In the 1990s, Theresa Mullane worked in the communications and engineering group in the US Army, monitoring the trajectories of military aircraft as part of the US Air Force.
In the 2000s, she cared for patients as a nurse in Latrobe, Westmoreland and across the country.
Now, she has embarked on a new adventure: turning her baking hobby into a business.
It started at the height of the epidemic.
Teresa Mullane, 62, owner of Kanzala Cake Cafe in Harrisburg, is a home baker who ships her sweets to several counties including Lancaster through Market Wagon with her dreams of opening her own bricks and mortar one day.
Mulan shared part of her journey from the military to her current career as a baker. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
You joined the Army Reserve when you were 28, right? What led to this decision?
yes. I was a single parent, trying to go to school and trying to support my two kids (then I was 3 and 2). So I thought I’d join the army and that serves two purposes: I’m going to help my country and help my kids.
What did you do in the army?
I was in communications and was with an engineering group in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.
How long have you been in the army?
I was in the army for nine years and then transferred to the Air Force. I stayed there for four years.
Did you do the same with the Air Force?
No, it was called the Medical Department… That was the title, but whenever I was going to spread out, I would do different things. It was deployed in Germany and we configured the planes.
Has it spread anywhere else?
Well, the US has deployed to Scott Air Force Base (in Illinois). When I was there, I had a different mission. It tracked the planes and put the crew on crew rest (which included making sure the cabin crew got rest before the mission). I also made sure that the planes got to where they needed to go and got there safely.
What did you do after you left the army (2006)?
That’s when I went into nursing…When I graduated (from the University of California, Pennsylvania) I was one of the oldest students in my class. I think I was 50 when I graduated from nursing school.
I started in medical surgery and worked at a small rural hospital in La Trobe, Pennsylvania, for about a year and a half. Then I started traveling as a nurse. I probably traveled for four or five years across the country.
So how do you end up going from nurse to baker?
Good question. Well, I can’t say I’ve always been interested in baking, but when my kids were younger, I would. But I never really had a chance to sell my wares. I had no money to advertise. I didn’t really have the money to keep buying the products. So this went by the wayside.
Once I became a nurse, I got the bread back up and started baking for my colleagues. They always said, “Oh, you should open a bakery” because they were my taste-testers. So being a nurse has given me the ability to go back to her.
So when did you switch completely and just focus on being a baker?
I would say it’s been about a year now. I mean, I still have my nursing license, but it’s been about a year since I went with it full time.
Did it start in the middle of a pandemic? This must be a scary time to start a new business.
right? she was. But as I said, I had this opportunity. I was working (through a nursing agency) as a vaccine coordinator. So I had some time to follow up on it. Most people didn’t get out. It was a good opportunity to be able to bake and people could still buy the items they wanted even though they couldn’t go to a bakery on the storefront.
Your bakery’s name has meaning. Can you explain that?
yes. Well, I have two daughters, Mackenzie and Alia, who have been in my life since they were little kids. They are now 16 years old and soon they will be 18 years old. Anyway, I got a phone call one day and asked if I could take care of them. This was over three years ago, and I said yes. So I wanted to be able to build something for them too, so when they get older they’ll have a good foundation. That’s why I decided to name it after them, hoping that one day they’ll be able to grab it.
Do they help you in the kitchen?
Now that’s a bit questionable. You will taste the test. But they also would go with me to sell events and things like that. But yeah, even if it’s just manual stuff, like loading stuff, it really helps a lot.
What kind of sweets do you make?
I started making pancakes and actually love apple pies and things like that and cake. Then I got into my sugar cookies. I do all kinds of pastries. I sculpt sometimes – I’m not a great sculptor, but you know, but I give it a try. Yes, anything I see that pops up might be new and on top, then I try that.
Are these family recipes or how do you come up with all these recipes?
No, not family recipes, but I like to try different things. So if I see something I like, then 99% of the time I tweak it to what I want.
How can people buy your sweets?
I work through Market Wagon, which is great. The market cart has been a life saver because it’s so far-reaching and so much more than I could ever do. So you don’t have to pay for all the ads and have them all delivered. I could never reach all the people reaching me.
How do you feel when you know that your sweets are far-reaching?
My God. It is really great. I remember the first time I sold something that wasn’t to family or friends, and I remember this person walking around with it and eating it…it’s amazing. It feels really good.
What’s next for you?
I would love one day to have a stone and mortar and be able to have a real coffee shop on the storefront. With that, I would like to be able to reach disadvantaged people, maybe like on Sunday and get something for the homeless. You know something where they can come and eat candy. I mean, everyone deserves to have good food. So this is my dream.