Bitter Sweet Success
By Laura Samuel Meyn
Photos by Meda Kessler
Community support helps a Crockett Row bakery rise to the latest challenge
Generously sized, soft and warm with vanilla frosting melting down the sides, Cinnaholic’s original Old Skool cinnamon rolls are the stuff of afternoon cravings, best paired with a cup of coffee or tea to cut the richness. But they seem tame compared to the rest of the menu. Customer favorites at the Crockett Row location, which opened in January 2019 to a line stretching down the block, include the equally fragrant Stockyard Roll (with caramel frosting, pecans, chocolate sauce and caramel sauce) and the shamelessly over-the-top Cookie Monster Roll (with cream cheese frosting, chocolate chip cookie dough, chocolate chips and chocolate sauce). In spite of all that excess, there are no eggs or dairy involved — all Cinnaholic treats happen to be vegan, which for many means they’re allergy-friendly, too.
Cinnaholic, which rose to prominence after the Berkeley, California-based upstart was featured on Shark Tank, hasn’t been immune to the challenges of operating during a pandemic. The Southlake location closed this spring, and the Crockett Row development itself has undergone many changes. Thankfully, owners Shellana Morris; her mom, Melissa Jackson; and family friend Keenan Franklin have, after an initial setback, weathered the storm with some help from the community. After struggling at the beginning of the pandemic, they got an unexpected boost from a positive review on the DFW Black Owned Restaurants Facebook group page, which resulted in bringing out larger-than-usual crowds for a couple months, lifting the owners’ spirits and their bottom line.
“Out of nowhere, all these new customers showed up,” says Morris. “The support was overwhelming; it was a huge blessing during the pandemic.” A Channel 5 spotlight on Black-owned businesses followed, bringing the bakery more visibility. “All of Fort Worth has been very supportive,” says Morris. “Now they’re hearing about us more.”
The trio had already been working to adapt to shifting circumstances when help arrived. The pandemic prompted several changes beyond the social distancing cues on the floor, the sneeze guard in front of the registers and the hand-sanitizing station. Prompted by the summer heat, the team added Dole Whip, a plant-based frozen treat beloved by guests at Disney World, to the menu. “It’s been extremely popular,” says Franklin, who adds with a laugh that after getting schooled by a customer, he now follows her advice about flavors. “We carry pineapple every day; that’s what everyone gets at Disney,” he says. “We rotate a second flavor — raspberry, strawberry, mango, lemon or orange.”
Another recent change was building a website to facilitate online ordering, making for quick and easy in-store or curbside pickup. The most time-consuming part for customers has been deciding among the 18 cinnamon roll frosting flavors (maple, coffee and chai, to name a few) and two dozen toppings (everything from fresh berries to peanut butter cups); now they can mull it over at home. In-store, Franklin enjoys helping the indecisive narrow their options. “Once you get the frosting down, building it from there is easy,” he says. Adds Morris, “We let the customers taste the frosting to see which one they like; if it’s lemon, maybe we’ll suggest blueberries and pie crumble.”
Although they have a trusted team in place a year and a half into the shop’s tenure, Morris and Franklin take turns helping with daily operations; she tends to stick to the front of the house, interacting with customers, while he, an enthusiastic baker, loves “rolling and pushing dough” as much as he does talking to people. “For me, it’s paradise when I walk in; it gives me so much satisfaction,” he says. “When I put the key into the lock, my entire day changes.” Jackson, who has helped with everything from decorating the store and baking to making frosting and working the counter, is providing support from home during the pandemic.
As they consider the last six months, in particular, Franklin says that he’s grateful for their many blessings. Some days, however, can still be slow. That’s when, Morris says, they let the alluring scent of baked goods waft out into the world.
“What customers have shared with us is that they smelled the cinnamon rolls or brownies from down the street,” she says. “So on days business may be slow, we’ll prop our door open, and yes — people will come.”