Anyone who’s ever been to a county fair knows the goodness of a hot, powdered, sugar-covered funnel cake that’s available only once a year. But in Decatur, a new business is thriving by offering funnel cakes every day – and these sublime creations can be topped with ice cream, fresh fruit, bits of candy or cereal, with syrup drizzled atop a cloud of whipped cream.
It’s no wonder customers drive from all over to sit in a long line at the Funnel Cake Queen drive-thru. And they say it’s worth the wait – a serious wait, often from 45 minutes to an hour, with cars lined up for nearly a mile every Saturday.
It might seem amazing that this new business has flourished during a pandemic. But these decadent funnel cakes give customers something to look forward to, something to indulge in, something to feed their spirits.
And the fair-inspired confections aren’t the sweetest things about Funnel Cake Queen. The queen herself, Kenya Congress, is quietly funneling her profits right back to her customers and her community. “Nothing special about me at all,” she insists. “It’s all God!”
Recently, she posed a question on the business Facebook page: “What bill you worried about?” Immediately, people responded: rent payments, car payments, utility bills, student loans.
“Come see me tomorrow,” Congress wrote.
The next day, she gave away almost $2,000.
“This is a perfect example that there is still so much good in this world!” one person wrote in the thread.
One single mom sent her a message saying she was two months behind on her mortgage payments, and she sent the statements to prove it. She had missed work because she was taking care of her children who had COVID-19. Congress couldn’t stop thinking about her. A couple of days later, she gave her the money to catch up on her payments.
“We were so busy the next day, I didn’t even miss it,” she said. “Helping people is my heart. To be in a place where I can give back, it does something to my heart. I’ve been there.”
What most people don’t know is that bubbly, friendly Congress, who’s always flashing her megawatt smile, has had her share of struggles in life. She grew up in nearby Courtland, where her house had no running water. Later, she remembers scrounging for change to buy Hamburger Helper to feed her three children. She has struggled to pay the rent, and her car was once repossessed. She even sold drugs at one point.
And then, 10 years ago, she spent three months in Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women after she gave the wrong person a ride for $10 in gas money. It happened that he had just robbed someone, so she was charged as an accessory to the crime, she said. She remembers how desperately she missed her children while she was incarcerated.
“I thank God for that time,” she said. “I needed that time so God could sit me down and show me who I really was. I don’t take those three months lightly at all. God protected me.”
Becoming a queen
Congress’ life has been blessed in the years since. She met Anthony, now her husband, while working 16 hours a day as the manager of a fast-food restaurant. He told her she didn’t have to work anymore. “He took care of us,” she said, and she was able to spend more time with her children, who are now 21, 20 and 15.
While doing volunteer work, she met a homeless woman who had nowhere to go with her child. The woman stayed on her mind for a year until, in early 2018, Congress opened Home of Grace, a temporary shelter for homeless women and children. She felt that she was making a real difference there, but funding was always an issue.
She started making funnel cakes, which she cooked in a cast-iron skillet on a stovetop eye and sold in a shopping center parking lot to pay the utilities at the home. While the funnel cakes were a big hit, she just couldn’t manage to keep Home of Grace open. When it closed, she was devastated. But “God reassured me I’d done what I needed to do, and I had a sense of peace,” she said.
She kept thinking about those funnel cakes and how people would ask about them. She dreamed of selling them in a food truck, but then she received another blessing when she met Connie Teague, who owns Joe’s Deli on Danville Road. Teague offered to share her space and fryer.
“She let me come in there with no money,” said Congress, who opened Funnel Cake Queen inside Joe’s Deli in February – three weeks before the pandemic closed the dining room.
By June, she had outgrown the deli and leased her own space in a shopping center on the Beltline. Customers drive up to the window and place their orders to go. The most popular toppings for the funnel cakes, which come in three sizes – contessa (3 inches), princess (6 inches) and queen (8 inches) – are fresh strawberries and strawberry cheesecake.
She’s proud to say that her oldest son works as a welder and her daughter is in nursing school. Both help their mother in the shop. And the light of Congress’ life is her 8-month-old grandson.
She never imagined Funnel Cake Queen would become so popular, but she’s planning to open a second location in Huntsville.
No matter how much her business grows, she knows she’ll continue to give more than she receives. It’s in her DNA. “God’s going to give it back to me,” she said. Giving to others “brings me such a joy. I absolutely love it.”
Funnel Cake Queen is at 1614 Beltline Road, Decatur. Open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 9 p.m. for takeout only. The phone number is 256-822-2205.