Hollie Gaines grew up in Mississippi and moved with her mother to Iowa at the age of 20. That’s when this Southern girl began to appreciate all things Midwestern like regularly listening to the Prairie Home Companion and dreaming of moving to the big city. Well, the Twin Cities that is. And, like many of our friends and neighbors, Gaines would end up in love with an Edina native, leading their blended family to call the Countryside neighborhood in Edina home for the past six years. But she hasn’t shook her southern roots. Last year, Gaines launched a local bakery business called Yes Ma’am Southern Kitchen.
Gaines has had lots of experience in the kitchen. Her first husband, who attended culinary school, was certainly an influence. But Gaines credits her Mississippi grandmothers for instilling a love for kitchen creations. She says her maternal grandmother, known as Meemaw Russell, was a fixture in her life as well as the cook in their family. “She taught me and my three sisters and brother all of her old family recipes,” says Gaines. “I’ve adapted those recipes to be more modern, a little less homespun and a little more high end.”
Gaines’ paternal grandmother was the wife of an Air Force colonel. “She was a good party thrower,” says Gaines, “the ultimate hostess,” and Gaines garnered many recipes from those parties. “The high-end feel that I appreciate came from her,” says Gaines. “She was someone who always dressed for dinner and had a beautifully set table,” although much of her party food was catered. Gaines appreciates the need some people have to order catered dishes and baked goods and the desire to present beautifully prepared and specialty items that are impossible for many home cooks to create on their own.
She saw an opening. “It’s what I love to do,” says Gaines about baking. (Her full-time job is as a legal marketer in Minneapolis.) “I’ve always baked a lot for family. You could say I’m obsessed with baking.” So, she learned how to build a website and decided to launch her own bakery side business. She advertised five Southern style cakes on nextdoor.com and immediately began getting orders. She notes that there are several successful local bakeries in Edina and wondered if that saturation meant her little endeavor wouldn’t be that successful. But, apparently Edina residents can’t get enough cake! “It’s been a great experience,” Gaines says. “People want unique cakes they can’t necessarily get anywhere else and I love to be creative.” Some of her most popular cakes include the custom cakes and the unusual and “super Southern” hummingbird cake which is a tropical carrot cake made with pineapple and raisins.
When deciding on branding for her new business, Gaines brainstormed all kinds of names, trying to think of one that would represent her style. She says, “I wanted it to be uniquely Southern and have a down-home comforting vibe while also sounding positive … it immediately clicked with me that Yes Ma’am Southern Kitchen had to be the name. The phrase defines Southern childhood and would also be the answer I’d give anytime any of the ladies in my family offered me a second helping of dessert. I imagined Meemaw asking, ‘Honey, do you want some more cake?’ and I’d enthusiastically answer, ‘Yes ma’am!’” That’s the response Gaines wants people to have about her products, that they will know they’re in for beautiful custom desserts with a comfort food quality and that they will certainly want more. She went with “kitchen” instead of “bakery” because she’d like to expand her offerings to include other creative items like spicy cheese straws, butter biscuits, hot chocolate bombs, pralines and truffles, to name a few.
Gaines is completely self-taught, which is amazing once you see some of her elaborate custom cakes. She regrets never having gone to pastry school but says she has a natural understanding of baking and cake decorating from her Meemaw, supplemented by a bit of research and several YouTube videos. She says customers love to give her a theme or ask for cakes that represent specific personality traits. “I once made a two-tier custom cake that represented a young girl’s favorite things, including the rapper Nelly, country music and the musical Cats.” If she can make that combo work, we can see why her cakes are popular.
Gaines also makes and sells whoopie pies. Whoopie pies aren’t necessarily a Southern thing according to Gaines, but says, “There was a bakery in my hometown in Mississippi that always had them and I loved them. I noticed they weren’t popular around here, so I started making them.” She describes the outer portion of these sandwich style treats as something in between a cookie and cake. They are filled with her specially made sweet, soft marshmallow cream. Gaines says, “They’re like a homemade Little Debbie cream pie,” and we swooned.
Besides cake, another popular item from Yes Ma’am Southern Kitchen are the cupcakes. Gaines makes lots of varieties with fun toppers. Gaines’ small business is managing to keep her quite busy. She makes between five and 12 custom cakes per week and lots of cupcakes. “I’d like to branch out and make tasting boxes,” says Gaines. “They would contain five different small things based on a theme, like maybe a mini pineapple upside down cake with a carrot cake loaf, mini marshmallow cookies and salted caramel fudge. That way, you get a little taste of several things and don’t need to think about what to order.” We like that idea. We might even be enjoying a little taste of everything right now.