By Ginna Parsons
OKOLONA – Last year, Jessi Ray decided she was going to get her grandmother, Carnell Millender, to teach her how to make biscuits.
“Everybody’s obsessed with her biscuits,” Ray said. “I’ll eat them cold, even if they’re two or three days old. Nobody’s biscuits taste like hers.”
Ray had seen her grandmother make biscuits dozens of times, but this time, she paid close attention and then began practicing on her own.
“I kept at it until I got them close to hers,” said Ray, 26. “I’ve heard older people have oil in their hands and that’s what makes their biscuits taste better. I must not have that oil yet.”
With her new-found skill, Ray decided she wanted to open a little biscuit shop in Okolona, her hometown.
“Everybody said it wouldn’t make it, that Okolona is too small a town,” Ray said. “But I had some money saved up and I thought, ‘I can either blow this money or I can give it a try.’ So I bought a building and worked on it for months. In October 2016, we finally bit the bullet and I opened up and hoped for the best.”
The Flour Shop has far exceeded her expectations.
“Business has been good,” said Ray, the daughter of Darla Ray and Tony Ray. “At Christmas I had so many orders, I think I worked 21 days straight in December. And even this year, it’s been a good, steady business.”
She’s open Tuesday through Saturday mornings and is usually sold out by 10. Every day she offers her grandmother’s buttermilk biscuits, either plain or with chocolate gravy or white gravy, or stuffed with sausage, bacon and/or eggs.
“I try to be here at 4:30 to start cooking and I open at 5:30,” she said. “I have a couple of regulars who come as soon as I open. Probably 90 percent of my customers are regulars. On Saturdays, when I open at 6, I usually have one or two customers from out of town. People come from Tupelo, Houston, Houlka, Amory, Pontotoc and Vardaman.”
Ray also offers at least two flavored biscuits during the week and three or more on Saturdays.
Flavored biscuits include Fruity Pebble, Blueberry Cheesecake, Peach, Banana, Lemon, Pineapple, Oreo, Fruit Loop, Cocoa Pebble, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Honey, Strawberry Cheesecake, Orange Crush and Caramel Apple.
“My Sausage Ball Biscuit is everybody’s favorite, a best-seller,” she said. “I like to experiment. I’m so bad. I’ll say, ‘I need something new,’ and I’ll go to the store and buy ingredients and come in the next morning and make it. So far, it’s been all right.”
Ray’s only had one failure to date – her tie-dye biscuit.
“I don’t know what was in that food coloring, but the biscuits came out like bricks,” she said.
Ray cooks only about 80 biscuits a day. Prices range from $1.50 for a plain buttermilk biscuit to $3.50 for a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit, but most offerings are in the $2 range.
“I make every single biscuit myself,” she said. “I don’t have a mixer. I have calluses on my hands from making biscuits every day. But I love this and I’m proud of myself. I came into this super-blind and I’m so pleased with the way it’s turned out.”
WANT TO GO?
• What: The Flour Shop
• Who: Jessi Ray
• Where: 306 E. Monroe Ave., Okolona
• When: Tuesday-Friday, 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.; Saturday 6 a.m. to 11 a.m.; closed Sunday and Monday
• Info: Call (662) 542-7021 or find her on Facebook and Instagram