At the Table With Chellie’s Sugar Shack Bakery

The strawberry cake from Chellie’s Sugar Shack Bakery is its No. 2 seller.

Writer: Karla Walsh

Each week in dsmWeekly, we’ll introduce you to a local food company owned by a person of color. Catch up on the first few features: Street Eats DSMG.G.’s Chicken & Waffles, Palm’s Caribbean CuisineArtis T’s CateringYour Mom’s Bakery and Jazz It Up.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” goes the classic cliché. For Rachelle Long, what she viewed as necessity is exactly why she dusted off the sugar cookie recipe bequeathed to her by her sweet neighbor, Mamie Underwood.

“My family’s love language is food,” Long says, and that came in handy during Christmastime one year. As a mother of three kids working in customer service at a phone company, Long didn’t have quite enough money to purchase gifts for a gift exchange.

“So I made all my siblings a cookie tray. … When everyone tasted the cookies, they said, ‘Never, ever go to the store and buy us anything again! If we can get these cookies every year, we’re good,’ ” Long remembers, laughing about how relieved she felt at the time.

Long continued to bake cookies and her grandma’s caramel cake for her family, and by the time she decided to retire from that phone company after 30 years, the West Des Moines native was seeking a new way to keep busy and make a little extra money. It was 2010, and by then, her now-legendary (within the family at least) cookie trays featured dipped pretzels, peanut clusters and three kinds of sugar cookies, including plain, sprinkled and frosted.

Her kids suggested she sell her cookies, so during Christmas 2010, she made extra trays and “they flew out the door,” Long says. “On April 1, 2011, I shared a Facebook post announcing, ‘Today, I’m starting a bakery and this is not an April Fool’s joke.’ Everyone still thought I was still kidding, but I went to fill out the paperwork and complete the inspections to make it official.”

For the first two years of Chellie’s Sugar Shack Bakery, Long only offered those three varieties of sugar cookies. Later, she added the caramel cake, and then, by customer request, the menu grew. Clients would ask for their favorites (“Can you make me a strawberry cake? I’ll pay you!”), so Long learned how.

Soon she started a mobile bakery, partnering with local salons and barbershops and winning over their clients with “big, crazy, hunking pieces” of four types of cake: caramel, lemon, red velvet and chocolate. Five years into this sales strategy, Long often sold 100 slices per day and had rightfully earned the name “Cake Lady.”

She now runs a robust curbside pickup business out of her home (call 515-554-7731 at least 24 hours in advance), and dreams of someday owning a Sugar Shack dessert truck and working out of a commercial kitchen, as she’s outgrowing her home kitchen. To learn more about Chellie’s Sugar Shack Bakery and to see Long’s current menu, visit her Facebook page and shuggashack.com.

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