Roanokers knew Alonzo Hubbard as Big Al — the guy whose voice echoed for blocks as he hawked his homemade healthy desserts from a small booth at the Roanoke City Farmer’s Market.
He called out to people who passed his table with teasing comments, jokes and greetings that would get them to stop and sample his brownies, cookies and cakes filled with hidden healthy ingredients: flax seed, butternut squash, navy beans and zucchini.
He had been a health nut for years, his family said. When he first started his baking business, Healthy Stuff Cakery, he hadn’t touched pork in 40 years. He stayed away from red meat and salt, and instead focused on vegetables, fruits and fish. When he was later diagnosed with gastric cancer, it became even more important to eat the healthy stuff.
Hubbard, 73, died peacefully in his sleep May 29 after a long battle with cancer, family members said. As news of his death spread, his longtime customers shared comments and memories of the towering man who had become a staple in their lives and their diets.
“I always hear him described as ‘larger than life,’ ” his son Justin Hubbard said. “Because he was making the most out of living in the moment. He told me from a young age that being honest wasn’t just about telling the truth, but being the truth. He always stuck true to himself.”
Hubbard grew up in a small Georgia town with 11 siblings. He lived all over the country before he moved to Roanoke in 2009 to be closer to his two sons, Geoffrey and Justin. He also had four daughters from previous marriages.
Justin said when his dad moved to Roanoke, his aunt took him a loaf of zucchini bread to welcome him to town. Al started tweaking the recipe and brought back a zucchini cake. His mother and aunt thought it was so good that he should sell them. From there, Healthy Stuff Cakery was born.
Hubbard sold his desserts at the city market before expanding to a brick and mortar cafe on Grandin Road. His healthy desserts were the core of the business, but the menu grew to include breakfast and lunch items.
Healthy Stuff Cakery/Cafe opened in a small blue-gray house next to the post office in 2011. The walls were adorned with framed inspirational quotes Hubbard had written over the years. His three dimensional, mixed media artwork hung on the walls and he sold many of the pieces from the cafe.
“He was able to express his life and personality through his art,” Justin said. “It was a piece of his life and a piece of his persona that you were buying, more so than just a canvas.”
Hubbard’s art fused a love of music with pieces of his past. Much of his work featured instruments, animals, folk images and bright colors. His pieces popped up all over town, including an exhibit at Center in the Square.
His youngest brother, Elliott Hubbard, said Al was a man of many trades. He cooked, baked, golfed, created art pieces, and for a while, built birdhouses and cabinets.
Elliott said Al was the only person he knew who had read the dictionary from cover to cover, which gave him an extensive vocabulary.
“He was creative and intelligent,” Elliott said. “He always strived for self improvement and to be the best person he could be. He was getting the best he could out of this life.”
The last week of Al’s life was among his worst, Justin said, but will remain a strong and important memory for him. For months, Al kept reminding Justin that “death strips away all that we are not.”
“You don’t take anything with you,” Justin said. “What we remember about someone is what’s going to live on forever. The cancer was never his. His belongings don’t mean anything. Who he was as a person is who he’ll be forever. I think the world could use more of him.”
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.