Daily Bread: Two sisters take over Crown Center with their bakery

“It’s just something about Thanksgiving,” says Jacqueline Buycks. “Our bread turns into gold.”
 
Buycks and her sister Joyce Brown own Big Momma’s Bakery. Their business venture was born in 2005, when the sisters took over a former donut shop, Village Donuts, in the heart of Raytown, Mo. The plan: to make cinnamon rolls according to their sister Jill’s perfected recipe. 
 
The sisters played it conservative at first, retaining all the bakery’s original employees and keeping the old Village Donuts sign up for the first six months. But it didn’t take long for the shop to gain devotees. Soon, the new entrepreneurs counted Raytown’s mayor as a fan of their sugary creations. And then, one Thanksgiving, something happened that Buycks and Brown never saw coming: the bakery groupies arrived. 
 
“My son drove up one day to help us out,” Brown says, “and he was scared to come in. He was like, ‘What are all those people waiting for outside?’”
While they love their spot in Raytown, two years ago, executives from downtown Kansas City’s Crown Center made Big Momma’s an offer that the sisters couldn’t refuse. “They came to our bakery in Raytown,” Buycks recalls. “They were all decked out in their suits; they came in, six or eight of them, and ordered everything up off the menu.”
 
And then, Brown says, finishing the story, “They said, ‘We were sent here to bring you back to Crown Center.’ It was a total shock.”  The sisters learned that the Hallmark brass — the owners of Crown Center — are interested in fostering homegrown and unique businesses like Big Momma’s. 
 
Naturally, the bakery’s main attraction is still the cinnamon rolls. But as the date of Thanksgiving nears, the sisters brace themselves for their busiest time of the year, when the demand for Big Momma’s dinner rolls looms large. So large, in fact, that Crown Center had to adapt in order to accommodate Big Momma’s holiday clientele.  
 
Big Momma’s dinner rolls come by the dozen, and by pre-order only. “You can’t just walk in off the street and say, ‘I want a bag of dinner rolls,’” Brown says. “There’s none. We knew that Thanksgiving was huge for us in Raytown all four years we were there, but we didn’t think of it until our first Thanksgiving in Crown Center came.” That year, the line of people waiting on rolls wound out Big Momma’s front door, down the hallway, and into the mall’s front lobby. 
 
The following year, Crown Center’s management set up a table in the front lobby of Crown Center just for Big Momma’s pick-up orders, and roped off an area so that the waiting line switched back and forth, like at an amusement park. Even then, Brown says, “People waited an hour at least. People with pre-orders. It was rough, but most of them didn’t mind. We had a few glitches.” Buycks and Brown exchange a look, and laugh. 
 
Last year, in an attempt to beat the Thanksgiving rush, the sisters put pans of raw dough in the freezer a few days ahead of time, a method that worked on test runs the weeks before. But the night before Thanksgiving, the sisters opened the freezer and screamed. Hundreds of dozens of the rolls had fallen flat. 
 
“They sunk!” Buycks says. “That meant, no good, can’t bake. We had to start all over, and these are orders that people are coming to pick up. It was just crazy. Then we ran out of our foil pans in the middle of the night.” The sisters baked through the night, but when morning came, they still hadn’t dug themselves out of their dinner roll hole. That day, the line of customers ballooned. The other employees manning the counter with Brown left, one by one, to check on the progress Buycks and her team were making in the kitchen. Brown found herself alone, staring down a hoard of hungry faces.
 
“No bread was coming out of the bakery, and I kept calling and calling the kitchen and nobody’s answering, and the line kept getting longer and longer,” Brown says. “I literally cried. I’m not kidding.”
 
“Every person who came to check on us, we were putting ‘em to work,” Buycks explains. “Butter! Put butter on those! Put those on the cart! Get ’em out! And as soon as a cart went out, all the bread was just swallowed up.”
 
Brown laughs. “We had people in the mall walking up, saying, ‘What on earth are all these people waiting for?’ And the people in line said, ‘We’re waiting on our bread.’ They said, ‘Bread? Is it that good? You must be crazy!’”
 
If loving Big Momma’s rolls is crazy, then the insanity is contagious. Last Thanksgiving, the sisters baked 2,000 dozen rolls. Take note: this year, the cutoff for pre-orders is Nov. 19.
 
In the Big Momma’s office, a sudden ringing of the phone cuts through the sisters’ laughter. Brown picks up the receiver and listens. “How many? And he wants them delivered? When? Oh my Gosh, next Saturday?”
 
“Oh Lord,” Buycks sighs, smiling. And so it begins.
 
Holiday order form available at www.bigmommasrolls.com.

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Lance Findlay's picture

But it didn’t take long for the shop to gain devotees. Soon, the new entrepreneurs counted Raytown’s mayor as a fan of their sugary creations.
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