Sweet Things: Multigenerational Black Women Bakers Pass the Love on Down 

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Do you want a slice of delicious sweet potato pie? Maybe some mouth-watering oatmeal white chocolate cherry cookies? How about you dig into a decadent 7 Up cake? Or a box full of homemade treats with grandma’s touch — when you take the first bite it warms your soul from the inside out?

Don’t worry, they got you, baby, and your order, and then some. You’re in good hands with these local family bakers who take the cake on what it means to go the extra mile building an empire for the next generation while building up their communities and serving up something sweet.

Erin Proctor, 15, of Bloomfield Hills, is a baker in her own right. She’s been baking for about two years through her baking business called E Bakes Cakes.

“I started baking boxed brownies and cupcakes when I was about 11,” she told The Michigan Chronicle. “I started making cakes and cheesecakes from scratch about two years ago.”

Proctor said that orders are open to the public, but she can only take a certain number of orders at once because “I still have to focus on my schoolwork.”

Proctor said that she would always watch shows like “Cake Boss” and “Cupcake Wars” and thought it might be something she’d like to do.

“My mom really likes sweets, and one day she asked me to bake her a cake. She gave me a recipe to try, but it wasn’t great, so I changed it up and tried again. That was the first cake that turned out really good,” she said. “I like to give my friends and family members gifts for their birthdays and holidays. One year, I decided to give them a cake. They loved it and started asking if they could place orders.”

She added that she spends a lot of time with her grandmother “Gigi” who does a lot of baking for their family meals. She has an older cousin who has her own baking business, too.

“My favorite thing about baking is seeing the versatility and knowing that there are so many different recipes out there to try,” she said.

Proctor, who enjoys painting, drawing, design and cooking, typically bakes a 7Up cake, cheesecake with fruit toppings and banana bread.

“I’m not exactly sure what type of business [I’ll start] but somewhere in the creative space,” Proctor said.

Her mother, RoNeisha Mullen, 37, of Bloomfield Hills, said that she is always encouraging her daughter to put out her best products and try new recipes to expand her business.

Erin Proctor, left, and her mother, RoNeisha Mullen, hold one of Proctor’s decadent desserts. Photo provided by RoNeisha Mullen

“She’s really quiet, so I’m always coaching her on being more vocal to enhance her customers’ experiences,” Mullen said. “We also spend a lot of time together analyzing her cost and ways to improve her margins.”

Mullen added that as a child she can remember her grandmother baking sweet potato pie and pound cakes for holidays.

“I come from a pretty big family. None of us really got into baking until recently though.  I have a cousin who started Benson Street Bakery about five years ago, and then my daughter started baking about two years ago,” she said. “I’m extremely proud of her … She’s proactively thinking of ways to grow and improve her business. I feel like not only is she learning how to bake, but she’s learning a lot of life lessons in the process.”

For more information or to place an order, email ebakescakes2@gmail.com.

You can’t talk about sweets and baking in Detroit without mentioning longtime family-owned and -operated bakery, Sweet Potato Sensations. It’s a business that’s got a lot of people, especially family, bringing the heart and soul to everything they make.

Sisters Etta Espy and Jennifer Thomas, who are helping run the business in different capacities, have stepped into the spotlight of their parents’ company that started as a love story between Jeffrey and Cassandra Thomas.

“When we started in 1987 my daughters were five and six years old,” Cassandra Thomas told The Michigan Chronicle. “They’ve been involved in the business ever since in different capacities. As children, they were in the van with me when I was delivering to different accounts.”

Cassandra Thomas started in the kitchen at home and was able to find a commercial kitchen she could rent and do her baking.

Etta Espy said that it is “super important” to her and her sister to carry the legacy of the business.

“Our mother and father created this business — we try to do our best to keep it going,” Espy said. “Over the last several years my sister has added other recipes and things to this bakery. She makes chocolate cake, orange velvet cake, even our great aunt Everlina — she makes her cream cheese pound cake.”

Espy said that there are a “lot of different levels” to their business and how they create this legacy over the generations.

“(We) grew up with legacy and traditions being very important and it seemed only right and fitting that we did our best to continue what our mom and dad started — not always easy,” she said, adding that Jennifer Thomas also puts a lot of work in and everything passes through her hands first before it becomes the final product.

Jennifer Thomas said that she wanted to fill a need by baking when a long-time employee was unable to.

“I stepped into the role,” she said, adding that she asked her great aunt about how to make pound cakes to get the taste right for their business.

“I loved her pound cakes,” she said.

Cassandra Thomas did the same thing years earlier with her family members.

“I’d been trying a lot of different pie recipes,” she said, adding that older family and female relatives threw down in the kitchen and were inspirations to the sweet potato pie that she perfected.

“We don’t just serve sweet potato pie,” Espy said, adding that they bring the family love to their establishment that gets poured out to customers. “We serve memories, tradition. You can buy the pie anywhere.”

For more information or to order visit https://sweetpotatosensations.com.

Detroit resident Toretta Pickens is the owner of internet-based bakery Auntie Rah Rah’s Cookies & Treats, LLC. Pickens operates the business which she started several years ago lockstep with her daughter, Tatyana Pickens, 27.

Toretta Pickens, who has held some corporate jobs, was laid off during the economic crash in 2009.

“When it didn’t look like I was going to be able to go back to work I went to school for nursing and I didn’t like it — I was almost 40 years old at that time,” she said, adding that she was down about not having a job, and after reluctantly attending a purse party, she brought with her some white chocolate cherry cookies that she made.

“I put them in the young lady’s kitchen and in a minute they were all gone,” she said, adding that some of the ladies put them in their purses to go because they couldn’t get enough.

Toretta Pickens said that she sold her first couple of dozen cookies after some ladies at the party requested them.

 

“That is exactly how it happened,” she said of developing her company. “I posted it on Facebook one day and all of a sudden a bunch of people started asking me to make cookies and it snowballed.”

After that, she went back to corporate jobs here and there but around 2017-2018, when she left corporate America completely, she opened her company.

Toretta said that her daughter and her 14-year-old niece are following in her footsteps, and that is very important, especially with temporary health limitations that are impacting her ability to lift heavy objects.

“To continue to keep the business going … I was going to have to step up completely,” her daughter said. “It’s taken up a lot of time but I’m enjoying learning how to do things on my own.”

Tatyana Pickens said that baking and the business of baking is becoming second nature, and teaching her cousin has been a great experience, too.

She added that her mother is a genius baker with great ideas that come easily to her. Her mother’s snickerdoodle is her favorite cookie.

She also said that growing up, her grandmother baked bread and many other delicious items.

“I remember being little and watching her baking on holidays or for the family and how much time and dedication she had to put into it and how long it took,” she said. “Just recently I got her recipes for bread so that I can start learning how to make bread from scratch.”

Toretta said that she never thought her business was going to be a generational thing but when they realized how lucrative it was and how close it made them, they bonded over baking all the more.

She added that down the line she wants to teach young people in the community about baking and life lessons, especially those who need a little extra love.

“Baking is a time to slow down and learn in the kitchen about life. Everything is passed down in that arena — in that space when you’re with your mom or grandma, aunties or whoever,” she said. “We want to touch more lives and have generational wealth at the same time. My niece is definitely going to be the next Rah Rah. Who knew that all this was going to occur?”

For more information or to order visit https://auntierahrahscookies.com/.

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