Sugar Mama’s Bakery: One year later

photo by Amanda Swanson

If you’ve been downtown in the last year or so, you’ve probably heard of Sugar Mama’s Bakery. If you’ve been living under the Rock for the past year or so, maybe you haven’t. Either way, it’s time to change your thinking about bakeries, particularly this bakery.

Hannah and Mike McConnell, the husband and wife duo behind Sugar Mama’s Bakery, got their start in a little red soda cart at the Farmer’s Market on Union Ave selling cookies, pumpkin bars, and fudge creams. With little more than a dream of opening a storefront operation, they grew their business via word of mouth and a fun, quirky social media presence. Barely a year after making their introduction into our community, they found a home at 135 Gay Street. Fast-forward to today and the one-year anniversary of Sugar Mama’s opening its doors – because it has doors, now – and the sweet business fairy tale that SMB’s has become.

In a feature piece about the small bakery cart, approximately two years ago, I wrote:

“Their dream is to make SMB’s a fixture in the community … they intend to open their doors to the weirdoes and losers of our city. Embracing differences and encouraging art. They plan to open the ‘beer drinkers bakery’ – a hangout where homemade marshmallows float in stouts… A place where local ingredients are king and anything outsourced must be pure and worthy. Where jobs are created and leftovers feed the needy.”

Upon reading this back to Mike and asking the question, “so is the dream realized?” he sort of chuckled and said, “yea, that’s pretty much it!” In the year since the McConnells and their merry-baking band of employees joined the 100 block community, they’ve seen their dream not only materialize but evolve into so much more than just cookies and beer.

Since moving the business into the building, Sugar Mama’s has grown beyond its initial conception. Being strong supporters of the community, they’ve narrowed their focus of draft beers to strictly local brews, specifically, beers from the Knoxville Area Brewers Association, of which they are now members. In fact, they boast the first ever All KABA tap wall in town, with 12 taps and the intention to double that within the year to accommodate the rising number of Knoxville Breweries. On the first Wednesday of each month, they do a tribute to local brewers. They offer domestic and other beer by the bottle/can, as well.

As the business and the tap wall grow, they want to work on menu pairings to include the savory flavors of local beer with the sweet treats from Hannah’s kitchen. They intend to not only pair food and beer but also cook with it. So in addition to her classic cinnamon rolls and Danish recipes, Hannah is also working local beer into her repertoire. Currently, the menu includes a Last Days of Autumn beer cheese and Hexagon Dunkel pretzels and pretzel dogs. Be on the look out for more recipes, as the couple will be talking about cooking and baking with local brews in their recurring monthly segment on WBIR.

With menu items inspired by local businesses and friends (re: the Sweet P pizza featuring Sweet P’s pulled pork and the RIOT sliders, mac and cheese stuffed garlic knots, named for the printers of the store’s merchandise), they truly have the city’s heartbeat pulsing through the store. They’re constantly doing community outreach through a variety of charities including Children’s Hospital and the Love Kitchen, as well as hosting mixers for various creative organizations. Their stance is to be welcoming, offering a general message of equality behind their front door. They aim to please, not offend. And they’ve kept their word of donating leftovers to KARM.

They really did it. They said they would do it and then they topped what they said they would do. Mike says that some days are better than others. Some days he wonders what they’ve done to themselves. But most days he’s overwhelmed with gratitude for the support of the community – particularly the KABA community, who’ve become genuine friends – and the relationships they’ve formed through the year. They laugh at the unique requests the business’ name draws from South Africans looking for a Sugar Mama and they count their blessings every day.

The aesthetic of the shop is still as modest as their little red soda cart, but the overwhelming feeling of warmth and community bubbles out the front door like the foam on a Double Chocolate Stout Ice Cream Float. The walls are covered in art from featured local artists, changed over monthly on First Fridays. The patio usually has a friendly city pup and it’s owner, enjoying refreshments as they critique parallel parkers and wave to passersby. On the right night, the air is filled with the musical stylings of local musicians, trivia (Wednesdays) or bingo (Thursdays). The staff offer a friendly hello as you pop in for a bite. And the front door is Little Soda Cart Red.

Want to check out the store and enjoy some of their food? Stop by this Saturday to celebrate Sugar Mama’s one year anniversary with food, music, and delicious craft brews! Hexagon Brewing Co. will be joining them for a beer breakfast/brunch pairing starting at 9am, followed by music all day long, hourly door prizes and giveaways, happy hour on all-local taps, and more general awesomeness!


Band Lineup:

Rossdafareye 11am

Jimmy and the Jawbones/Mortars 1pm,

Josh Smith (of Handsome and the Humbles) 4pm

Rob Crawford 6pm

Zack Miles (of Handsome and the Humbles) 8pm

Great local bands back-to-back from 11am to close! Bring your pals and help us celebrate!

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