Our interview with Tawana
How did you get into this business? Why a bakery? had you done this before? Tell me the story of your business.
For as long as I can remember, my mom baked and cooked for people and everyone loved everything she made. Everyone asks me for her recipes or if I will do a book with them, but it was all in her head. I’ve been able to duplicate some, but definitely not all of her food items.
She used to decorate sheet cakes for people with characters from television and toys. She used the star-method where she covered the cake with one drop of icing at a time. She loved it because the recipients were always so excited to see the final product. I still have many of her decorating tools, tips and baking pans. I keep them to remember her hard work and love of baking. She’s been gone a little over 16 years now, but she truly loved sharing herself through her food and I guess I caught that bug.
My enjoyment of baking and cooking inspires me to create dishes for my family, friends and coworkers to try. It’s a huge compliment that people are willing to spend their hard-earned money on my products. I love creating happiness with a little flour and sugar!
How do people order and get their products? Do you ship? do you have a physical building?
We are in the process of renovating a much loved location in Sherman, Mississippi, ”the old Vickers building.” The residents of the area have shared their memories of the Vickers’ building with us. It used to be a diner and gas station where the community often gathered. We have had so many people stop and tell us how happy they are to see someone fixing it up. They all tell us they will definitely support us and our business which is a great feeling.
We didn’t know the history when we bought it; we thought it was a great location, and we wanted to invest in the area in the hopes that it would help stimulate growth and prosperity for the local residents. It’s a very cute and homey, small town….full of potential! We’re happy to do our part.
What is the most challenging project you have done yet?
My family would tell you that bread is the most challenging for me. It’s not what you think though; they would tell you that I always burn the bread (haha). Anyone who cooks knows that the bread is coming out of the oven at the same time that everything else is finishing, so things get a little hectic in the kitchen, and we sometimes forget to check the bread (haha) so it’s not always the prettiest. But, all that truly matters is that it tastes good!
I would have to say macarons (not to be confused with the delicious coconut-based cookie, the macaroon), are the hardest items for me to truly master. Macarons are so special at our house that our son asks for them every year for his birthday! They’re his absolute favorite. You have to be pretty special to him to get him to share them. So I work hard to try to make them perfect.
I am self-taught, and I prefer the taste of French macarons, but to get the beautiful smooth finish with the perfect size feet is very complex. There are so many technique variations and so much is dependent on your ingredients and baking environment. I will keep working to perfect them. It has become a challenge that I can’t let go.
Has the pandemic impacted your business? if so, how?
I only had a couple months of canceled orders, then I started getting orders for smaller cakes or wrapped and individually packaged products so there was a lower chance of touching another person’s food item. All in all, it’s been a much busier year. I think people are looking for anything to bring happiness and enjoyment to their more intimate celebrations! We all love to see our loved ones with smiles on their faces, and what better way to do that than with something sweet and beautiful at the same time?
Are these cookies hand decorated? How are they so uniform? is it laser printed?
Yes, each cookie is decorated by hand. It’s definitely a labor of love because it does take some time to do!
My husband and I have both retired from Toyota Motor Manufacturing, so we definitely have a manufacturing background, which focused heavily on efficiency in the processes, so he has been determined to find a way to speed up the cookie decorating process (haha). I truly believe someday he will invent something. He’s very talented when it comes to out-of-the-box thinking.
Do you have employees?
Up until a couple months ago, I was a cottage-baker, and I based my business on word-of-mouth to sell my products. It worked well because I could set my own schedule and get plenty of practice and experimentation time. Now, however, I utilize Facebook and Instagram, so I’m quite a bit busier. Our oldest daughter, Chelle, has also caught the baking bug, so she helps me as much as she can. But we love being busier and making people happy with our products.
Do you do the cakes? How did you learn to do them?
Yes. The pictures posted on our social media sites are all my work, although, we’re starting to include a few that Chelle decorated. She’s growing and learning quickly. It’s been fun to watch her excitement when she masters a technique that she’s been working on. It’s a blessing to be able to pass on my love of baking to her, and she’ll be much better than I am when she’s my age.
I watched my mom decorate her cakes for hours at a time. She would get frustrated if it wasn’t perfect. We thought everything she did was perfect, but we bakers are our own worst critics. I believe we are all perfectionists, so we’re always working hard to be better.
Most of the pictures on our sites are orders from customers, and the designs are something they wanted when they ordered. Some of the designs are things I had been wanting to try, so when the customer told me they didn’t care what I did, it was extra fun for me to be able to stretch my creative muscles.
Tell me about the recipes for the cookies. Did you develop them? Are they completely from scratch?
Yes, the recipes for our products are completely from scratch. Through a lot of trial and error, I try to come up with the perfect combination of ingredients for each item. The hardest part is remembering all the changes for the next time.
Many people don’t think they are fans of decorated sugar cookies due to the “dry texture or hard icing” they’ve experienced with other cookies, but we take pride in the fresh, soft bite of our cookies. Our customers love them!
Do you do large orders for big corporations or only small individual orders?
We will do any order for anyone as long as we feel confident that we can maintain the quality and taste of the products we are creating. We want every customer, whether they’re a corporation or individual, to enjoy them above all else.
How much lead time do you need to get cookies to someone for Christmas?
The Christmas season is always the busiest time of the year for us, so the earlier you order the more likely we are to be able to fulfill it. We are typically a couple weeks out for new orders at any given time and during the holidays, we need a little longer lead time.
Where do people get in touch with you?
You can reach us through our FB page (Sweet Honey B’s Cakery & Cafe), our Instagram page (@sweethoneybs), or message us directly at 662-316-5585.
Tell us a little more about your background.
My husband and I are both from Kentucky. He’s from the western side, Greenville, and I’m from the northeastern area, Vanceburg. We met in central Kentucky – Georgetown – where we both worked at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky.
When we heard about their plans to build another manufacturing plant in Mississippi, we were both interested in the opportunities it had to offer.
Russell transferred to the Mississippi plant to help set it up and develop the processes. During his transition there, we started dating, so it didn’t take long before he convinced me that I should transfer as well.
So we started the new chapter of our lives together in Mississippi. With his four children, it was an instant family for me, and I loved being a part of it. We now have seven beautiful grand-children to spoil whenever we can.
We have both retired from Toyota and are starting the next phase of our journey. We have combined our love of log homes and our love of family, community and baking to create businesses that we hope will thrive and keep us busy for years to come.
Becoming a Bakery
Conversion of the Vickers Building in Sherman, Mississippi, to Sweet Honey B’s Bakery will be completed soon
Interview by Claudia Johnson. Responses and photos by Tawana Basham. Story by Amy Green, CSllcConsulting.com