The Rise of Bakeries in Southern West Virginia

Mountain adventures are only as good as the carbs that fuel them. You know the feeling; after all that fresh air, you gotta have something sweet. Calories, please! Good thing you’re in Southern West Virginia.

And over the past few months, more bakeries have come to town. These newcomers have already attracted a loyal following from the New River Gorge and beyond.

Sweets and treats, from our family to yours

Good things come in small packages. So does downtown Fayetteville’s newest arrival, Sweet T’s Bake Shop.

The modest little building rarely has a slow morning. Homemade cinnamon rolls, plump and sweet, vanish before noon. So do the pepperoni rolls. In their place appear frosting-engorged pastries, warm pies and cookies. It’s only a temporary shift, though. After a brief lull, owner Tandy Dempsey and her bakers furiously stir dough again. Spices, flour and sugar scent the air. It’s a life cycle that repeats itself every 24 hours.

Though her chosen career isn’t easy, Dempsey knows the value of a neighborhood bakery.

“My grandmother and great grandmother both baked for people in their communities,” she shares. “My great grandmother actually passed away on Christmas Eve delivering baked goods that people had ordered.”

When Dempsey isn’t tending to cinnamon rolls, other delicacies demand her attention. Folks clamor for cream horns and chocolate-and-peanut-butter fudge. Cakes are another specialty. From darling pastel “pops” to extravagant towers of icing and fudgy sauce, there are tempting bites of all kinds. Want smiling giraffe cupcakes for your birthday? Sweet T’s can do that, too.

“I enjoy baking and making people smile when they eat things we bake,” Dempsey reflects.

Still, it’s more than just a trip to Candyland. The bakery also feeds breakfast and lunch to ravenous mountaineers. You can get biscuits and gravy for just $3, or a sandwich — with homemade bread — for $5. Choices include egg salad, fried bologna, hot ham and cheese and tuna. Even the hot dog buns are made in-house!

“We work diligently to maintain continuity even with our family recipes,” Dempsey said. “All of our products are made in a homemade fashion. Sometimes, this is difficult in mass quantities. But it’s important to me to put our best foot forward.”

Dempsey also beefs up her menu with weekly specials. Thursdays typically feature meatloaf and mashed potatoes, for example. But no matter what day you visit, expect enticing aromas and the pleasant sensation of being somewhere safe and comfortable.

“I feel that our bakery is unique in that we make people feel at home,” Dempsey reflects. “We have been told it feels like your grandma’s home on a Sunday afternoon.”

Americanos, art, and alpacas

Until recently, Oak Hill was known more for its family restaurants and easy accessibility to the New River Gorge. Now, Main Street is getting a little more artsy.

Top Knot Coffee and Artisan Shop is a case in point. It’s a nano cafe with panache: ground South American beans, quality espresso beverages and desserts. The cafe is a gallery of sorts, too. Jewelry, soap and photos — all made by local artists — are available for purchase.

There are also alpacas — well, sort of. Daniel and Stephanie Harding, the primary owners, raise camelids, too. You can buy rich chocolate and cream wool at the cafe, plus felted and knit accessories.

“The alpacas definitely pique people’s interest,” Daniel Harding laughs. “But once customers come inside, they see the connection.”

It’s a unique combination that works. Harding roasts his own green South American beans, which transform into artisan ground coffee and espresso. He also packages whole beans. Every half or full bag is made to-order, so you’re guaranteed really fresh coffee.

Harding devotes similar attention to espresso drinks. Top Knot has all the beverages you’d expect: lattes, mochas, Americanos and more.

You can count on caffeine’s favorite side kicks, too.

“Our menu is very simple,” Harding says, although Top Knot already has a popular apple spice cake. His family also makes muffins, brownies and chocolate chip cookies, plus “smashed” panini-style sandwiches, soup and salads.

“At some point, I’d like to have a separate roastery so we can spread out and maybe offer fresh coffee for local restaurants and businesses,” Harding continued.

Until then, you’ll find him serving gourmet drinks— and tending to his Oak Hill alpaca farm.

… and everything nice

Sugar and Spice Bakery is another Oak Hill newcomer. It’s a casual little place with perky decor and a lounge for lazy hangouts.

“It’s always been my dream to have a bakery of my own, ever since I was a little girl,” says Erika Thompson, the owner. “I always loved to help bake and cook when my Mom or grandmothers were in the kitchen, so it really grew into one of my greatest passions as time went on.”

Her interest in baking continued right through college. After graduation, it gave her a job, too — her very own.

“There weren’t really a lot of job opportunities around in the area where I could utilize my degree,” Thompson explains. She has a background in baking and pastry.

“So, opening the bakery just seemed to be the right thing for me to do.”

It sure was! Until Sugar and Spice came along, Oak Hill didn’t have a bakery. Thompson saw a niche that she could fill.

“I felt like that was something that our community was seriously lacking,” she says. “Lots of people come in and tell us how glad they are that we’re here, so I really feel like this was exactly what we needed.”

Now, Oak Hill has colorful cookies, mini pies, pastries and buttercream cupcakes. It’s also where you can get French macarons — sweet almond sandwich cookies with flavored filling.

You don’t see a lot of this kind of thing around here, so we wanted to bring something new and unique to the community,” Thompson points out.

Locals also rave about her cheesecakes. Some folks claim they’re the best in town. If you’re craving a slice, stop by; Thompson has them all year. Other treats are available based on the owner’s whim.

“We mix it up a lot and keep things new and exciting so that people don’t really know what they might find the next time they walk through the doors,” Thompson explains.

That whimsical quality touches upon nearly everything else, too. Depending on the season, you’ll find suitably attired desserts: heart-shaped donuts for Valentine’s Day, for example, or Easter chocolate peanut butter “eggs” drizzled with pastel frosting. Sugar and Spice also dresses up for various holidays. Even before it opened, the bakery won Oak Hill’s 2016 grand prize for “Business Halloween Decorations.” (The windows were painted with characters from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”) Such playfulness makes you feel welcome.

Even if there’s a lull between holidays, Sugar and Spice keeps spirits bright anyway. Thompson has repeat customers who come just for her cream puffs. Other folks appreciate the simple lift of a fresh cookie, paired with hot chocolate or coffee. In many ways, Sugar and Spice is a form of community service.

“I’d say about 95 percent of our menu is all scratch-made and I think that’s something people just aren’t used to anymore,” Thompson muses. “We make as much as we can every day, so the product is guaranteed fresh and to our standards. A lot of times restaurants and bakeries have to cut a lot of corners in that aspect of things, and I think it really takes away from the experience.”

As she expands her business and gets more equipment, Thompson hopes to make everything homemade. She also dreams of expanding her market.

“I have a lot of family members and friends out of state, and they’re always joking around with me asking if I can send some of our baked goods to them through the mail,” she laughs. “But I would really like to make that a reality.”

As for Oak Hill, Thompson envisions reaching out to local businesses. Maybe she could sell her homemade bread to restaurants, for example.

“I think it’s really important that we help each other out around here, because this kind of thing is hard to do, especially if you’re alone, and I would love to make sure that all the small businesses in Oak Hill can stay around for a long time to come,” she says.

Established Favorites

You know the place — those established cafes and eateries where locals rave about cookies and cake “you just gotta try.” Well, Southern West Virginia has those, too. Here is a sampler of favorite go-to bakeries:

Cathedral Cafe

A magnet for outdoor types, this off-beat restaurant boasts fresh, creative cuisine and legendary pancakes.

For a celebratory treat, though, try these Cathedral Cafe hits:

  • Bread pudding: silky layers of homemade cinnamon rolls and muffins drenched with caramel cream sauce.
  • “Ultimate Carrot Cake”:  an award-winning showstopper with pecans, coconut, pineapple and thick icing.
  • Mixed berry cobbler: hot fresh fruit, bubbling over with oatmeal crumb topping. Add vanilla ice cream for spoonfuls of bliss.

Cathedral Cafe is also home to the new Raw & Juicy Juice Bar. Made entirely from local fruits and vegetables, these drinks and “smoothie bowls” are deliciously refreshing.

Chocolate Moose Roasted Coffee

This comfortable cafe in Beckley has all the fuel you need after a mountain adventure. Perks include cookies (like peanut butter chip), muffins, ice cream and espresso beverages. Chocolate Moose also shares space with a mini golf course and climbing wall.

Sister’s Coffee House

Cozy and charming, this cafe in Princeton defines country chic. Framed artwork fills the colored walls and sometimes a musician plays the upright piano.

Locals especially like coming for lunch. That’s when you can order croissant sandwiches with pasta salad or hot, flavorful soup. But you won’t regret their baked goods, either. Sister’s has muffins, cake, bagels … pretty much all of your favorites. They taste especially good when you pair ‘em with a cup of fresh-brewed coffee, too.

Bon apetit and happy trails!