DETROIT (WXYZ) — It was love and a dislike of candied yams that led to the start of what is now a Detroit staple, Sweet Potato Sensations.
Back in the late 70s, Jeffery and Cassandra Thomas were enjoying their first Thanksgiving together as newlyweds when a simple request would change the course of their lives. Jeffery wanted sweet potatoes on the menu, but Cassandra was not a fan of candied yams. So, she created a sweet potato cookie recipe instead, and the rest is history.
Daughter Espy Thomas, 40, has been involved in the family business since she can remember, helping deliver cookies to their first big customer.
“I’ve been a part of this since I was 5 or 6 years old,” she said. “I remember wrapping cookies up and taking them to Rocky Peanut Company.”
She said the family behind the now-popular bakery was always doing something involving food, always creating. The business transcended every part of their lives.
“Our original house number is now our bakery number,” said Espy.
While cookies were just the beginning, Sweet Potato Sensations has a storefront that is now a full bakery café. Espy said they’ve transformed almost into a Cracker Barrel in the neighborhood, selling other items from oils to hair products.
In their 33rd year of business, Espy said Sweet Potato Sensations is more than a Detroit staple, they’re invested in what happens in and around their area.
“We pride ourselves on being about the neighborhood,” she said, noting that they make an effort to hire young people and help the community. “We care about what happens in and around this neighborhood.”
Prior to the pandemic, the bakery was a place people would gather, whether it was for a bite to eat with friends, a natural hair event or to grieve. Espy is also a grief recovery specialist and said she would invite groups of women to Sweet Potato Sensations to give them a space to deal with loss.
Despite indoor dining resuming for restaurants and bars across the state, Sweet Potato Sensations is focusing their energy on online ordering and/or takeout.
“The one thing we did was just pause,” said Espy. “I think people talk a lot of pivot . . . with the pivot, you have to also pause as well, so you can attack it with the right mindset.”
Espy said they have decreased the bakery’s hours and are trying to limit the amount of people inside at any given time. For them, she said, it’s about keeping people safe.
Sweet Potato Sensations is still finding a way to bring people comfort through food during the pandemic.
“When people come up, they get this well-rounded experience . . . family environment, good energy, it’s that whole experience that we’re serving, not just a pie,” she said.
But the pies definitely don't hurt. Whether it's sweet potato pie or fried turkey chops or pancakes with the crispy edges served up by the staff at Sweet Potato Sensations, there's a special recipe for business they've whipped up that keeps people coming back for more.
“It’s that Thanksgiving that you can get year-round,” Espy said. “It reminds them of home . . . especially right now, we cannot be close to people like we used to be, this is an extension of that.”
Sweet Potato Sensations
17337 Lahser Rd, Detroit