March 19, 2019

Sweet LaLa’s Sweetens Life in East Memphis

The Daily Memphian

By Jennifer Biggs

Chances are you never baked a cookie for the reason Lauren Young started baking them at Sweet Lala’s, which will open in its new location at Regalia on Thursday.

She had a home baking business and was also involved with the program JIFF, Juvenile Intervention & Faith-based Follow-up. When the kitchen at the JIFF center in South Memphis lost its operating grant, she decided to move her bakery there and pay the JIFF kids to work for her as she taught them a trade. There was this plus:

“When you’re out somewhere with people and you start talking about juvenile justice, maybe people stop listening or they think it’s too serious, so I thought, well, maybe I can still have the conversation but change it to something more upbeat. Like a cookie,” Young said.

Savory sausage and biscuit pinwheels are a new item at Sweet Lala’s. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Young)

And so she did. She operated Sweet Lala’s from the former Abe Scharff YMCA at 254 S. Lauderdale from 2014 until she started preparing to open the Regalia shop. John Young, who is not related to Lauren, is a former JIFF participant who has moved to the East Memphis location with her and is working as a lead cook in the kitchen, training others how to operate the bakery. She plans to hire more kids from JIFF soon.

John Young was 15 when he was arrested and ended up in the program after going through Juvenile Court.

“It was sort of an entrepreneurial opportunity I was involved in,” he said.

But as it involved stealing and selling lawn equipment, it was of the illegal sort, and he was prosecuted for it.

“I’ll tell anyone about it, because that’s who I was, and now I’m comfortable with who I am,” he said. “If my story helps anyone, I tell it.”

He entered JIFF (find out more information by clicking here) before Lauren had the space for Sweet Lala’s. When he met her, he was 19 and though he was done with his vocational training there, he kept coming around because he needed the stability of the center.

“I felt comfortable there,” he said. “I was still finding out who I was as a person, and finding out can be hard. Going through changes and finally changing are two different things.”

He was there anyway, so she asked him if he wanted to work. He did, and they’ve been on the same team since.

Humble Pies, stuffed with fruit on a cookie crust, are ready for the oven.

The new bakery is in a prime spot, next to Ronnie Grisanti’s, Great Wines & Spirits and Oak Hall. It will primarily serve breakfast and lunch, but there’s an upstairs event space that’s already booked for baking classes and available for other events such as birthday parties or even corporate events.

A grab-and-go case will include items from Franco’s Italian Kitchen, and owner Franco Contaldo has agreed to provide pizzas for private events; there’s also a package available from Central BBQ, just across the street, for private events. Dave’s Bagels are one of several other local and regional products that will be available.

But the bakery with the motto “Make Life Sweeter” is also still, well, a bakery. Eight signature cookies will be available daily. There will be a red velvet cupcake every day (and more coming); croissants; a hand pie called Humble Pie that’s made from a cookie crust and stuffed with fruit; cinnamon rolls; and savory items such as sausage rolls made with biscuits.

Hours at Sweet Lala’s will be 7-11 a.m. Mondays and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Lauren Young is excited to show off her new space and her new food.

“We’ve only been a cookie business, so this is a big deal for us,” she said. “It’s like our coming-out party.”