Ten years ago, Benae Stephen started baking cheesecakes for her family and friends because it was something she enjoyed doing.
Here and there Stephen, a nurse by trade, would make a birthday cake for someone, and she also dabbled in unusual candies.
And then last fall, Stephen chucked it all to open her own shop.
“My husband has a trucking business and I was working as a nurse and I just decided to follow my dream,” she said. “It was 10 years in the making.”
In December, she opened Unique Treets Cheesecakes & Candies inside her husband’s trucking office on Cliff Gookin Boulevard across from Lee County Extension. At this point, she was still largely serving family and friends.
“Then I joined CDF and it was just in time for the Taste of Tupelo,” Stephen said of the Community Development Foundation’s annual event that features foods from dozens of area eateries. “We got in just under the buzzer.”
For Taste of Tupelo, Stephen offered bites of her signature Butter Pecan Cheesecake.
“People were circling back two and three times to get some of that,” she said. “From there, we’ve been real successful.”
BY THE SLICE
In the beginning, Stephen, an Okolona native, was offering custom birthday cakes, full-size cheesecakes and candies.
“People started coming in and asking for cheesecake by the slice,” she said. “I had done cheesecake cupcakes – mini cheesecakes – for a church bake sale in 2005 so that gave me the idea to do a whole line of mini cheesecakes.”
Flavors include Banana Pudding, Cookies N Creme, Snickers, Butterfinger, Key Lime, Lemoney Lemon, Caramel, Turtle, Neapolitan, Strawberry Delight, Red Velvet, My Blue Suede, Wedding Cake, Chocolate and, of course, Traditional.
“Cupcakes are in right now, so we’re trying to tap into that business with cheesecake cupcakes,” Stephen said. “We try to stay ahead of everybody else and find something that’s different to do.”
Regular 9-inch cheesecakes range in price from $20 to $30, depending on the flavor. Minis are $2 for one, $10 for six, $18 for 24 and $42 for 36.
“We have people that will come in and buy one and some come and buy 24,” she said. “I have one customer from Southaven who orders 500 a month.”
Stephen figures she makes 480 mini cheesecakes a week for walk-ins, not counting the special orders.
She also does little pretzel candies covered in peanut butter, caramel and coconut, buttery cinnamon or chocolate mint. Old-fashioned teacakes can also be special-ordered in advance.
Two of her most popular treats are her Cheesecake Brownie Squares and her Bottom-of-the-Pan candies that look like pralines.
“I’d be making candies and coating them and there would be these little pieces left on the bottom of the pan and that’s what everybody wanted to eat,” she said. “So I got the idea to just make those on their own and sell them.” Individually wrapped, Bottom-of-the-Pan candies run 50 cents each.
Stephen said one reason she thinks she’s been successful is because of the uniqueness of her offerings.
“Recipes just come into my head,” she said. “If I’m back in the kitchen baking, I’ll get a taste for something and I’ll make it and then let my biggest critic – my husband – taste it to see if it works. If my husband likes it, I know it’s going to be good because he’s real ticky about his food.”
firstname.lastname@example.org.Gotta Have It
What: Unique Treets Cheesecakes & Candies
Where: 5335 Cliff Gookin Blvd. Tupelo
When: Tuesday -Friday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Contact: (662) 844-7787 or email@example.com