March 20, 2019

On a Mission to ‘Make Life Sweeter’: Sweet LaLa’s Bakery to Open in East Memphis

The Commercial Appeal

By Jennifer Biggs

Life is about to get sweeter in East Memphis.

Sweet LaLa’s Bakery is opening a retail bakery and cafe Thursday in Regalia Center. The bakery and cafe will be in the former Lori James spot at 6150 Poplar Ave., Suite 118.

Lauren Young, Sweet LaLa’s founder and owner, decided it was time to add a retail component to her 17-year-old business.

“I started Sweet LaLa’s out of my home kitchen back in 2001,” Young said. In 2014, she formed a partnership with JIFF, a juvenile intervention facility in Downtown Memphis, to expand the business while helping the community. For the past four years, Sweet LaLa’s has baked its cookies out of JIFF’s kitchen, employing JIFF students. As the business grew, it soon became evident to Young that she needed a retail space in order to grow Sweet LaLa’s to the next level.

The menu

Sweet LaLa’s bakery has become famous for its signature cookies. The cookies are soft, sweet and dense, more like a tea cake than a cookie, and come in nine flavors.

“What people say they love about the original is that it’s memorable,” Young said. “Every cookie flavor has started with that one.”

With the new bakery, Young is expanding her line of offerings. In addition to her signature cookies, she will also sell gourmet cakes, assorted pastries, soft-serve ice cream, milkshakes, breakfast pastries and a light lunch. Included in the mix are Young’s great-aunt Hilda’s handmade pizzelles, which she said are great with coffee. The bakery also will have a full coffee bar.

“One of the items we think will be popular with the high schoolers in the neighborhood is our ‘Triple the Fun’ sundae,” Young said. Three cookies are served with soft-serve ice cream and your choice of three toppings. “It’s perfect for sharing,” she added.

Young partnered with City & State on her coffee bar. Sweet LaLa’s will offer a private-label Mexican roast coffee for its drip coffee and has partnered with Sunergos Coffee out of Kentucky for its espresso offerings.

Breakfast will have what Young describes as a “sweet roll” approach, with items that appeal to adults and items for kids. Banana bread mini loaves, Rainbow Cream treats (a Rice Krispies-like treat made with Fruity Pebbles cereal), sausage and cheese biscuits and avocado toast are a few of the menu items to expect.

Young will also carry locally and regionally made sweet treats by various food artisans. Shotwell Candy Co. caramels, Backhouse Foods dessert toppings and Bluff City Toffee are a few of the Memphis-based brands she will sell. Regional offerings include Blackberry Farm jams and jellies and Soberdough bread mixes.

The space

The retail space at Regalia Center is close to 3,000 square feet and includes an upstairs. The bakery, retail space and cafe will be on the ground floor.

Designed by Natalie Lieberman of Collect & Curate Studio, the space is cheery and open.

“We want people to feel like they are walking into someone’s really nice home kitchen,” Young said of her vision for the bakery.

The centerpiece is the bakery, which is an open display kitchen. Guests can watch all the action as the bakers hustle and bustle in the kitchen creating the sweet treats for the display case and special orders.

Floor-to-ceiling windows, white walls — some with wallpaper and others with tiles, as well as tables with zinc tops, create an inviting cafe space. Seating will be for 35 to 40 guests.

A flight of stairs leads up to an event center on the second floor. That space is divided into two rooms, one being a private dining room and the other being an open mezzanine that overlooks the main floor. The upstairs space can seat up to 24 guests.

The event space will be used for private events as well as cooking classes. Young plans to start by offering two to four classes per month. “We will be doing everything from decorating classes to making cookies from scratch,” Young said. “Our local vendors will also be hosting classes.”

The mission

As her business grew, Young quickly realized she needed a retail component that operated every day. But she knew she wanted her new bakery to continue her mission of making a difference.

Embracing the theme “make like sweeter,” she plans to highlight philanthropic ventures like Thistle & Bee and Shepherd’s Haven Pottery.

JIFF will also continue to be part of her enterprise.

“We have partnered with JIFF for them to make 500 cookies per week,” Young said. “Every nine to 12 weeks, two students will be trained for us, not only in making cookies but also getting their ServSafe certification to help them better find permanent employment in a food service job.”

Young has also hired some JIFF graduates to work at the new bakery, including John Young (no relation to Lauren Young) who has been nicknamed by the staff as “Dr. Sprinkles.”

“Every day when I come in the store I get giddy knowing that one cookie turned into all this,” Young said as she looked around her new bakery.