It is the season where we celebrate Spring, Passover and the Resurrection, and Sweet Thymes Bakery is a perfect way to illustrate renewal in every regard. Kelli Minyard, and her brother, Jordan Anderson, are nearly 20 years apart in age, the best of friends, and the co-owners of a former crack house that has been re-purposed into a delightful bakery and eatery called Sweet Thymes Deli.
Their dad, Curtis Anderson, owns the commercial property on the corner of Pryor and Clinton. The cottage had fallen into nefarious misuse, and Kelli told me, “It would have cost five thousand dollars to tear it down. I wrote Jordan a letter, spelling out my vision for turning it into a restaurant. Basically I told him, ‘I’m the cook, you’re the herb guy.’ I couldn’t imagine doing this with anyone else,” she penned, and they were off on an adventure that has involved their family, friends, and even some stars of the Athens High School football team.
Kelli is someone who doesn’t just enjoy cooking, but according to her charming story, she “HAS to cook!” She doesn’t use recipes, and a lot of times she doesn’t even taste her creations before they become a part of the daily menu. “I love the sound of bacon when it hits the pan, and the feel of green peppers and celery when they are getting chopped just right,” she told me. Jordan sometimes wears the “quality control hat” and does the tasting. However, when it comes to their no-sugar, three-ingredient corn bread, if he decides it doesn’t “look right,” out it goes, no questions asked.
For his part, Jordan invested heavily in Sweet Thymes, both in terms of sweat equity and with his wallet. He has a greenhouse out back, and grows all the herbs for the herb and cheese biscuits. He is fully capable of doing a whole lot of other duties, including faxing the “daily fresh” to more than 70 customers, some from as far away as Birmingham.
Sweet Thymes has one whole room dedicated as a play room for Kelli’s preschooler, and because the entire family, (from the Meemaws on down) pitches in, Kelli is able to be a wife and mom of 3 who makes it to events and has a family life as well, something which can get “pinched” when someone is bootstrapping a business.
“Everything is made fresh, everyday, completely from scratch. Nothing is canned or packaged,” said Kelli, and as is the case with the best of restaurateurs, the understanding that the first ingredient must be love is part of her modus operandi. What I found amusing is that in addition to working with her daughter, Breanna, Kelli is also mentoring two AHS football players as part of her prep crew.
“These guys had never been in a kitchen, and knew nothing about cooking. Harper (Ward) now makes the Oreo balls, and Cade (Anderson) is in charge of making the cinnamon crisp. Breanna works as a Gal Friday, and like Jordan, knows the ins and outs of the business.
Kelli has some signature dishes that could not be more classic Southern cuisine. One is her mac and cheese, the other her chicken casseroles, which change all the time. She has a hilarious wall tile that says, “I’m one casserole away from a nervous breakdown,” and that light-hearted approach to the stresses of running one’s own deli is one of the things that makes Sweet Thymes so fun.
I always ask our Athens Now clients what makes their specific establishment or service the best possible choice for their customers, and her answer made me want to cheer for its unpretentious lack of political correctness. “When you walk in, people are greeted with, ‘Hi, hon,’ and when you leave they are told, ‘Thanks, babe!’” However, there was one more thing that made me wish I could work for her, and that is sometimes they have icing fights. Anyone who has been in the restaurant industry knows there is nothing better for morale and team building than a no holds barred food fight, and I am glad she sees the value of blue icing on the wall. Of course, it is all cleaned up by opening time, and no one is the wiser, until now, that is!
She added that they also make excelling at customer service priority one. “If something is not right, we’ll make it right,” she said, and they will deliver to close by places when the order is for ten or more.
Some of Sweet Thymes’ future plans include getting rid of the chain link and barb wire fence, adding more outdoor seating, making a drive-thru around the back, and having plenty of flower pots and hanging baskets. Right now the drive thru is at the back door, and they have a disabled woman for whom they make a custom plate each day and take it out to her car.
Sweet Thymes Deli is a beautiful blend of urban renewal, American ingenuity, sweat equity, family, fun and hard work coming together to make “an unusual eatery in an unlikely location.” Come taste for yourself!
Sweet Thymes Deli
407 North Clinton, Athens, AL 35611
Hours: Tues-Fri 10:30am-5:30pm
Facebook: Sweet Thymes
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner