By Mary Ann DeSantis
Photography courtsy of Robby Scruggs of Studio5Fifty. Holiday photos courtesy of Joseph Watkins
Sweet Somethings Bakery is Laurel’s go-to place to satisfy sweet-tooth cravings, especially for old-fashioned cinnamon rolls and holiday treats.
Early in the morning, cinnamon aromas emanate from Sweet Somethings Bakery in downtown Laurel. Since opening a year and half ago, the Central Avenue bakery has attracted folks from all over the state who want to try the signature items: old-fashioned cinnamon rolls and sticky buns that often sell-out before the morning is over.
Those cinnamon buns were the beginning of a dream-come-true for owners Jamie Suggs and Joseph Watkins.
“One day I wanted some of my grandmother’s cinnamon rolls. Mine didn’t even come close to hers,” said Suggs. “I talked to her to get the recipe and then we played with it some.”
After Jamie perfected her own cinnamon creations, she began making them for church functions. Business people asked for them to take to their employees; others wanted them for their own parties. Cookies soon followed and before they knew it, Suggs and Watkins had a delivery-only bakery business.
“Jamie would take the orders, and I delivered them Thursday through Sunday,” said Watkins. “That’s how we built our clientele.”
In addition to his position as a plant facilities manager at Howard Industries and as head taste tester for the bakery, Watkins is also an entrepreneur. He is currently partnering with a Quitman restaurateur to open Mimmo’s Ristorante and Pizzeria a little farther down on Central Avenue.
“Developing downtown Laurel is something I’ve wanted to do in my heart more than anything,” he said. “Jamie had her heart set on Ellisville, but God had a plan and put us in Laurel.”
The couple opened a storefront in a 1923 building that first housed the Ross Grocer and then law offices in later years. The charming façade was designed by Erin Napier, host of HGTV’s Home Town renovation show.
“Sweet Somethings was the first time Erin saw one of her drawings come to life as a building,” said Watkins, a personal friend of the Napiers. “Ben built the bread table for us out of red cedar we found in the attic of this building.”
With those connections, it’s not surprising to see Sweet Somethings Bakery in background scenes for the popular television series.
Those scenes are the mental pictures Suggs had in her mind when she first thought about opening a bakery.
“The first week after we opened, we had surgeons, doctors, and businesspeople sitting in the dining area with their coffee and cinnamon rolls,” she remembered. “I cried when I saw them. I was overwhelmed to see folks enjoying what we did.”
Watkins, who is a skilled carpenter, built much of the bakery’s interior, including the staircase that leads to four loft-style suites that he owns and rents out through AirBnB. The couple also used the original paint colors of the building to keep its historic integrity.
Suggs continues to bake large quantities of cinnamon rolls and sticky buns – about eight pans of each – every morning, but she has also expanded her repertoire of goodies. She bakes brownies using Watkins’s grandmother’s recipe. Her father’s carrot cake recipe remains one of her favorites as do her own grandmother’s recipes for pies and cakes.
She is behind the scenes, often baking by 3 a.m. Getting out front to greet “the people who made us” is a treat, she said. “I’m just a mom who turned into a baker, a Southern one who uses lots of butter and sugar and likes talking to people.”
With seven children ranging in ages from 13 to 32 between them, the couple has built-in taste testers.
“My sons are quick to tell me when something doesn’t taste right,” she said with a laugh.
Now they can’t get enough of her cookies, especially her popular chocolate chip ones.
“My son in West Virginia called recently to remind me that it had been 59 days since he had tasted my chocolate chip cookies. I immediately went to the post office to ship some to him,” she said.
Desserts are plentiful for the family’s holiday gatherings, especially the pies, just as they are with customers. Watkins, though, is partial to the bread pudding, which he says “goes as fast as Jamie can make it.”
Sugar cookies, gingerbread men, and petit fours are the most popular sellers around the holidays. Cheese straws, sausage balls, candy boxes, and pepper jelly are also big hits.
After the holidays, Suggs plans to pursue her next goal: establishing baking classes. She hopes to encourage more young people to pursue culinary arts. She is especially proud of former employee Addison Holland, who is now studying culinary arts at Mississippi University for Women and will return home to help during holidays.
“Working at the bakery was the only job I ever wanted,” said Holland. “I was there over a year, and I learned so much.”
Suggs added, “We need more like her.”
She also has a word of advice for home bakers who are trying to perfect their own skills: “Don’t get discouraged. If a recipe doesn’t work, try, try again… and again until you get what you like. We’ve adapted our recipes to our tastes, and we’re lucky that other folks have liked them, too.”
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