Sugar Mama’s Bakery: A Sweet Relief

photo by Holly Rainey

Everybody has a sweet tooth.

I, myself, love salts. Put me in the middle of a Super Bowl party with chips and dip and I will tear the house down. But even I need a chocolate chip cookie now and again. Chocolate chip peanut butter? Even better. Better than that? Flourless chocolate chip peanut butter – whoa! Stop it now. That’s just TOO trendy chic. Or is it simply amazing! Where can you find these treats, you ask. Sugar Mama’s Bakery. Sugar Mama’s Bakery is a baby, not yet a “mama” in the business world. Being just three months old, they’ve already got an impressive following and presence, particularly in the downtown area. They boasted over 1000 followers on Facebook in their first month of operation. Now, at the Farmers’ Market, their following is more like family than clientele. Hannah and Mike McConnell are the soul behind the sweet. Married now, just one month longer than the bakery has been selling their treats, they are the embodiment of sweetness.

Mike is a scientist and Hannah is the master of the oven. Their dream is to make SMB’s a fixture in the community. Yes, a fixture that provides happiness via empty and delicious calories, but also one that makes our home better. In an unknown building in an unknown location in Knoxville (ideally, North or Downtown), 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 and Norwegian Tea Breads soak in Jameson ridden coffee. A place where local ingredients are king and anything outsourced must be pure and worthy. Where jobs are created and leftovers feed the needy. One Day. [UPDATE: That day is tomorrow. Sugar Mama’s Grand Opening at 135 Gay Street is finally happening. They will cut ribbon at 8:30a with the Knoxville Chamber and feature tasty beverages and their signature baked goods all day. 10% of proceeds will go directly to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. Stop by in your First Friday travels to check out this month’s featured local artists and welcome them to the 100 Block.]

For now, they thrive as a travelling bakery. Setting up at the Farmer’s Market on Wednesday and Saturday and at The Casual Pint – Northshore on Thursday and Saturday nights, which most closely represents their future plans for the bakery, at present. Some days they set up with their stock nearly sold out through presale orders. They use a small red soda stand, almost unseen amidst the towering trucks and tents of the market on Union Street. You might never know they were there and you’d be the worse for it. Their treats are delicious and the spirit behind the business is delectable.

Hannah’s been baking since she was a kid; mixing family recipes with originals and perfecting Pinterest failures, her menu is rich with unique variety. For years, she worked in local bakeries, perfecting her craft and learning what it takes to prepare and run a mass-producing bakery. She met Mike a year ago, two months later they were engaged and while planning their wedding, they also planned the details of opening Sugar Mama’s. Mike played a larger part in Hannah’s decision to finally make her dream a reality. There’s a chance his motives were slightly selfish, as he is the sole consumer of leftover goods (when there are any), but mainly it seems the timing was right.

After putting some finishing touches on the certified at-home kitchen and ensuring they had all the proper paperwork, they launched Sugar Mama’s Bakery, named for Mike’s desire to one day give up science and live the life of luxury at Hannah’s side. Hannah bakes at home, Mike runs their online presence and they collectively sell their treats wherever the stand rests for the day. Their collection includes things like cookies, pumpkin bars, and fudge creams, which might look like a cupcake, but are actually brownies, and so much more. You’ll never find a cupcake behind their glass display because that’s not the kind of bakery they want to be. Their goal is not to be a cookie cutter bakery, selling cupcakes and pies en mass, but to sell feel good eats that remind you of grandma’s cooking and they will because, for Hannah, a lot of the recipes are grandma’s cooking.

It’s not just a taste but a feeling you get when you enjoy a Sugar Mama’s treat. The appreciation for the work of love that it is, the feeling of giving your patronage to a small business, the knowing that the purchase of your treat along with the making of it, is contributing to a thriving local community. The personality behind SMB is very locally driven. Not having grown up here, Hannah and Mike have still chosen Knoxville to be their home and a place they are passionate about growing and nurturing. You can feel it when you walk up to their stand. You can see it when they interact with their guests. They care about their community and, sure, cookies are just cookies, but Hannah and Mike kind of make you wonder otherwise. They offer discounts to “Local Heroes,” including law enforcement, first responders and military. They use local honey to make the honey cookies that are Hannah’s favorite. They’ve sacrificed a lot of their personal luxuries to give the community a bit of happiness, that they believe we not only need but deserve.

Their punkabilly presence makes you want to be around them. Their genuine attitude toward baking for Knoxville makes you want to stay around them. You want them to succeed and, once you’ve spoken with then, you know they will, a half dozen cookies, or a package of marshmallows, or curried shortbread at a time. You just know they’ll be okay. You know their business will thrive and they’ll dedicate themselves to helping Knoxville thrive. It’s a full circle relationship, round like a cookie. And isn’t that the sweetest thing.

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  1. Nancy Roth

    So glad to see that you are doing well. Your mom and dad are so proud of you….and so are we…..your former next-door-neighbors.

  2. Meghan M.

    What a great article! Can’t wait to try these guys out.

    FYI there’s a typo in the last paragraph.

    “… once you’ve spoken with then…” I believe should be “them.”

  3. Kaye McConnell

    We LOVE Sugar Mama’s. Great food, especially the fudge creams! Fun atmosphere and really cute Hannah and Michael.
    Mom McConnell


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