A long Jefferson Street, indicators of urban renewal projects dot the landscape as Nashville’s development boom creeps westward from Germantown. Sweet Creations founder and co-owner Barbara Toms wants to ensure that as this occurs, the existing community remains involved with the changes. That’s just a small part of the larger mission of Sweet Creations, the pie bakery and café situated on the edge of the Jefferson Street business district.
Toms started making pecan pies a decade ago for family and friends using her mother’s recipes. In 2010, she decided to follow her passion and teamed up with Herman Patton—known as The Pie Man—to form Sweet Creations and make pies for a living. Patton has a long and success-filled history both in and out of the kitchen and is a master at marketing the pies, which he frequently carries along with him to spread the word throughout the community. Not long after they started up, a chance meeting with a Mapco executive turned their little pie business into a much bigger pie business. It was clear the business needed more production space to meet the demand for supplying 80 of the area’s Mapco convenience store locations with their three-inch pies. The two set up their bakery in the basement kitchen of the Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church and, later, added a small storefront on Monroe.
Now, with the help of the Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Community Development Corporation, along with Edward Stevenson of nearby Kijiji’s Coffee and a number of other supporters, Sweet Creations has expanded again. The bakery has moved into the new Jefferson Street location to increase production and added a café to serve the community. The new location puts all of the Sweet Creations administration, production and sales in a single location, which serves to bring people together with a mutual love of traditional sweet southern pies. Sweet Creations flavors include pecan, chocolate chip pecan, sweet potato, apple, peach and “jus’” (as in “jus’ like chess”), plus seasonal varieties such as pumpkin. In 2013, Toms’ signature pecan pie was named one of the “Best Pies in America” by Travel + Leisure magazine. The pies are sold in three-inch and nine-inch sizes. Guests can stop in and enjoy a small pie with ice cream, milk or coffee or take a pie home with them.
Another way Sweet Creations is serving the community is by giving jobs to people who might otherwise have a tough time finding employment. “Our goal is to empower the community and promote self-sufficiency through the creation of skilled jobs,” says Toms. In fact, the work Toms did with the Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Community Development Corporation prompted her desire to grow the business and create more jobs. The expansion is being funded in part by a low-interest loan from the Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Community Development Corporation, a non-profit organization formed by the church with a mission to develop opportunities that help vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals gain independence.
As part of the agreement with of the FABCDC—which received a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide investments in community businesses—Sweet Creations will employ primarily workers who may have a criminal history and have struggled with finding jobs. The goal is to get these individuals back on track and in particular provide them with the means to pay child support. Not only do the jobs help employees become active members of the economic community, they also help ensure that their children get the care they need, as well. Carlina Bell Rollins, executive director of the Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Community Development Corporation, adds, “We’re proud to support Sweet Creations, [which] is joining in creating a renewed future for Jefferson Street that directly benefits the community with jobs and a vibrant business.” Sweet Creations also works with the community through its partnership with photography and graphic design students at Nossi College of Art. The bakery worked with students to create a refreshed brand identity and images for its website.
The bakery’s new location currently operates with a manager and a small staff, who are making fresh pies daily for the café and wholesale division, as well as serving customers. Future plans for the bakery include an expansion of its wholesale business that will target discount general merchandise providers, regional and national grocery stores, convenience stores, local markets, restaurants and caterers. The pies are currently available in area Mapco stores as well as select local supermarkets such as the Kroger on Monroe near Rosa Parks Boulevard, and other convenience stores. As sales continue to increase and the wholesale division grows, Sweet Creations expects to employ as many as 42 people from the community in its new bakery.