I first encountered Sherrol Troupe Gideon, Vivian Troupe Jefferson, and their mother, Ada Troupe when I began my adventures as the publisher of Athens Now in March of 2011. It was always one of my favorite stops on my delivery route, a place where my stomach and my soul could find sweetness. I am so pleased to have a chance to tell you their story, and invite you to their new location on the north side of the Square in the former location of Pablo’s on Market.
Sherrol and Vivian are the owners of the tea room, and it is definitely a family affair, down to a small granddaughter functioning as a tiny helper in between coloring and playing with her grandmother’s cell phone. The success of Sweetest Things is something for which all of them give God the glory, as no one in “the Troupe” had any restaurant experience at all prior to 2006 when they opened. What Sherrol did have, however, was a degree in Business Administration from Athens State University, experience as a trainer for a large corporation in Huntsville, a lifelong love for cooking started by her grandmothers, and a vibrant prayer life.
I asked her, “How did you start?” “Well,” she said, “We have always cooked.” Now please understand, when she makes that statement, you need to know a bit about their heritage. The grandmothers on both sides were legendary as bakers in Limestone County, and are the sources of the recipes used in the Tea Room. For one grandmother, it was customary during the holidays to have every square inch of counter space lined with cakes and pies that people had hired her to bake for them. It didn’t stop there, she would improvise by making more flat surfaces by putting pieces of plywood across armchairs to accommodate her creations, and it wasn’t until everyone came to get their “sweetest things” that she could take back her own home for the holidays.
For her part, Sherrol used to make cakes at home and sell them at work, and at the time she also was decorating cakes on the side, something she no longer has the time to do. Her husband Ronnie was career military, and it was during his first deployment to Iraq during the Operation Iraqi Freedom assault phase in 2003 that she began to feel an inexplicable shift inside. “I was restless, and didn’t know why. Everything was ok, my husband was safe, and so was my daughter. Nothing was wrong, I just had the feeling that a change was coming, but I didn’t know what it was,” she said.
For about two weeks straight, Sherrol got up in the wee hours to pray, and basically told God, “I don’t know what to do, so please just put me where You want me to be.” At the end of the two weeks, the powerful, manifest presence of the Lord came into her prayer room, and she just knew that everything was going to be ok, but had no idea what was next. It was a good thing, too, as when she got to work that day, she was informed that she had been laid off. What she felt the Lord told her was that this was the answer to her prayers, and though she loved her job and the people she worked with, she was being “moved on to move on.” People expected her to be upset, but she truly was at peace.
For about a year she baked from her home; things like “million dollar chocolate chip cookies,” which she would produce 30 dozen at a time. They always sold out. She baked for a hotel in Huntsville, for her friends, family, church and community. In 2006, another set of miracles occurred that just might need another story, and Sherrol, Vivian, and Mother Ada opened up the Tea Room on Jefferson Street. “Then,” she told me, “We outgrew that,” and it was time to pray again. “We began to thank God for a new location before one ever opened up and we moved to our new place right around the week of Thanksgiving this past fall.” Faith most definitely had been rewarded once again.
As mesmerized as I was by their story, I knew that some of our readers would need to know what the “Troupers” bring to the table, literally. I asked Sherrol, “Why should I come here?” She replied, “We have three generations of recipes, and the meals we prepare for our customers are like what we prepare for our own families. We make things in small batches, specifically for you. We pray over the food before it goes out, we pray while we’re working, and at the end of the day, we ask God to bless our customers for coming here. We know they don’t have to come here, and we are thankful.” They also keep a prayer request list on the wall in the kitchen, and I put myself on it. I asked Ada what she enjoyed the most about the business, which is her third career and she said, “I LOVE to cook.” Vivian’s answer to the same question was, “I love meeting new and interesting people.”
Business is brisk, and now they are going to have to hire extra help for the Monday and Tuesday lunch rush. In addition to the lunch crowd, people were coming in to pick up their custom dessert orders. “We can’t make enough caramel cakes,” she said, and that is also the case for the coconut cakes. In addition, they make pies, including caramel pecan, chocolate, chess pie, buttermilk, and sweet potato pie. Their daily specials include champagne chicken, smothered pork chops, and chicken stew, and when Pablo’s was in the same spot serving lunch, it was Sweetest Things that prepared the chicken salad. The day I ate there and conducted the interview, the place was packed and the gals were running the whole time.
Sweetest Things does high teas by reservation only, on and off-site catering for baby showers, bridal showers, community and church dinners, and more. But, truth be told, the “sweetest things” in the building are Sherrol, Vivian, and Ada, lovely women, all. Come and find out for yourself.
By: Ali ElizabethTurner