Robbins Kelly has her great uncle to thank for her unique name and she has always loved the fact that she had a special name. Robbins came to Coronado with her mom, two brothers and sister in the summer of 1964 and then began eighth grade when they moved here permanently the following year from Arizona. It seems she knows everyone in town and can’t walk more than a block without running into someone she recognizes.
Robbins remembers always enjoying being in the kitchen, starting with creating chocolate chip cookies and eclairs. Her famous rum cake recipe came from Pep Riley, a Navy wife from New Jersey. She started making them for friends, and her ‘side hustle,’ as she likes to call it, has grown exponentially by word of mouth over the past 50 years.
Robbins is also an excellent seamstress and learned those skills from her mother who had a hard time finding clothes for her 6-foot, willow thin frame and those of her brothers. She learned how to knit the European way from her sister’s German baby nurse, and by age eight she was knitting and needlepointing a variety of projects. She takes part in a weekly knitting group that knits blankets and Santa hats for babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Balboa Hospital.
After high school Robbins attended Monterey Peninsula College and lasted a semester living in her grandparent’s summer house; then transferred to Mesa College and then went on to the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oaklands where she earned a degree in textiles.
She opened her first store called Fabrication in 1982 in a little yellow house on 9th Street. Several years later, she moved the shop to the Crown Shops Center on 10th and C. Switching gears, she opened All Things Coronado on Loma Avenue in the space currently occupied by the Cigar Store. She then bought Mistletoe Christmas Shop in Seaport Village in 2004. Robbins ran both stores until her mom passed away and additional responsibilities took more of her time. Later she turned her focus entirely to Mistletoe until she closed it last year due to the impending demise of Seaport Village.
Even though her family was third generation Arizonians, when her mom moved the family here she “came into her own, living her best self here. Her world turned from grey to color,” says Robbins. Having grown up in Coronado, she points out the ‘coming home for the holidays’ rule here is “Christmas is optional, but Fourth of July is mandatory.” She has lived in nine homes through the years and has enjoyed the uniqueness of each one. Some of her favorite local haunts include the Yacht Club, Crown City Bistro and walking her dogs on the beach sidewalk.
She is a third generation Junior League member, has been on the Design Review Commission, and is an active board member on Coronado MainStreet. One of the highlights of the annual MainStreet auction is the ‘Rum cake for a year’ package which she donates. She enjoys life to the fullest with her husband Graham who was an America’s Cup sailor and still enjoys racing.
She worked on Councilmember Ruth “Patty” Schmidt’s campaign, who was like a second mother to her, and she baked rum cakes for Patty’s tradition of giving to the local fire departments. When Patty passed away, Robbins stepped in and has continued delivering 50 of the quarter sized cakes each Christmas for the firemen to enjoy. She also gives rum cakes instead of flowers for funerals.
Robbins’ Rum Cakes started out with just one size but has morphed into eggs and bunnies for Easter, hearts for Valentines as well a variety of sizes. The full size three-pound cake feeds 15-plus people, depending on hunger level, while the half size feeds seven to eight people. The quarter cake serves four people, the mini six-ounce serves two and the two-ounce bite size is for one, but it leaves the eater wanting more. The cakes last several months in the fridge and can be frozen for longer. She smiles as she tells the story of a client who keeps their cake in the freezer and slices off a smidge to enjoy each day. She has a growing clientele in Coronado and has mailed her rum cakes all over the U.S. and as far away as the Middle East.
Robbins says her rum cakes aren’t just for holidays, they can be ordered for any occasion via her website at www.robbinsrumcakes.com or by calling her at (619) 892-2168. One bite and you will be hooked.