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Made in Mississippi: Primos Café Caramel Icing and Cheese Straws

By Susan Marquez

What does caramel icing and furniture shopping have in common? Everything, when it comes to the deep caramel color of Primos’ caramel icing. A woman once took a tub of the icing into a local furniture store, wanting a leather recliner for her husband in that same rich color.

Primos Café has long been an institution in the Jackson area. Originally opened by Angelo “Pop” Primos, a Greek immigrant baker, in the 1920s. Today, Pop’s grandson, Don Primos, owns the restaurants, now located in Madison, Ridgeland and Flowood, maintaining the standard of excellence created his grandfather.

One of the favorites at Primos Café throughout the years has been their delicious caramel cake. “My mother, Mary Ann, would visit her college roommate’s family, the Gammons, in Como, Mississippi,” says Don. “Mrs. Gammon always served her fabulous caramel cake. My mother mastered the art of Mrs. Gammon’s cake and made it for us often. My father wanted to start serving slices of layered cakes at Primos Northgate in Jackson. Around 1983, my mother and my wife, Virginia, would make six or seven different layer cakes at home, one at a time, and bring them to Northgate to sell.” Eventually, the restaurant hired another baker at Northgate and “the girls” were off the hook.

“The caramel cake has always been a favorite,” says Don. “The baker, Joann Grayson, started making one cake at a time, then three at a time and eventually began producing the distinctive caramel icing in bulk. Our recipe now is the result of much tweaking. It is the perfect ‘brownness,’ a deep caramel color that’s just before being overcooked. It’s always creamy and never too sugary or grainy. Our icing is made in-house, with pure butter, cream and love – no substitutes!”

Primos began selling the icing online though the Primos online Bake Shop in November 2016. “People use it to ice cupcakes, for caramel apples, as a fruit dip, with ice cream or even as a snack on its own.”

Another popular product Primos sells online is cheese straws. “We even have cheese bursts, which are equally delicious and beautiful on cheese platters,” says Don. The cheese straws became popular in 1970, when Don’s father, Kenneth Primos, was looking for a cheese straw he could use for parties and receptions held at Northgate’s banquet facilities. “He researched and developed our recipe,” says Don. “Customers began asking for them, so he began selling them in the Primos Deli.”

The cheese straws were originally made using Wearever aluminum cookie guns. “We used those for years, and every time one broke, my dad would fix it, creating parts when needed,” says Don. “He did that until he could no longer fix the cookie guns, and he was unable to replace them.” When Primos opened the Flowood location on Lakeland Drive, the demand for cheese straws grew and Don sourced an extruder to create the cheese straws using the same recipe. The popular starburst-shaped cheese bursts were added at that time, providing a perfect bite-sized version of the spicy original cheese straws.

A perfect addition to any party table, the cheese straws look pretty while providing a satisfying crunch and touch of spice. Primos recommends heating them in a 350 degree oven for five to ten minutes before serving for maximum enjoyment. Don says approximately 1,800 pounds of the cheese straws and cheese bursts are sold each December. “They have become a staple at holiday parties and they have become a very welcomed gift.”

The caramel icing as well as the cheese straws and cheese bursts are made by Primos employees at the restaurant’s central bakery, located behind the Primos Café on Lakeland Drive. The products are shipped nationwide through


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