In the time since the founding of Sugar Mama’s Bakery, the business has grown so rapidly that owners Hannah and Mike McConnell felt compelled to find a brick and mortar address to enable them to continue to develop their brand. Operated thus far from their home, they will soon (they hope by May) move to a new downtown location at 135 S. Gay Street, most recently home to Holly’s 135. They will re-brand slightly as simply Sugar Mama’s, given that they plan to be more than a bakery going forward.
Each of them took a very different journey to this point, but it’s a journey that merged last May when the couple married. Born in Central Florida, Mike moved to Knoxville to pursue his PhD in physics. He’s almost finished the degree and currently works for the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials, a cooperative project between UT and ORNL. Hannah was born in Michigan, but moved to Knoxville when she was two-years-old, spent most of her childhood here and graduated from Bearden High School.
She attended ETSU where she majored in English, but realized her junior year she wanted to bake for her living. She minored in business with that in mind and subsequently worked for Flour Head Bakery and Cupcakery. She applied to Tennessee’s Domestic Kitchen Program to start her own business from home. She got approval after she and Mike married and the two began the business together.
While helping people start a small culinary business from their home kitchen, the program comes with a number of limitations. For example, they can’t use meat or dairy products, all food must be packaged (which means no freshly baked foods) and the program imposes a limit of 100 “units” per week allowed to be sold. Still, while struggling with the limitations, they’ve managed to make distribution agreements for their products to be sold at Frussies, Saw Works and Casual Pint downtown. They’ve also managed to snag a recurring gig on WBIR.
All these accomplishments in such a few months for a new business is quite impressive and the couple says they think that, in addition to providing a good product, their love for working with people has been reciprocated. They also give credit to the support they’ve found at the Market Square Farmers’ Market, where both their cookies and their small cakes have been very popular. They intend to continue selling through in that venue despite opening the new restaurant.
They also have a close and unique relationship with local craft breweries. Their “punkabilly feel with community roots” fits well with the vibe of local breweries. As Mike says, “I’m a really weird physicist; a street punk turned physicist.” Mike focuses on all things not baking, such as social media, scheduling events and forging those important relationships. One such event at Alliance Brewing was one of the biggest events Alliance has hosted so far.
As they evolve into a brick and mortar business, there will be changes in what they are able to do. They’ll have more flexibility and will be able to produce a much larger amount of food. To this point they’ve had to strictly focus on what sells extremely well, whereas with the new storefront they’ll be able to give customers a wider range of choices.
For the first time, Hannah will have access to a full commercial kitchen. They’re awaiting a large hood and will have a 200 pound grease trap (as opposed to a 1500 gallon grease interceptor). The smaller grease trap is allowed for restaurants washing dishes by hand. They will also use paper products, which will reduce the amount of washing required. Beer glasses, however, will be glass and will be made with the help of Knoxville Graphic House. The couple plans to lease only the street-level portion of the building, leaving the upstairs vacant.
What should you expect? A “sizable” breakfast menu and live acoustic music and comedy, for starters. Leslie Berez will serve as baking manager and will be joined by several part-time employees. Hannah will open the restaurant and work most of each day. You’ll also find “anytime” foods such as sandwiches featuring locally baked bread and locally produced meats along with fresh salads. A charity day will be hosted each Sunday with a drive for a rotating charity group each week.
The menu is a long way from finalized, but the couple plans to include Mike’s family recipe for German Egg Casserole, as well as fresh-baked Danish pastries, Cinnamon Rolls and fresh biscuits. Breakfast will be served all hours and customers will find vegan and gluten-free options. One popular gluten-free choice to be continued is Hannah’s Amaretti Almond Cookies. She makes everything from scratch and uses “local, organic, and GMO free ingredients whenever possible.”
In addition to fine baked goods, customers should expect twelve taps delivering local and other excellent craft beers. Jason Carpenter, know to many of you as “Ratchet,” will make the beer selections in his role as Beer Manager. The plan is to have 50% of the taps be local and to include some specialty bottles. It’s an interesting combination of culinary interests for many Knoxville residents. Additional beverages will include Reclaiming Your Roots tea and Epiphany coffee.
At this point, a small amount of build-out has to happen, including removal of the booths people will remember from the last two restaurants and the installation of the hood. The primary factor dictating opening date will be obtaining required permits, including their upcoming appearance before the Knoxville Beer Board. They will also be hiring additional part time help (firstname.lastname@example.org, if interested).
You should expect a casual atmosphere with a punkabilly vibe including bright colors, but with a good night-time feel. A larger amount of seating will be included than previous restaurants have offered, though they may not have the full forty-nine seats approved for inside. There will also be a few seats on the patio outside. Planned hours are Monday, 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM, Tuesday through Thursday, 9:00 AM – 10:00 PM, Friday and Saturday 9:00 AM – 11:00 PM and Sunday from Noon – 8:00 PM.
Watch their Facebook page and website for updates and get ready to enjoy a unique new restaurant on the 100 block. In the meantime, check out this fun video to get a recipe and a sample of the personalities behind the business.