JoZettie’s Cupcakes really should have warning labels on their paper liners. From the first bite, the cupcakes at this Montgomery bake shop – in flavors like German chocolate cake, sweet potato pie, pecan pie, peach cobbler, pineapple upside-down cake and many others – are addictive. Perhaps it’s because of the love, kindness and caring baked into each one.
And you might be surprised to know that, at one time, Ida McCrary, the woman behind the JoZettie’s phenomenon, came very close to being fired from her job baking for the dessert line at Morrison’s Cafeteria.
When McCrary was a teenager, her mother used to joke that her father was something of a pack rat. One day, he brought home a hulking Hobart floor mixer. McCrary didn’t even know what to do with it, but she knew she wanted it.
That mixer followed her from Selma to Montgomery, where she went to Alabama State University. It followed her to New Orleans. “When I moved, the mixer moved,” she said. “I kept it everywhere I went.”
But she never had much use for it until she opened JoZettie’s Cupcakes on Father’s Day weekend in 2012. For the next four years, as she built her reputation for baking consistently delicious cupcakes and cakes, it was the only mixer in the shop. Now she has three, but her first one – affectionately named “Mr. Joe” after her dad – is still in use every day.
McCrary learned to bake in her 20s, when she was hired at Morrison’s in the Eastdale Mall to fill in for someone on maternity leave. Working alongside an assistant manager trainee who also couldn’t get the hang of the baking gig, “We were told, ‘If you go by our recipes, you’ll never go wrong,’” she said. “But we did.”
They went so wrong that she became convinced she was going to be fired. But six weeks into the job, “The Holy Spirit started teaching me,” she said. By the time the employee returned from maternity leave, McCrary “had mastered it.”
Baking became her passion, but it wasn’t something she wanted to do every day. It was more like therapy for her. “I did it when I was upset or angry,” she said. “It was something to ease my mind.”
Years went by, and McCrary was working at a job she loved for 16 years in the emergency room at Baptist Medical Center South. She had a second job in home day care, but in the little spare time she had, she baked goodies for her co-workers and sometimes made wedding cakes.
She reached a point where she was “going through so much” in her personal life that she “cried out to the Lord one day” for help. In response, she heard that she was going to open a cupcake shop. She was skeptical.
“I said, ‘No, I’m not!’” And then she heard the Holy Spirit say, “I want you to take what you have and share it.”
That’s when she found a “little raggedy building” for rent on Decatur Street in Cloverdale and put a deposit down on it. She didn’t tell anyone about her plan for a couple of months as she tried to figure out how to start a cupcake business.
The Lord works in mysterious ways. “If he’s got something he wants you to do, he’ll make a way for you to do it,” she said.
Finally, some of her family members came to see the space she leased across from the former softball field at Alabama State University. Her very practical husband, who is the type to do a lot of research and weigh the pros and cons before making a decision, never opened his mouth, she said. Instead, “He prayed for it and anointed the walls.”
McCrary started to get excited about her new venture.
A cupcake ministry
Opening JoZettie’s – the name is a combination of her father’s and mother’s names – was “not easy. But God put people in my pathway who taught me.” Before long, she realized she had something special to offer: comfort food that makes people happy.
“Everybody doesn’t need a cupcake every day, but there’s somebody out there who needs a cupcake every day,” she said. “I don’t have a cupcake shop. I have a cupcake ministry.”
While McCrary blesses others with her delicious cupcakes, she is blessed in turn by customers who minister to her spirit, she said. “I get up every day with joy to come to work. I thank the Lord every day for it.”
Three years after opening JoZettie’s, McCrary purchased the whole building where it’s housed. Then, nearly five years ago, she opened a second location on East South Boulevard across from the hospital where she used to work. She’s in the process of buying that building, too.
All the baking is done at the original location to ensure consistency. “I’m particular about my baking and always have been,” she said. Her mother, Zettie, used to make pound cakes every Sunday, and she always made McCrary a peach cobbler for her birthday. The memory of her mother’s cakes, pies and cobblers carries on in McCrary’s cupcakes.
The red velvet cupcake recipe came from a friend, the assistant manager from her Morrison’s days. He walked in to work one day and handed McCrary his sister’s recipe, with the words “Never alter your ingredients” written at the bottom. Not long afterward, the young woman died in a car wreck.
“It was meant for me to have,” McCrary said. “It’s my No. 1 seller. That’s precious to me.”
JoZettie’s is a family business. Her oldest son and only daughter work with her, as does her husband – “He wants to retire, but I won’t let him” – and a niece and nephew. Her daughter left a job in banking in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to manage the East South Boulevard location.
“They say family can’t work together, but that’s not true. They just need to learn to stay in their lane.”
Many of her customers call her “Ms. JoZettie,” which is fine with her – it’s just another way to honor her parents, who, without realizing it, nudged her in the direction of owning a cupcake shop. And what McCrary bakes there goes beyond a few bites of cake frosted with a perfect spiral of icing. Her cupcakes symbolize comfort and joy, a taste of heaven on earth.
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This story originally appeared on AL.com.