In a shop named for a Grateful Dead song—in a tiny Mississippi town you likely never heard of—a layer-cake fairy works magic.
story & photos by Bakery Boy
I stumbled upon Sugaree’s Bakery quite by accident, the kind of lucky accident that makes being Bakery Boy so much fun. Driving from Birmingham to Memphis one spring day, I stopped at Tupelo, Mississippi, to check out some bakeries. On a lark 28 miles further up the road I took a quick detour into New Albany, a population-7600 town I’d never heard of, and there it was.
A cake-holding fairy logo floats over the name above the retail entrance to this bakery in a former pharmacy. It’s part of a thriving, historic, two-block-long business district along Bankhead Street, where even with free angled spaces available, locals habitually park cars in a center lane you’d think was reserved for left turns.Inside, a host of gloriously tall layer cakes with gleaming frosting overwhelmed me. I tried slices of the two best sellers, Caramel and Strawberry, as well as the colorful and kid-favorite Rainbow Cake.
I could have sampled my way through other cakes including Chocolate, Coconut, Red Velvet, Banana Walnut, Italian Cream, Lemon, and Cream Cheese Pound Cake. Instead I found myself mesmerized by bites of Caramel Chocolate Walnut Bars, Lemon Bars, Peanut Butter Bars, Coconut Balls, and pretty little Petite Fours. So as not to enter a sugar-induced a coma, I saved the bulk of my samples to nibble during the 90-minute drive to Memphis.
Clearly there’s a bit of fairy magic going on at Sugaree’s and, considering the size of the biggest jelly-filled thumbprint cookies I’ve ever seen, maybe there’s a giant working in the back room too!
SING ALONG Owner Mary Jennifer Russell named her place for a Grateful Dead song (click here for lyrics) with an infectious slow groove and the memorable refrain, “Shake it [pause], shake it [pause], Sugaree.” If you know the tune, just try getting it out of your head for the next hour or so after you read this!
SIGNATURE ITEMS “We sell more Caramel and Strawberry cakes than anything else,” Mary says. “About 90% of our production is layer cakes. Only maybe 25% of the business is retail out the front door. The rest we deliver to grocery, specialty, gift, and gourmet shops all over northern Mississippi and in five other states.”
FRIDAY SPECIAL Walk-in customers look forward to Fridays when Sugaree’s makes its famously gooey and piled-high Chocolate Meringue Pies. “Each one has a pound of pastry crust, three pounds of chocolate cream filling, and a pound of meringue,” Mary says. Next time I go, I’m going on a Friday!
WHY HERE? “New Albany is my hometown and it’s where I want to be,” Mary explains. “I studied biology in college and was a pharmaceutical sales rep, but after being laid off three times in five years from different companies, I decided I wanted more control over my life. I learned cooking and baking from my grandmother while growing up, so I started with a $200 investment in some basic equipment and grew Sugaree’s from there.” Although Mary didn’t grow up in a bakery, her daughter Sylvia, now 6, will someday be able to make that claim.
LOCATION 110 West Bankhead Street, New Albany, MS 38652. It’s just off U.S. 78 (the future I-22 when construction is complete) 28 miles northwest of Tupelo and 80 miles southeast of Memphis.
HOURS Tue-Sat 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
INFO www.sugarees.com or 662-534-0031
(Sugaree’s cake and pie photos courtesy of Dianne Bond at Bella Vie Photography. Others by Bakery Boy.)