BayouEats: Miss Kay’s Sweets & Eats
Nestled On The Corner Of Trenton And Pine, On Antique Alley In West Monroe, Miss Kay’s Sweets & Eats Offers Recipe Favorites From Miss Kay Robertson’s Own Kitchen.
Article By Meredith McKinnie & Photography By Martin G Meyers
Like most Robertson ventures, this too is a family affair, a combination of brand vision, culinary skills, analytical acumen, grandmother’s kitchen creations, love and most of all, faith. With a passion for cooking and baking that began in her Mamaw Kay’s kitchen, granddaughter Alex Mancuso is merging her creative talent with her grandmother’s dream of offering the sweet and savory to the public. Touches of Kay’s family history, the Duck Commander brand and uniquely crafted pieces from friends of the Robertson family are highlighted in the shop giving the feel of comfort and closeness, something the Robertsons have always been about. After years of prayer and intense planning, in December 2016, Miss Kay’s Sweets & Eats was born.
“Never trust a skinny cook.” Those are the words Alex heard over and over in her childhood while whipping up dishes alongside Mamaw Kay, or as we know her, Miss Kay. Noting her mother Lisa as also being a “fabulous cook,” Alex saw the traditions, the memories being made in the kitchen. She admired the craft, the skill, the process, and after a stint at LSU, her parents insisted she find a way to pay her own bills. Not knowing what she wanted to do, Chef Larry Maciasz, her boss at a local catering company suggested culinary school. Conveniently, The Louisiana Culinary School was located near her Baton Rouge apartment. After touring the new facilities at the school, Alex became a part of the first baking and pastry class. Since it was the school’s first year offering the specialization, Alex, her teachers and classmates “taught each other,” offering a structured, yet flexible environment.
Alex worked at Ambrosia Bakery, the biggest in Baton Rouge, which provided “good, useful experience,” shipping tens of thousands of products, plus working in store. Around this period, Alex met her husband Vinny at New York Bagel Company. A finance graduate from LSU, Vinny had worked the numbers for Raising Cane’s in the purchasing department and managed several store locations for the last decade and left to try his hand at a music career. Surprisingly, Vinny wasn’t too keen on sweets early on, but he has since come around. For years, food had been all business to him. The couple was married in Garyville, Louisiana, at the San Francisco Plantation in January of 2013, on her dad Alan’s birthday. After culinary school, Alex became the executive pastry chef at Latte e Miele, (Italian for milk and honey), a bakery, espresso and gelato bar. There she learned to manage ordering, products, sales and overall demand. The two owners from Rome gave Alex almost a “blank slate” to do what she wanted, allowing her to learn running a business alongside indulging her culinary skills. She enjoys finding her own version of food staples, her favorites being frozen desserts and cakes. Southern recipes are essential to Alex, stuff she can “put her own flair on.”
Vinny and Alex moved to West Monroe in May of 2013. Her husband went to work in purchasing at Duck Commander, and Alex’s plan was to open a food truck with her Uncle Willie. Even though they had already purchased a fully customized Air Stream food truck, it was at the height of the Duck Commander/Duck Dynasty explosion, and the plan never materialized. Alex went to work at Whites Ferry Road Church of Christ doing administrative duties. Her focus was the World Radio Program, an organization that buys time on local radio stations in 160 countries to do gospel broadcasts. Alan Robertson, Alex’s dad, initially suggested the idea of the bakery. Having been a preacher at Whites Ferry Road for all of Alex’s childhood and only recently going to work at Duck Commander, Alan wanted to be “under the family umbrella, but also have his own thing.” With his preacher background, he became the family spokesperson, or “beard wrangler” as he calls himself. Alan knew his father, Phil, had always wanted to sell his pralines, and his mother Kay wanted a place to sell her recipes. Alex had the culinary experience, and Vinny had the numbers background and management experience. Alex insists, “The Lord put it all together for us.”
After two intense years of prepping, further establishing the Duck Commander brand, the bakery offers Miss Kay her own outlet. The feel of the place is “family-oriented, but less like a duck blind and more like a grandmother cooking for her grandkids.” The types of food served and the location were all crucial decisions. They wanted the business to be a part of the West Monroe community. The family members considered putting the bakery next to Willie’s Duck Diner on Constitution Drive, but it didn’t feel right. After some more praying, at a branding meeting at Studio 9017, a design house in West Monroe, the family heard about the Trenton St. location. Upon the first visit, they fell in love. The exposed brick, vintage feel and history of the building were ideal. As a child, Alex remembers shopping on Antique Alley with Mamaw Kay. The place felt like home. Built in the early 1900s, the building had been a gas station originally and then a car repair shop. The owner had considered turning the space into a banquet hall, going as far as to update portions of the building. But agreeing Antique Alley needed a place for visitors to sit and sip coffee and sample treats, the bakery possibility was just what Trenton St. needed. Alex loved the comfortable atmosphere, abundance of space, uniqueness and history.
Contractor Tony Neal, a close family friend and fellow church member, added the back storage, plumbing and electricity to the building. He also built the tree stands and barn doors leading to the kitchen and bathrooms. Skip Couvillion, a handyman of Phil Robertson’s who had previously built duck ponds and worked on Phil’s land, happened to be an avid carpenter. In the shop, he did most of the woodworking, built the tin pieces framing the cabinets, the serving hatch, the long bar along the south wall and framed the large menu chalkboards. Alex wanted the design to be “down-home, without being too rustic.” The interior design was a merging of ideas between Alex and Rachel Marshall, a baker from Nashville, Tennessee. Now serving as the kitchen manager, Rachel had approached Miss Kay at a Duck Commander event, insisted she loved her recipes, and Kay hired her on the spot and told her to move to Louisiana. Like each step of the process, Alex insists God “brought them all together.”
For the menu, Miss Kay has the most input. The staples are her family recipes like the seasonal sweet potato pie and chocolate cream pie coming soon. Her homemade crust is what she’s most proud of. And her pecan pie will be available year round. Phil’s pralines are a big seller, and he boasts they’re the best in Louisiana. Having always been a hunter, Phil was the one to figure out the best way to cook wild game. His praline recipe required the same attention and is available at the shop and in the Duck Commander cookbook, also on sale at the bakery. The cowboy cookies are a blend of oatmeal, chocolate chips, pecans and coconut. Miss Kay’s homemade biscuits are always a crowd pleaser, and her chocolate chip cookies a permanent staple. Alex insists each recipe is taste-tested by the Robertson patriarch and matriarch. Miss Kay will make a few suggestions, adding this here or less of this there, and back to the kitchen Alex and the crew will go. The cinnamon roll recipe is adapted from Rachel, but Phil and Kay approved. Rachel also does her own granola. Phil is such a fan that he requests a pound every week to take to the duck blind. The carmelitas are Rachel’s grandmother’s own recipe, an oatmeal cookie base with chocolate chips, pecans and caramel. Adapting some recipes to mass quantities can be a challenge, and in some cases impossible. Phil’s pralines have to be made one small batch at a time.
Coffee is important to the Robertson family. Their motto is: “Make it strong enough to put hair on your face.” Most prefer a double shot of espresso inside a dark roast. Coffee expert Dee Blake from Atlanta, Georgia, built the coffee program at the bakery from scratch. Trained in Seattle, Dee tested all the beans, perfected how to grind and how to serve. A whole world goes into the production and serving of coffee. Tea is also important to this area and to the Robertsons. Surprisingly, most of them drink unsweet tea, but both varieties will be available by the gallon or cup. To-go pots of coffee are coming soon. The visual menu, featuring coffee cups showing how much milk, coffee, etc. is in each drink makes ordering easy. Come see what’s frothy and milky.
King cakes are available through the end of February with three different offerings. The traditional flavor is cinnamon with traditional iced and sugar topping, then the traditional topping with cream cheese filling, and finally the cream cheese filling with praline topping. The bakery has been serving the holiday menu since the December 6 opening, hesitant to jump in with dozens of items at once. The pralines, biscuits, cookies, cinnamon rolls, carmelitas, brownies and pies are always available. They just started serving breakfast sandwiches with sausage, bacon, egg and cheese on a croissant or biscuit. Breakfast is served until eleven, or until they’re all gone. The cupcakes started shortly after the New Year with rotating flavors of birthday cake, almond and maple thus far. The crew plans to introduce petit fours, muffins, mini-bundt cakes, and possibly full-sized bundts, and seasonal layer cakes in the future. The bakery will feature monthly flavors with daily specials. With not a lot of fruits in season in the winter, the spring and summer will bring flavors like peach, blueberry and strawberry. Spiced flavors will be the focus of fall.
Alex always wanted Miss Kay’s name across the front door. Miss Kay’s Sweets & Eats was decided upon to leave room for expansion. Party trays named after all the brothers will be coming soon, and light lunches later on. Their online store selling Miss Kay’s merchandise, pralines, cookies, and mini pies opened the second week of January. The Robertsons know they have a national platform and room to grow the brand. The bakery will be like “your grandmother who bakes for you.” Seeing how they’re just starting, they’ve prayed for God to make it as big as he wishes it to be to accomplish His ministry plans for them. After signing the lease, the family and friends formed a prayer circle inside, covered the walls in scriptures, put prayer stakes in the ground, and prayed hard for God to bless the venture as he saw fit. Alex says church groups sometimes meet in the bakery, and she encourages other groups to do the same. The atmosphere is comfortable with free Wi-Fi and plugs at the bar for electronic devices.
Alex and Vinny have two boys of their own.Corban is almost three, and Doc is just eight months. Being a mother with young children, Alex established the kid’s play area in the corner of the shop. It distracts the kids while the “adults get a few minutes of peace.” The hot chocolate and cupcakes are kid-tested and kid-approved. Right next to the kid’s play area is the Carroway Corner, a surprise for Miss Kay when the shop opened. Carroway is Kay’s maiden name, and the corner features pictures and relics from Kay’s childhood. Kay’s grandparents, William Thomas and Callie May Carroway, owned a general store in Ida, Louisiana, north of Shreveport in Caddo Parish. They sold everything from tires and meat, to medicine and cigarettes. Kay grew up running around in the store eventually owned by her own parents, and it stayed open for over 75 years. Miss Kay’s Sweets & Eats is continuing that family tradition of small business ownership. With the help of family, the traditional love of good food and a focus on faith, the Robertson family is again blessing our bellies, our hearts and our community.