I Love Lucy
Sweetness Reigns at Sweet Lucy’s.
article by Michael DeVault | photography by Martin G Meyers
In any given morning, a tiny little storefront on Oliver Road hosts a hive of activity. Beginning early, usually around 6 a.m., customers begin pouring in and streaming out, carrying with them tiny bags, little foam boxes and steaming cups of Community Coffee. They enter, visit with friends, place an order or two and by the time they leave, they’re a little bit happier because of their visit to one of Monroe’s best kept secrets. Customers of Sweet Lucy’s Bakery know exactly what to expect, because that’s what they get every morning from Lucy Rogers and her agile staff. “Every day, my customers come in over and over and get pretty much the same thing,” says Lucy, of the regulars who frequent her shop. “Every day, I see the same customer get the same thing.”
Served with love and a pinch of humor, Lucy’s edibles are a delectable serving of delicious gooeyness that are a throwback to days gone by, when the corner baker was always on hand with a sweet or a roll when you needed it. And, from cupcakes to kolaches, Sweet Lucy’s has them in excess.
olaches are hands down the best seller at Sweet Lucy’s, and with good reason. Lucy’s kolaches are hand-rolled in a hearty, made-from-scratch dough with about an ounce of American cheese. Then, the kolaches are baked until golden brown and left to cool. The process allows the bread to soak up some of the flavors of the melted cheese and the two-ounce wiener inside. After they’ve cooled just a bit, but while they’re still warm, you’ll be hard pressed to eat just one or two. But that’s okay, because Sweet Lucy’s always has plenty of the treats ready to serve, and they’re happy to sell them to you by the half-dozen. Lucy knows what makes people buy so many of them. “They like them because of the bread. I make my own bread.”
In fact, Sweet Lucy’s makes everything—from breads and muffins to cake batter and icing. Nothing comes out of a box or a can. She learned to bake while learning to cook, beginning when she was just a little girl in her mother’s kitchen. “I’ve been baking since I was seven years old,” Lucy says. “Pretty much all my life I’ve been cooking and baking.”
She went to work at a young age for East Carroll Parish Schools, where she worked as a cafeteria cook. She moved to Ouachita Parish a few years in, and for the remainder of her 32 years in education, Lucy bounced as a field manager from kitchen to kitchen throughout the Ouachita Parish Schools. It was while she was at the parish schools that she learned to make another of her customers’ favorite treats.
Sweet Lucy’s cinnamon rolls are a throwback to childhood. A six-ounce slice of dough—made from scratch—is tossed in cinnamon and other spices. Then, the slice is rolled into a loose, thick spiral. Lucy bakes the rolls, then she ices them in the cinnamon sugary icing while they’re still hot, which gives the dough a chance to absorb some of the sweetness from the icing as it drips down into the spirals. Some people cut their cinnamon roll into slices and eat it with a fork while others hold theirs delicately between two or three fingers and nibble at it like a slice of pizza. The best way to enjoy a Sweet Lucy’s cinnamon roll? Old-school style. Unroll it until it’s a long, flat strip of dough and attack it with a fork, a spoon or your bare hands.
“It reminds them of being in school, when those cinnamon rolls would be served in the cafeteria,” she says. “People just love cinnamon. I don’t know why they love cinnamon so much!”
Cinnamon rolls weren’t the only treats Lucy learned to cook as she bounced from school to school as field manager. She learned how to efficiently supervise small staffs and to oversee operations of an industrial kitchen. Eventually, she ended up at Riser, where she was assistant kitchen manager before retiring in 1999. But, she couldn’t sit still for very long.
So she started working at Bayou Bakery, on Forsythe, eventually rising to manager before buying the business. She remained there for a couple of years before retiring a second time. But Lucy isn’t one to sit around.
On this particular morning in the bakery, as customers stream in and out, Lucy’s been going since about 1 a.m. One of Lucy’s employees, Orrell White, says Lucy never stops. “She’s driven,” says Orrell, with a laugh. “If that’s what you call it.”
Lucy’s granddaughter agrees. Lucy’s already showing the girl the ropes, instructing her how to properly kneed dough and how to run the register. Though they’re a small operation, Lucy still oversees her tight-knit staff with the same diligence of a large school kitchen. Her son, Lee, frequently spends his days off working the bakery. Brenda Thomas is also almost always there, handling decorating the cupcakes, wedding cakes, birthday cakes and specialty cookies. And what about her partner, the man responsible for getting her out of retirement, Alex George? “He’s always around somewhere,” Lucy says. “Whatever we need, he’s always there.”
On one visit, he’s behind the counter, working the register. On another, he’s assisting a technician with the installation of a cooler. A third visit finds him meticulously arranging a tray of still-warm baklava, his contribution to the culinary efforts at Sweet Lucy’s.
Made in the traditional Greek style, the baklava is layer upon layer of the thinnest, flakiest phyllo dough. Nutty, honey-drenched, and chewy, the baklava is the just kind of rich, off-the-wall offering that sets Sweet Lucy’s apart. Lately, another baked delight from a culture closer to home has taken over the bakery, though.
Lucy is a master creator of King Cakes. “Oh, they’re popular right now,” says Lucy. “People are coming in for them constantly.” Lucy offers a cream-cheese filled King Cake, an unfilled King Cake that’s more traditional, and she offers other fillings for those who ask. This year’s Mardi Gras season is shortened, thanks to the early Easter date in 2015, but that hasn’t stopped Sweet Lucy’s from capitalizing on the King Cake craze. Instead of stopping as soon as local Mardi Gras rolls through, Lucy figured she could take it through til the end of February by rolling the cakes into the shape of hearts and topping them with a sweet, pink and white icing—the perfect sweet treat for that special sweetheart.
The atmosphere at Sweet Lucy’s is, as you’d expect, quaint and, well, sweet. The walls are painted in corresponding shades of pale yellows, blushes and pinks. Several small bistro tables offer seating for about a dozen visitors, and there’s a piping hot pot of coffee near the door. Music is almost always playing from the small radio in the corner, and depending on who turned it on, you can expect to hear anything from talk radio to classic rock. As you enter, you’re presented with the showcase, where Lucy and crew display their wares. Whether you’re popping in and out for a quick breakfast on the run or planning to settle in with the morning paper and a few kolaches, you’ll feel at home and welcome at Sweet Lucy’s.
It’s not all gooey sweets and morning treats, either, which isn’t surprising given that Lucy isn’t particularly a big fan of sugary foods. “I was never a person for sweets,” she says. “But I did cater and do lunches. My favorite was always spaghetti and meatballs.”
And though she doesn’t offer her favorite dish in her bakery, Lucy nevertheless provides daily lunches in the form of sandwiches. She offers a BLT Turkey Club, a Ham & Cheese, and for an extra special kick of flavor, try the Chicken Salad Sandwich.
Other favorites from the Sweet Lucy’s menu include a variety of fresh muffins in traditional and unique selections, brownies, turnovers and coffee cakes. Borrowing from her cinnamon roll expertise, she also bakes homemade monkey bread. Pumpkin bread is a popular seasonal favorite, with its moist, chunky texture and stick-to-your-ribs comfort. And it’s not just prepared, take-out and carry baking, either.
Sweet Lucy’s is a popular stop for birthday cakes, large quantities of cupcakes and even wedding cakes. In each case, and with each order, Lucy and her staff bring the same customer service, special flair, and savory, sweet punch. And nothing is ever made from a box or a can. If you ask for lemon cream cheese icing, it’ll be Lucy Rogers’ own recipe.
She says there are very few things she won’t make for a customer who asks. “If you want it, I’ll make it and bake it,” Lucy says.