I’ve never felt stuck running Mama’s bakery, but I still question if I’m doing this right

February 4, 2024

“Momma was freaking amazing. She was a volunteer firefighter and an EMT. She also helped assign numbers to houses on Dauphin Island, making 911 calls easier. But she always dreamed of having a bakery. 

She opened Lighthouse Bakery on Dauphin Island in 1997. I was ten and washed dishes and made coffee and sandwiches. I was paid in Push-Up Pops because ice cream was better than money. I grew up, got smarter, and started getting paid. I loved working here on weekends because it was my time with Momma and learning from her.

I worked in the bakery but didn’t think it would be mine. I attended real estate school at night. Momma started talking about retiring and asked me to take it over. I said yes because I couldn’t imagine us not having the bakery. Momma was excited that she could retire and still see me.

A week or two later, Momma had a massive stroke. It was a brain tumor. I took over the bakery on January 17, 2018. I was 32 and didn’t know how to do everything. Momma was supposed to train me more; I needed her help. Daddy brought her in for my first day. She was struggling but sat on a stool showing me how to roll dough for sandwich buns. 

I was running the bakery and helping take care of Momma. I was sleep deprived, but I didn’t want to miss time with her. Balancing my emotions at work was hard because everything reminded me of her. My husband’s dad was also dying of cancer. He passed away in April; Momma passed away in July. We struggled together, losing our parents and leaning on each other even more. I’m glad Momma could attend my second marriage; she knew I was loved and taken care of.

We returned to the bakery after her funeral. The bells that hung on the door rang on their own. No one was around. Momma had put the bells on the front door so she could hear customers come in. Every once in a while, the bells still ring on their own. It’s my reminder that ‘y’all are doing good.’ 

I kept Momma’s original recipes and sweets that everybody loves, putting my own flare on a few and adding new recipes here and there. Her cookbooks are everywhere. My favorites are the recipes with her hand-written notes on the sides. I taped pictures of Momma making wedding cakes to a cabinet in the kitchen. When I’m working on hard things, I look up there to see her. 

This bakery has become my artistic outlet. I have a different style than Momma. My king cakes are bigger with more space for the cream cheese filling. They look like a king hat. Momma made a cross design out of sprinkles on top of the cake; I make the cross bolder. I also make a completely different Royal King cakea pretty cinnamon cake with a cinnamon buttercream frosting with a little crown instead of a baby. 

We do more volume now, so I expanded the kitchen. Before we open on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, we pray together in the kitchen. That sets the tone for the beginning and end of the week, reminding us that everyone who comes in this bakery is human. Some are having a harder day than we are. 

I’ve learned that the happiest people can have the hardest lives. I was voted friendliest in my senior class. My school motto was ‘Love everyone and expect nothing in return.’ A year later, I married at 19. Had my first son at 20. That bad first marriage snuffed out my light and joy, but I learned what I won’t put up with. Everyone’s life sucks sometimes, but each day is a chance to make a difference to someone else.

A couple of years after Momma died, we found out my daughter had a brain tumor. She had surgery two years ago to remove it. She’s 15 and works with me on weekends. She’s also a mini-me with my smart mouth and calls me out. This is what I get for being Momma’s ‘smart-mouth child’. 

Our personalities come from Momma. We have two sayings on bakery T-shirts: ‘I like Big Buns’ is mine; ‘Hottest Buns on the Beach’ was hers.

I’ve never felt stuck running Mama’s bakery, but I still question if I’m doing this right. Food is art, and everyone has a different palette. Does anyone else see what I’m trying to do?  I can always do something better. I love that people from all over the country come in here because someone told them about us. Daddy constantly tells me Momma would be proud.”



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