Beaumont, TX visitors and locals don’t have to cross the border to celebrate Mardi Gras in true Cajun-style. One long-time local Fat Tuesday favorite is enjoying the taste of King Cake from Rao’s Bakery. Rao's owner Jake Tortorice has been touted the "King of Cakes" by magazines and publications all over the US.

Founded in Beaumont in 1941, the famous Rao’s Bakery produces more than 8,000 King Cakes each year, shipping the purple, green and gold confections across the United States. Rao’s King Cakes come in multiple flavors and two sizes: large and mini.

More about the History of the King CakeRaos King Cake and Mardi Gras mask

For most, the new year is a time for resolutions and fitness goals. However, in fun-loving areas like southeast Texas, the first week of January begins King Cake season, a traditional gastronomic prelude to the city’s Mardi Gras celebrations.

Between January 6 (Three King’s Day) and Mardi Gras, Local bakeries like Rao's produce thousands of King Cakes, sweetly decorated with bright purple, green and gold. Hidden in each sugary King Cake is a small plastic baby. Custom dictates that whoever finds it must give the next King Cake party, or bring the next King Cake.

The cry "I’ve got the baby" announces that a party-goer has received the slice of cake containing the baby. That guest is King or Queen of the party, an honor that includes playing host at the following week’s King Cake festivity, where a successor is chosen in the same manner. King Cake enthusiasm also extends to offices, which serve the cakes at coffee breaks, and to parties for children whose birthdays fall during the Fat Tuesday season. 

Bakers estimate that they will take more than a quarter of a million King Cakes from their ovens before the season ends on Fat Tuesday. The traditional cinnamon-flavored cakes are the most requested, but in recent years, bakeries have broadened the King Cake selection by adding to their recipes. Apple, cheese, bourbon, and praline cakes are just a few of the many varieties now available. The cakes used to be a strictly local specialty, but they are now becoming much more widely known throughout the US. 

The signature Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold first appeared on the cakes after 1872, when the Rex Krew (organization) selected those colors for its opening Mardi Gras parade. The colors came to stand for Fat Tuesday and took on symbolic meanings: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.

About Rao’s Bakery & Coffee Café:

Established in 1941, Rao’s Bakery is a Beaumont favorite that specializes in ornate pastries, homemade gelato, specialty cakes, and premium coffee blends. Rao’s is known for its signature Lemon Dobasche cake, which was inherited from Louisiana and continues to be a best-seller. Along with an extensive dessert menu, Rao’s offers an array of breakfast and lunch menu options such as their highly popular muffins and burritos for breakfast or their sandwiches and wraps for lunch. They also serve a wide variety of hot, frozen, and iced beverages such as lattes, espressos, tea, and other specialty items. 

Johnny Rao owned and operated Rao’s Bakery for 30 years before passing it on to his sisters who then went on to leave it to their brother, Donald Rao. After going through a few other owners, Rao’s was sold to its current owner, Jake Tortorice. As a child, Jake would walk past Rao’s every day on his way home from school, stopping in to buy a brownie for 15 cents before continuing on his way. Nearly 50 years later, Jake would become the next owner of Rao’s and the man who would take the business to a whole new level of success.

Jake purchased the store in August of 1998 after running a chain of Great American Cookie Company stores for 15 years. In September of 1999, Tortorice remodeled the store and saw his business increase dramatically. Capitalizing on that success, Jake opened a new location in Beaumont’s West End Shopping District on Dowlen Road in 2002. The Dowlen location continues to be the highest volume store of the five locations Jake now owns, even outselling a Houston location that opened in 2005. His other properties include a kiosk at Baptist Hospital in Beaumont (2003) and a Mid County location (2008). For more information, please visit