A rising star in the Harker Heights culinary scene, recently named on a jury of guest judges for the Food Network cake decoration show, Buddy v. Duff, was served.
Season three, which began last Sunday, continues for the next eight weeks as cake decorators and pastry chefs from across the country vote on which cake “impressed” them the most, according to Harker Heights businesswoman and cake decorator Lilian Halabi .
Her cake decorating business, Lily’s Cakes, started in her home kitchen and grew into a business in 2010. Now it has grown to a team of eight with two cake artists in addition to Halabi and a head baker.
“It started as a hobby and it took a while to become a business,” Halabi said. “It’s fun! I enjoy it. I take part in people’s celebrations with my cakes, I somehow celebrate with them – what they celebrate – with my cakes.”
Wedding cakes are her favorite cakes to make and decorate with, she said. The clean lines and simplicity that serve as a canvas for decorating with fresh flowers and taken to a whole new level are such an inspiration for her – not to mention being part of a special moment when a couple gives her new life together begins.
Halabi and her husband, who was recently elected to Harker Heights City Councilor, Sam Halabi, also own two full-service wedding venues in the Central Texas area. La Rio Mansion at 4501 Dice Grove in Belton and The Inn at Salado at 7 North Main Street are quaint spots for couples to marry.
Halabi said her plate stayed pretty full, she ran the three businesses, decorated cakes and met with brides who planned their ceremonies.
“We don’t just rent the place,” said Halabi. “It’s an all-inclusive package if the bride is looking for it.”
The Halabis place great emphasis on working within a single couple’s budget and provide everything from coordination to service – and cake, of course.
“We’re trying to make it as comfortable as possible,” said Halabi. “Wedding planning is not easy. I work with a lot of budgets. Every bride wants to have the perfect day, but she doesn’t have to spend a fortune to have the perfect day. “
Halabi said she really enjoys attending birthday parties – especially when families entrusted their bakery with their cakes from the start.
“Birthday cakes are fantastic, especially when I start with their kids’ cakes as they were in the womb with the gender reveal, then to the baby shower and then to the birthdays over the years,” Halabi said. “I feel special – you could have chosen someone else, but you came back to us.”
Halabi likes to bake with flavors – especially tropical like coconut or lemon with raspberries or autumn flavors like carrot cake, pumpkin spice and apple cake.
“You’re just so welcoming,” she said.
The most popular cake they bake is strawberry cake, a vanilla cake with strawberries and cream filling, with a puree from their own production.
“It’s so easy and people really enjoy it,” said Halabi.
But the icing on the cake for the Halabis food companies in the area was the recent acquisition of Acropolis, the Greek restaurant next to Lily’s Cakes.
The Halabis have been working on opening a restaurant for quite some time, but their other commitments have continued to divert their attention, Halabi said. Meanwhile, as the already established Acropolis became available, it was a perfect fit with her family.
“The previous owner wanted to step aside for a while for family reasons, and it’s right next to us – very similar to the bakery and Middle Eastern cuisine,” Halabi said. “It is an honor that she has trusted us – to be her neighbors for so long.”
Sam Halabi immigrated to Dallas, Texas, but moved to Harker Heights before his wife, Lilian, joined him 25 years ago. Syrian food has rich and fresh flavors and spices, Halabi said. The flavors in the Middle East differ by region, she said.
But aside from a few decorating updates, no major changes are planned for the restaurant, Halabi said.
“I like the saying, ‘If it ain’t broken, don’t try to fix it,’” she said. “We changed a few dishes: the falafel and the hummus, but we’re not making any major changes. It will still feel like a cozy restaurant and the menu items will be the same. “
On the street, Halabi said they hope to incorporate Lebanese dishes in line with their family heritage. They will study the market to get a feel for how their customers react to and greet the occasional Middle Eastern flair, she said.
“Maybe a special night or a special day – we have included a special menu – so you can try Middle Eastern food too,” said Halabi. “We don’t want to overwhelm the kitchen. You are used to a certain routine. And the customers too – they have already asked. “
The Buddy v. Duff Show is not Halabi’s first appearance on the Food Network. She has been on the air four times – she won Cake Wars and Holiday Wars. She said it was like a dream come true to be a virtual judge on the current show.
“It was an amazing experience with some really incredible cakes,” said Halabi. “It’s really exciting to be selected as one of the 50 featured judges for the show. This is the greatest show of the two titans in the cake world! “
Halabi said she appreciated the support she received from the community in Harker Heights and her customer base in Killeen and Fort Hood.
“You’ve been great for us in helping our small business and showing love, especially after our first national TV contest,” said Halabi. “I always say, ‘I can get used to that, my head gets big.’ We really appreciate the support we have had from day one. “