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‘Stepping out on faith’: Locals leap into catering business

January 11, 2019

When Sugar South Catering, Confections, & Cafe opened on Aiken’s southside, Janet Ferguson was counting on Aiken locals to drive its success.

“Literally from the day we opened, with no advertising, the community came out to support us,” Ferguson said. “And I knew they would, but I was still blown away.”

Ferguson worked as a paralegal and a victim advocate for Aiken County for 16 years. After having her first child, Cara, she gave some thought to leaving her longtime job and starting her own catering business.

While on maternity leave, Ferguson decided she wanted to start baking decorative cookies for catering events like weddings. She wanted to make them affordable and unique, but she especially wanted to focus on the recipes of the desserts so they would taste as good as they looked.

“I honestly don’t know how it happened,” Ferguson said. “I did a couple for friends and family, and the next thing I knew, I would have 100 orders a month.”

Ferguson’s husband, Steve, does much of the baking for the business. After 15 years of managing chain restaurants in Columbia, he said it was “a real joy” to have their own family restaurant in their hometown of Aiken.

Ferguson also brought her friend Tabatha Hughes on board, who works as a literacy coach at Millbrook Elementary School.

Hughes said she juggles her full-time teaching job and working at Sugar South Catering with “a lot of prayer and not a lot of sleep.”

After their cookie recipes were finalized, Sugar South Catering, Confections, & Cafe opened on Taylor Street just off Whiskey Road in October.

“When I decided to leave the county, and when I asked my husband to leave his full-time job, and then I asked Tab (Hughes) to come on too ... we were stepping out on faith, and part of that faith was that this community would back us,” Ferguson said. ”... And they certainly did not disappoint.”

Ferguson, who is at the bakery by 3:30 a.m., said they are in a place where they are “deciding what works” as they experiment with the cafe’s menu.

The cafe sells a variety of desserts and provides a full-service breakfast and lunch. They are in the process of adding a chocolate counter with goods made by the owner of Ways to the Heart Chocolates, a dessert shop that was formerly open in downtown Aiken.

Ferguson said she wants the community involved in the cafe’s space. She has art from local artists hanging on the walls, and doesn’t charge commission if the paintings sell.

A unique addition to the cafe is the Coffee Club. On a chalkboard wall in the back of the shop, an eclectic variety of mugs hang on hooks over a coffee bar with customer’s names written next to them. Ferguson said customers will bring in their personal mugs and use them for coffee or tea, and staff will wash them and hang them back up to dry. Ferguson, who dislikes adding beverage costs to a bill, said coffee and tea are always available at the cafe and always free to their customers.

The catering side of their business has had support from groups such as AECOM, Aiken Electric Co-op and local Boy Scout troops. Sugar South caters events such as parties, birthdays, corporate luncheons and weddings.

“We do everything from brownie bites up to six-tier wedding cakes,” Ferguson said. ”... We’ve done everything from a two-person drop off dinner to weddings with hundreds of people.”

Ferguson and Hughes said they have no problem catering large events, but they especially like being the small-town caterers that people can have personal interactions with and rely on, even for small events.

Sugar South Catering, Confections & Cafe is located at 104 Taylor St., next to Zaxby’s. It is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. On Saturdays the grille is closed.

There is additional parking behind the building.

For more information, visit sugarsouthcateringcompany.com or call 803-292-5610.

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