March 24, 2010 11:03:00 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
If searching for a bona fide Southern success story, look no farther than Troy, Ala., and Patricia Barnes — best known at home and afar simply as Sister. In relatively few years, the founder of Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls turned an old family recipe into an enterprise providing a livelihood for hundreds and radiating help to those in need far beyond this country’s borders.
On Tuesday, March 30, Barnes will share a little of her amazing journey and sign her cookbook, “Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters,” at Pizazz, 2118 Highway 45 N., in Columbus, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
“She’s just a really unique, fine person,” says Patti Griffin of Pizazz. “She started out just baking rolls for a church fair in Alabama, and it grew from there.”
We can all thank Sister’s Gommey for inspiring those buttery, soft and slightly sweet rolls that fly off the grocery store shelves and elevate our family dinners.
“My grandmother, Leona Henderson Wood — we called her Gommey — taught me to bake her wonderful Parker House style rolls as a young girl,” says Barnes, whose Sister nickname is courtesy of an older sibling who had trouble pronouncing “Patricia” as a child. “ ... Gommey has been an inspiration throughout my life, as the most wonderful grandmother you could imagine, a superlative cook and a savvy businesswomen.”
From the time she could hold a spoon, Sister loved to cook.
“One of my fondest early memories is of standing on a kitchen stool to help my mother and Mary Ella Starks, our family cook, prepare meals and baked goods. ... I am so grateful to have come from a long line of great cooks, on both sides of my family. Grand-mothers, aunts, sisters and cousins shared cherished family recipes and handed down the secrets of great cooking to each new generation.”
Before the bread
After studying interior design in college, Sister worked as a flight attendant and later an advertising media buyer before marrying and returning to her hometown of Troy, where she was an interior designer in the family furniture business. Her greatest passions, however, remained cooking and baking.
“By 1989 I was running a little bitty catering business that I called The Silver Spoon,” she shares on her Web site. “Everyone raved about the Parker House style rolls that I baked using the old family recipe inherited from Gommey, who called them ‘everlasting rolls.’”
After she donated 20 pans of rolls that year to a holiday frozen food fair at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in Troy, requests for the melt-in-your-mouth bread at the fair had exploded to 300 pans by 1991.
“I sat down after that third holiday fair and said to myself, ‘If the people in Troy like my rolls, maybe other folks will, too, and not just at holidays.’”
On the porch
With the largest double residential oven she could buy at Sears, and a chest freezer from her mother, Sister set up a mini-bakery on the sun porch of her home.
“We made the dough in my little Sunbeam mixer and cut out the rolls by hand,” she recalls. “Our dining room table served as a cooling and packaging area.”
Sister personally called on small grocers in Troy, and later Montgomery, Dothan and Birmingham, Ala., handing out samples. It wasn’t long before the bread business outgrew the sun porch. In a giant leap of faith, she set up a commercial bakery in a furniture warehouse her father owned in downtown Troy.
With the help of food broker George Barnes, whom she later married, the business continued to expand into major grocery chains throughout the South.
“People kept talking about our rolls, and pretty soon orders were outpacing production at our little bakery,” she remembers. In 1994, a new, state-of-the-art facility opened in Luverne, Ala. “It was a huge risk, but it was an affirmation of my faith and my vision for the company.”
The rapid popularity of Sister Schubert’s product didn’t escape the notice of larger conglomerates. Eventually, the homegrown bakery business was bought by the Lancaster Colony Corp., a specialty foods company based in Columbus, Ohio.
As a division of T. Marzetti Co., Sister Schubert’s now boasts a variety of products based on the yeast roll; Barnes and her husband are still actively involved.
Daughter Chrissie followed in her mother’s footsteps, starting up Chrissie’s Schubert’s Homemade Treats, recently featured in Southern Living’s Christmas issue.
A higher purpose
After selling their stock, Sister and her family felt there was a greater purpose for their “financial abundance.” In 2001, they established the Barnes Family Foundation, dedicated to providing safe facilities and a loving environment for abandoned Ukranian children, supporting local food banks, feeding the homeless and maintaining and restoring historical sites.
“I was working at the bakery in Luverne one day when a friend invited me to attend the local Rotary Club meeting where a missionary from Ukraine was scheduled to speak,” shares Sister.
After hearing Kenny Payne that day, “ ... I decided I would help where I could, and I began working with the Abandoned Baby Center in Gorlovka, Ukraine.” Since then, Sister has established Sasha’s Home for abandoned children, in Gorlovka.
Griffin states, “She credits God for her success and believes faith is a crucial ingredient in baking, and in life.”
Sister and her husband work to maintain the family focus originally at the heart of the little company that could.
“Through the years, we have stayed true to our roots. Our rolls have the same home-baked quality and taste as my grandmother’s,” she says. “We use simple, wholesome ingredients like fresh milk, butter and whole eggs, and every single roll is still placed in the pan by hand.”
And Gommey’s famous roll recipe? Yes, it’s included in Sister’s cookbook.
For more information about Barnes’ visit to Columbus March 30, contact Pizazz at 662-234-1234. “Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters” retails for $40, plus tax.
Enjoy these winning recipes from Sister Schubert’s 2009 recipe contest.
UPSIDE DOWN BANANA PECAN FRENCH TOAST
Prep time: 20 minutes
Bake time: 55 minutes
Two packages Sister Schubert’s wheat rolls with honey butter
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, melted
1/4 cup corn syrup
Four medium, ripe bananas
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Six large eggs
1 1/2 cups half and half
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Fresh sliced strawberries
(Courtesy of Grand Prize Winner Nadine Mesch, Mt. Healthy, Ohio)
AND MUSHROOM BAKE
Serves: 8 to 10
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook/bake time: 20 minutes
One package Sister Schubert’s Pre-Baked Dinner Yeast Rolls, divided
4 tablespoons butter, divided
Four slices maple or brown sugar bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
One small onion, finely minced
8 ounces mushrooms, quartered
3/4 pound (3 cups) poached or roasted chicken, diced
3 cups white sauce or bottled Alfredo sauce
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup Gruyere or mild cheddar cheese
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.