By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
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, spirit, and soul could find sweetness. I am so pleased to have a chance once again to tell you their story, and invite you to their Tea Room on the north side of the Square in Athens. It is there that I can tell you from experience that you will have good food, good news, and good times.
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 their previous location on North Jefferson, right across the street from Frame Gallery. 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 okay, 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 okay, but had no idea what was next. It was a good thing, too, because 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 2016.” 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 can tell you that I am the recipient of an amazingly speedy answer, and not a moment too soon. 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.”
It is apparent that someone at Sweetest Things loves Paris, France, and that would be Sherrol. There is a glass model of the Eiffel Tower in the front display window, and there are pictures of Paris all through the restaurant. As someone who knows firsthand just how beautiful the City of Lights is from experience, I hope Sherrol gets to visit someday, and lets somebody cook for her.
Business has been good, and they have had to hire extra help. 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, buttermilk, and sweet potato. Their daily specials include champagne chicken, smothered pork chops, and chicken stew, and when Pablo’s on Market was in the same location serving lunch, it was Sweetest Things that prepared the chicken salad. Every time I have eaten there, the place has been packed, and somehow they always find a way to give me a hug.
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 Elizabeth Turner