 5 to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Easton’s concept was for the shop to be a “date night” place. That’s still the concept.

“I am booked with customer orders for weddings and other events through October,” she said. “I got a lot of complaints about being open only on Friday and Saturday nights.

“It takes two full days of baking and two days to make the butter frosting. I work 70 hours a week. Friday and Saturday nights, well, that’s all that is left of me. Let me tell you, being a little OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is helpful.”

In preparation for her opening, she has doubled her staff from six to 12. Her husband, who had been a loan officer, is now wearing an apron full time.

So who’s the boss now?

With a mischievous grin, she said, “I tell him what to do, but he’s still the boss.”

‘Willdabeast’ bracelets

THE FIRST 100 PEOPLE to visit Cupcakes by Liz today will receive “Willdabeast” bracelets that have been created in memory of Will Norton, who died in the tornado on his way home from his Joplin High School graduation ceremony.

SAID OWNER LIZ EASTON: “He would come here with his friends on Fridays and with his family on Saturdays. As a graduation gift, he was given some cupcakes. A friend of his told me that ‘I got the cupcakes’ was the last text he made to her.”

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