Irresistible. The display case of sweet promises at Campbell’s Bakery tugs on a smile. Cheery colors and the beckoning aroma of baked goods? That’s icing on the teacake.
The perky pink storefront of Jackson’s oldest bakery has been catching the eye and the sweet tooth of North State Street drivers for decades.
The Back Story
Pastry chef Mitchell Moore bought the bakery six and a half years ago, continuing traditions that reach back more than half a century. Founder Louis Campbell, fresh out of the U.S. Army in 1945, became a baker first at Jitney (now McDade’s), and next moved to a spot in the same shopping center before opening Campbell’s Bakery in its current location in 1962.
“The ovens that he had came from Shakey’s Pizza, which was where the post office is,” Moore says. Campbell had it until 1982, then sold it to Frank Aldridge, who ran the bakery for the next 20 years. A string of several other owners followed, until Moore came on the scene in 2011.
Moore, who’d been wholesaling his cheesecakes to local restaurants and was looking for a retail spot, saw potential. “It needed some TLC and a coat of paint, and a lot of cleaning. But, as people say about houses, the bones were there.” He thought it was going to be about his cheesecake. But, Mississippi was in love with Campbell’s teacakes.
It’s About the Teacakes
Even before Campbell’s reopened, brown paper still covering the windows during renovation, folks dropped by to check, “Are you still going to have the teacakes? … As long as you have the teacakes, we’re fine.”
“I heard it 10 different times,” Moore says. He asked a former owner, who told him, “Oh, that’s the business. It’s all about the cookies.” So, Moore hired a former employee, so she could teach them the how-to. “
We took those lessons and made those cookies and sure enough, from the first day, that was going to be what the bakery was about. Not my cheesecake.”
A timer goes off and Moore hops up to check on chocolate chip, sugar and “kitchen sink” cookies in the oven. But sure enough, the Mississippi-shaped teacakes are the ones catching my eye. The secret to their appeal? The nostalgic goodness of Campbell’s original recipe — simple, buttery and shortbready (but without the crumble), topped with almond icing.
“That is a throwback to a different time. They just don’t make them like that anymore. And, I’m being totally serious,” Moore says. Contemporary cutout cookies might include vanilla bean or lemon zest — additions that just weren’t used back then. “It’s about butter, sugar, flour and eggs back in 1962,” for a taste that just might conjure up memories of Grandma in the kitchen.
Baked Goods for Everyone
Everything else at Campbell’s Bakery is Moore’s recipe. Petit fours are the result of a happy mistake, he says. Early on, he got a complaint that his cake was a bit dry. Moore went overboard to correct it, “and that worked out really, really, really well,” he says with a grin. A super fluffy, moist cake is the result. Moore, who’s big on balance, has a slightly saltier cake to counter the petit fours’ so-sweet icingCustom orders, along with those signature sweets, are 90 percent of the business, Moore says.
He’s also developed gluten-free baked goods in response to a customer’s request, embracing the challenge. “The goal is, for you to try it and say, ‘This is a great petit four,’ not ‘This is a great gluten-free petit four.’” Got a birthday party planned with a gluten-free cake? Shhhh. Just don’t mention it, guests will never know. “If it doesn’t taste like a normal product, then for us, it’s no good.”
A paned window looks into the decorating room, where baked goods get their pretty veneer. A bit of seating accommodates those in for breakfast (homemade biscuits with bacon and cheddar or more, cinnamon rolls, croissants) or students and families with kids dropping by late afternoon for after-school cupcakes. Cool black and white photos by Bee’s Knees Photography’s Emmi Sprayberry balance the color that’s everywhere else.
A brightly painted cake on the tabletop finally gets its message across. I buy a petit four to see me sweetly off. And a Mississippi-shaped teacake, too — as pretty in pink as Campbell’s Bakery has always been.