The South's Best Bakeries 2021
There is an old adage that teaches when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, or in the case of a small town bakery, you just make bread and sweet rolls.
In a year that saw life-as-we-know-it come to a screeching halt—schools close, travel restricted, and businesses struggle to stay open—small town bakeries found themselves in a unique position to discover new business models (develop virtual baking classes), branch out in new directions (use idle kitchens to cook meals for families in need), and, as always, serve their community, the very heart of their business (donate food to front-line workers).
Every day, so many owners and employees of small town bakeries across the South rise before the sun to knead bread dough, shape sweet rolls, and frost cakes, all done with a passion to prepare delicious, quality items and a desire to give back to their friends, neighbors, and other business owners. It may be tucked away on a side street way off the interstate, but these bakeries enjoy a host of loyal customers (both local and nationwide, thanks to internet sales) who drop by for a cup of coffee, a sandwich, a sweet roll, and a reminder of what life is like in a small town in the South.
Back in the Day Bakery
Cheryl and her husband, Griff, have owned and operated Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah since 2002. It's a warm space in the city's Starland District beloved for its handmade Southern baked goods and communal spirit.
backinthedaybakery.com, 912-495-9292, 2403 Bull St, Savannah, GA 31401
Bread and Butter Bakery
Kelley Johnston chose an elephant as her logo for her new bakery in 2013 not simply because she thought the animals were cute. Johnston always sketched an elephant on the notes she left her children as they were growing up, a little something to remind them of her love and support. That drawing came to symbolize family and community, which is what is at the heart of Bread and Butter Bakery, says Zac Johnston, Kelley's son and co-owner. "We always want our staff and customers to feel like family and never just a dollar amount," Zac says. "The best thing about owning a small business is it instantly gives you a community. I rarely feel like I am working." Located in the historic downtown area of Covington, Georgia, Bread and Butter boasts a full menu of pastries, soups, and sandwiches, and has become a favorite place to meet with friends over an early morning breakfast bun (try the sausage, egg, and cheese stuffed rolls) or a Turkey Cranberry sandwich for lunch.
breadandbutter.coffee, 470-444-1330, 1124 Monticello St Southwest, Covington, Georgia 30014
Handy and Hot
Charleston, South Carolina
Trying to opening a bakery in the midst of a pandemic may cause some business owners pause, but owner Vivian Howard, award-winning and renowned cookbook author, TV personality, chef, and owner of multiple successful restaurants, was up for the challenge. Given this particular moment in time, Howard took a deep look at the takeout model and tried to think about how she and her team could use that and add some interesting things. Tucked inside the Renaissance Hotel in Charleston's historic district, Handy and Hot puts the takeout spin on the American coffee shop, offering grab-and-go items ranging from stuffed biscuits (the bacon, pimiento, and egg biscuit is a local favorite) a selection of sweet and savory hand pies, and seasonal salads.
handyandhot.com, 843-534-9032, 68 Wentworth Street,
Charleston, South Carolina 29401
Levee Baking Co.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Arriving in New Orleans in 2005 to attend college, Miami native Christina Belzebre quickly realized her love for baking and the hospitality industry were her true callings. Levee Baking Co. was first established as a pop-up before settling into a permanent location and even from the earliest days Balzebre was focused on using quality, locally sourced products. "The food and baking culture here is really centered around community," says Belzebre, "and understanding the local food system is something I've long been invested in." With a growing reputation for country-style bread, croissants, and sweet and savory galettes, three years ago Levees cemented its spot in the legendary New Orleans baking scene by introducing the Queen Cake, Belzebre's rendition of the classic Mardi Gras king cake. The popularity of this galette de rois continues to grow, and Belzebre feels fortunate to be in a space where people are willing to try new things and support non-traditional ideas.
leveebakingco.com, 504-354-8708, 3138 Magazine Street STE D, New Orleans, Louisiana 70115
The South's Best Bakeries
Muddy's Bake Shop
Opening a bakery on February 29 really took a leap of faith but, in 2008, that is just what Kat Gordon did. Armed with old family recipes, she left a career in real estate to pursue her passion for traditional Southern baking and was overwhelmed by the response of the people of Memphis. From the earliest days when customers would stay and help ice cupcakes or fold boxes, Gordon has been grateful for the community that continues to support Muddy's. Now, even with national recognition and a thriving online presence, Gordon stays devoted to Memphis and looks for ways to help local causes and other small businesses. She believes that her bakery is "best able to love and serve others when we are small and the relationships between baker, server, and guest are visible and so clearly mutual." Order online, sign up for a virtual baking class, or simply pop by the bakery for the ever-popular Prozac Cupcake—a decadent, devil's food chocolate cake with luscious buttercream frosting.
muddysbakeshop.com, 901-683-8844, 2497 Broad Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee 38112
Niedlov's Bakery & Café
When Erik and Lauren Zilen bought Niedlov's (at that time predominately a wholesale bakery specializing in hamburger buns and hoagies) in 2015, they had two goals. According to Zilen, they wanted to "bring rustic, naturally leavened loaves of bread to our family and friends in East Tennessee, and to serve the community through the process of baking bread." All the pastries and breads (try the Rosemary, Garlic and Sea Salt bread or the Chocolate Croissant) are baked fresh every day (bakers are up at 4am), made by hand, from scratch, using centuries-old techniques and pure ingredients. Giving back to the community is a guiding principle at Niedlov's and they do that in a number of ways, from donating bread and pastries to healthcare workers, food kitchens and local farmers, hiring people who are rejoining the workforce after incarceration, and setting up a fund for those experiencing barriers to employment.
niedlovs.com, 423-756-0303, 215 E Main Street, Chattanooga, Tennessee 37408
Red Truck Rural Bakery
Marshall and Warrenton, Virginia
Art Director for the Washington Post by day, baker and jam maker on the weekends, Brian Noyes, armed with his training from the Culinary Institute of America, would sell his goods from his old red truck to hungry customers waiting in line in a parking lot in the Virginia countryside. In 2009, the Red Truck Bakery moved from the back of a truck to a renovated 1921 Esso filling station and has grown to be one of the most lauded bakeries in Virginia. Now boasting two locations, nationwide online ordering, local pick-up options, and a menu that spans from sweets such as Meyer Lemon Cakes and Caramel Pecan Cake (the bakery doesn't ship layer cakes, so Noyes created a 9-inch Bundt-style version of this Southern classic) to savory such as freezable meatloaf and chicken noodle soup, Noyes is still intent on keeping Red Truck a "sweet, little charming bakery."
redtruckbakery.com, 540-364-2253, 8368 W. Main Street, Marshall, Virginia 20115
Royers Pie Haven
Round Top, Texas
Best known for its antiques fair, Round Top, Texas is also home to Royers Pie Haven, a coffee and sweet shop situated in a whimsical little house in the picturesque part of town known as Henkel Square. A seemingly peaceful place for a traveler to wind down, your peace of mind may be shattered as you try to choose between Not My Mom's Apple Pie, containing six Granny Smith apples in a filling of brown sugar and whipping cream, or the Texas Trash Pie which involves an indulgent collusion of coconut, chocolate chips, graham crackers, pretzels, and caramel. Owner Tara Royer Steele, also known as the Pie Queen, opened the business in 2011 as a bakery offshoot of her family's restaurant, Royer's Round Top Café. Besides sweets, breakfast offerings, and nationwide shipping on her pies, Steele now offers entire meals such as chicken pot pies and chicken spaghetti for local pickup.
royerspiehaven.com, 979-249-5282, 190 Henkel Street, Round Top, Texas 78954
New Albany, Mississippi
If you have a penchant for traditional Southern baking, step inside Sugaree's and be transported back to a time when everything was made from scratch. Dubbed "a national treasure" by author and professor William Ferris, this small town bakery boasts caramel frostings made in cast iron pans and meringues fluffy enough to make your Grandmother swoon. When Mary Jennifer Russell opened Sugaree's in 1997 she never expected homemade desserts such as her chocolate cake with rich chocolate buttercream frosting to become a niche market. It turns out, Russell says, "that people crave these saturated flavor profiles that can create a connection to our past, one of family and community." While Sugaree's boasts a large footprint thanks to social media and nationwide shipping, the bakery remains true to its original goal which is, according to Russell, to be a small town bakery in rural Mississippi carrying on some of the most delectable culinary traditions of the Deep South.
sugarees.com, 866-784-2733, 110 West Bankhead Street,
New Albany, Mississippi 38652
The Continental Bakery
To paraphrase a popular country song, Carole Griffin was sourcing locally before sourcing locally was cool. From the time she opened the Continental Bakery in 1985, Griffin has sought out the best ingredients from area growers, whether it meant harvesting figs from a neighbor's tree, bartering for fresh honey or buying cheese from a family dairy. For over 30 years The Continental has turned out flaky pastries, tea loaves, muffins (try the lemon-poppyseed vegan muffin), and fragrant breads (the Wild Yeast Sourdough is a current best seller and perfect for toast and sandwiches). Like many small business owners, Griffin knows the importance of supporting other local businesses, and is a founding member of the Birmingham Originals, an organization promoting local restaurants.
chezlulu.us, 205 870-5584, 1909 Cahaba Road, Birmingham, Alabama 35223