Photos By Martin Cherry
T Talking with Sarah Souther of Bang Candy Co. is a bit like having a conversation with Willy Wonka. Her Marathon Village shop may best be known for marshmallows, but its shelves are also stocked with boozy caramels, hot chocolate on a stick and a whimsical concoction known as Sparkle Bark.
“That started when I learned you could buy Pop Rocks in bulk,” Souther says. She combined the fizzy candy with dark chocolate, pink-colored white chocolate, crushed peppermint and glittery mica powder—so it does, in fact, sparkle. Other flavors include Firecracker (cinnamon and cayenne) and Bark in the Dark (ginger, lemon and lavender). “You bite into it, and it’s very delicious and fun,” she says.
Souther, who moved to Tennessee from Ireland in 2004, didn’t intend to open a candy shop. She just wanted to replicate the homemade marshmallows on the dessert menu at the now-closed Cha Chah. But serving her experimental rose cardamom marshmallows at a dinner party led to word-of-mouth buzz about the artisan sweets. “I was doing a lot of parking lot deals,” she says of those early days making marshmallows. “I realized this could be a viable business.”
Bang Candy Co. began in shared kitchens, farmers’ markets and a food truck she calls “a shed on wheels” before ending up as one of the first tenants at Marathon Village. “I immediately fell in love with the building,” she says. “It’s been brilliant.”
In addition to her candy creations, the shop also sells house-made drinks: coffees, floats and sodas. Bang Candy’s simple syrups with flavors like habanero lime and smoked spiced orange are now sold across the country, as is Sparkle Bark. Souther says she initially branched out to syrups because of the marshmallows’ limiting one-month shelf life. Still, her flagship product gets a facelift every season. “We change our flavors—we get bored,” she says. This holiday season, look for peppermint, orange cinnamon, blackcurrant absinthe and Whisper Creek toffee.
The candy shop’s creativity extends beyond its walls. Other businesses that have since moved to the now bustling Marathon Village include Corsair Distillery and Belle Meade Bourbon, both of which she’s collaborated with on her line of boozy caramels.
“When I started the business, a bunch of other people were also starting out, and 95 percent of us are still going strong—way strong,” she says. “There’s something in the ground. I don’t think it’s like that anywhere else.”
“People have been so supportive and encouraging,” she continues. “It’s very much a Nashville thing.” That’s part of what drew Bethany Costello back. After launching a successful career as a New York City pastry chef, the Middle Tennessee native decided to return to Nashville to start her own business, Eat Like Kings.
“It felt right to open up my store here,” she says. “It’s the city that built me as a person, led me to become who I am today.”
Costello studied at the French Culinary Institute in New York, but she says her experience at high-end restaurants such as Bouley and M. Wells gave her the skills she plans to bring to her bakery.
“I had a lot of creativity there,” she says of M. Wells, where she worked for more than two years. “It gave me the freedom to not follow recipes anymore and the confidence to actually sit down and write recipes. That led me realize, OK, I’m ready for my own place now.”
Eat Like Kings currently operates at farmers’ markets and on Etsy, selling cookies, special order pies, wedding cakes and Costello’s own custom creations. For example, she invented “cakey cookies,” which is chocolate cake, chocolate cream and chocolate buttercream sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies.
A brick-and-mortar location is on the horizon through a partnership with the Decatur, Alabama-based Tennessee Valley Pecan Co. They’re in the process of finding the right space for their new bakery and retail shop that will sell pecans and pecan products, as well as the pastries and other baked goods for which Costello is known.
Owner David Armistead says Nashville’s status as a foodie town led Tennessee Valley Pecan Co. to look to Music City for its first outpost outside of Decatur, with an anticipated opening in 2016.
“We’re excited about Nashville and all the potential there,” he says. “It just fits.”
Tennessee Valley Pecan Co. targets bakers and gift buyers with popular products such as the Desirable variety of pecans, pecan meal, chocolate-covered pecans and candied pecans. Through their partnership, Costello has been experimenting with pecans. “If you can think it, she can do it,” Armistead says. “With her talent and our product, it’s like lightning in a jar.”
Costello is quick to point out that her bakery won’t be known for just one or two items.
“There will be staples, but it’s going to be a forever-changing menu,” she says. “If you have the ability to change and create new things, why not?” Sarah Darling molded her career with that concept in mind. The successful singer-songwriter, who has performed at the Grand Ole Opry more than 80 times, didn’t limit herself to the music industry, though that’s why she moved to Nashville from Iowa 14 years ago. A storybook romance led her to spin off her music career into Sweet Darling Patisserie. After meeting her now-husband in London, they went on their first date in Paris, where she fell in love with French macarons. She returned to Nashville to try her hand at making the delicate meringue cookies.
“I’ve always been a baker, but they are very difficult to make,” Darling says. “It took me a good two years. I went back to Paris and took classes. That put me over the edge of really being able to master it.”
Like Souther and Costello, she started out at farmers’ markets, which is still her primary outlet, in addition to an online store during the holidays. She sells her cookies by the half-dozen and dozen, with flavors that change by the season, including white chocolate peppermint, lemon and thyme, and her favorite, salted caramel. One popular flavor is Tiffany vanilla—a Tiffany blue macaron with vanilla beans inside.
“I love experimenting,” she says. “We can do pretty much any flavor and color imaginable.”
The macarons are just an extension of her music. Darling, who is set to record her third studio album, has written many songs about Paris. Still, she says, there’s no place like Nashville.
“It’s such an inspiring town—there’s an electricity just being here,” she says. “Nashville is a place where you can actually be an entrepreneur and try things that people don’t know. It’s a place where you can make dreams happen.”