As a child, CeCe looked forward to her family’s summertime trips to North Carolina, where she could reconnect with faraway relatives over cookouts. One of her fondest memories from this time is making homemade blackberry ice cream with her Grandma Ruby. Years later, CeCe would look back on these days with nostalgia; she dreamt of opening a business that would bring families together over a tasty summertime treat.
In 2008, her dream became a reality with the opening of Sweet CeCe’s. Like wig salesmen to the Constitutional Convention, families flocked to the self-serve frozen-yogurt shoppe, where they could create their own desserts from dozens of yogurt flavors and toppings. The small shoppe got so popular that CeCe franchised the business. Today, families in 11 states can create sweet memories within the sherbet-colored walls of a Sweet CeCe’s.
Creamy curries, drunken noodles, and sushi rolls stuffed with barbecue eel and fried oysters helped earn Stir Fry Cafe runners-up nods in both the Best Asian and Best Sushi categories for Knoxville News Sentinel’s Best of 2012 list. Blackened tilapia and thai teriyaki chicken stand on plates beside walls decorated with art from local artists. Wine and beer flow freely at the black-and-white checkered bar, which also served as the base for Stir Fry Cafe’s attempt at crafting the longest fish taco in known space.
Chef Geroy Rachel honed his skills at L'École culinaire in Memphis before opening Royal Flavors, a food truck specializing in smoky barbecued meats. Inside the mobile kitchen, he wraps bacon around chicken legs, flavors pork riblets with a dry rub, and smokes beef burgers to serve on butter buns with provolone cheese and pickles. Smoked cabbage salad or turnip greens with smoked pork round out meals, and slices of caramel cake or strawberry shortcake provide a sweet finish. Diners can take their food to go or eat beside the food truck, where picnic chairs surround a flat screen television.
Yogi's Yogurt Bar whips up healthy alternative snacks for Nashville-area dessert devotees. Forty rotating flavors of probiotic-rich frozen yogurt ($0.46 per ounce) and more than 50 tempting toppings lead to a perfectly finite, but practically endless, number of cup combinations. Freshly chopped each day, fruit mixers—including kiwi, blackberries, strawberries, and bananas—only aid in helping Yogi's exceed the National Yogurt Association's national health standards; kosher, sugar-free, gluten-free, fat-free, and hamburger-free varieties are available to satisfy all manners of customer requests.
Like plate spinners at the circus, parents constantly race among multiple potential catastrophes. Brandy Marek, herself a mother of twin boys, established Take A Break to give parents time off from this endless balancing act and allow them to focus on their own neglected interests. Guardians unleash pent-up conversation with their grown-up peers over sandwiches and salads washed down with coffee as occasional gleeful shrieks drift to their ears from the playroom, where charges cavort under the watchful eye of Take A Break's staff. As parents take advantage of the alone time and wireless Internet to work, read, or research, kids build fortresses with blocks, assemble puzzles, and tear through a playhouse. With the jingling strains of kid-friendly music playing softly in the background, adults may reserve the café's conference room for meetings with clients, study-group sessions, or to practice setting up a new air mattress.
Gigi of Gigi's Cupcakes has been a self-starter since she was 15. That's when she began her first business—a cleaning company—because she "didn't want to work for anyone else." What began as a youthful whim blossomed into a business that, along with waiting tables and singing professionally, carried Gigi into her 30s.
Then, one day, her brother suggested making a career out of her baking hobby. That pastime had been born in her childhood, when Gigi often spent time with her mother and grandmother as they baked and bonded. So, amid seemingly insurmountable financial constraints, Gigi unveiled Gigi's Cupcakes in 2008 and, within weeks, had more than covered her bills. Today, the franchise boasts more than 50 locations in the 18 states that haven't outlawed dessert.
Each bakery crafts its cupcakes daily with fresh ingredients, and updates the menu according to day of the week and season. Traditional summer flavors such as Scarlett's Red Velvet, chocolate-chip-cookie dough, and Birthday Surprise have recently met their culinary match in new mini cheesecakes that masquerade as cupcakes to rebel against their conservative wedding-cake parents.