October 30, 2011

Smelling the Sweet Smell of Success

My parents decided, when most people try to cruise easily toward retirement, to follow my dad's dream of owning a business in the food industry.  When I was a kid, everyone who ate his pizza told him that he should open a pizzeria.  He grew up in Chicago, where really good pizzerias like Lido's, Pizzeria Uno/Dues (the ones in downtown Chicago, not the franchises), and Geno's are a dime a dozen.  When we moved to St. Louis, it was apparent that we would have to make our own pizza, since, in our decidedly unhumble opinion, Pizza Hut was the best pizza St. Louis offered, though that was over twenty years ago and the situation may have changed.  He worked for years trying out different crust recipes until he found a winner in the Foccacia Romana recipe in "The Frugal Gourmet Cooks the Three Ancient Cuisines."  Then he played around with sauces and different Italian sausages.  My mom is a baker extraordinaire, coming from a long line of excellent women bakers.  It is no wonder I had problems with weight over the years.  For Christmas, she would bake at least five different butter cookie recipes from my great grandmother, GiGi's, recipe book, sometimes doubling them.  One year, at her peak, she produced enough Christmas cookies to last us until February, though I might be exaggerating slightly.

Over five years ago, he and my mom decided to pull up their temporary stakes in Arizona to move to Memphis and follow his dream of making delectable desserts.  They chose Memphis because my brother was working there as a chef and could help them out and becuase there weren't a lot of bakeries that offered what they envisioned.  And just as he worked for years on perfecting the pizza, my dad has worked throughout the start of his business, trying different recipes, making little modifications here and there to produce cakes that are 100% lusciously decadent.  They now have six staple cakes—caramel, carrot, chocolate, coconut, red velvet and strawberry.  They also make pumpkin cakes for the holidays.  They don't use mere buttercreme frosting, but add cream cheese for extra richness.  The strawberry cake has four layers, with two of them separated by homemade strawberry filling.  Their chocolate cake satisfies the most ardent chocoholic junkie's desires.  In fact, all the cakes have dense flavors without being overpowering, or treacly.  They are not flamboyant cakes, but aesthetically pleasing in a simple way.  They currently sell them to deli's, restaurants, coffee houses and upscale marketplaces.  With these six cakes and some "momma's cookin' cakes" like Gooey Butter Cake and Mississippi Mud brownies, their business has grown steadily over the past three years.  Each month for the past nine months they have broken sales records.  And they are starting into their prime season, when everyone is out a lot getting ready for Christmas. 

I had that in mind when I planned to visit them in the middle of October.  The last time I saw anyone was last Thanksgiving because running your own shop before sales take off and require outside help does not allow for many vacations.  I also planned it around my SIL's fall break schedule.  However, a series of events created a lot of work for my folks the week I was there.  I actually had fun hanging out in the bakery for two mornings, helping the pitiful little bit that I could.  I am pretty sure my kids enjoyed watching movies on the iPad in their office while I was helping there, though it wasn't exactly what we had planned when we traveled to see them.  I felt especially honored (and nervous) when my dad allowed me to spread the first coat on the cakes.  The kids helped frost some cupcakes that were intended to be brought home as taste samples and got to see how the cakes and frostings were made.  To be sure, I was disappointed that I wasn't able to hang out and relax with them as much as I thought I would and that they weren't able to spend as much time with their grand kids, but I also know that in addition to being a dream, this business is their livelihood and their retirement plan.  And we worked it out that, in the future, we would make tenative plans for all non-Thanksgiving visits, to be postponed if extra work unexpectedly came up that would prevent them from being able to spend time with their grandkids.  We are currently planning to celebrate the sesquecentennial celebration of the battle of Shiloh in April.

If you are ever in Memphis, for whatever reason, or you live there, when you eat out, ask if they offer cakes by All American Sweets for dessert.  If they do, be sure to try them.  But beware, they are addicting.


Jennifer Dougan said...


Good for your parents to follow this dream of opening up a pizzaria and bakery! Glad you got to see them.

Do you own and operate a shop too?

Jennifer Dougan

tandemingtroll said...

No, I don't run a shop. I have enough to do homeschooling and helping out in our church and keeping my house a non-disaster area. :-). Maybe when my kids get older, if there is interest and opportunity we could talk about starting a bakery here.

Kate said...

Good to know that dreams can come true even after we grow up! It will keep your folks young.

AquaJane said...

I give your parents a lot of credit for following their dream ~ which happens to be something requiring a lot of work. But the creativity must also be energizing. Glad you got to visit. I love your descriptions of the their baked delights.