By Brandi Perry
Brooksville, Mississippi, a small farming town of a little more than 1,000, is located on Highway 45, just half an hour from Starkville. But, for nearly 40 years, this blink-of-an-eye town has been home to one of the most popular bakeries in the entire Magnolia State.
The Ole Country Bakery started making its mark on the world in 1981, creating a reputation that preceded them throughout the Southeast. During the fall, football fans throughout the south embark on game day road trips to both Mississippi State, Ole Miss and even Tuscaloosa just an hour away. Many of those road trips are timed just right so that a stop in Brooksville is possible. Coffee, baked goods and sweet southern hospitality were just a few of things visitors expected when they entered the doors. The cool winds of fall seem to blow a little colder across the open fields in Brooksville but once you enter the bakery, warmth quickly follows.
Shelia Decker and her family called western Kansas home but had relatives in the Macon area. "Every trip we made to Mississippi; my husband would say if that bakery ever came up for sale, he wanted a chance to own it," she stated. "But I wasn't sure that would ever actually happen."
But, in November 2011, the couple opened the doors of the bakery as the new owners and in turn, made a seemingly impossible dream a reality. As excited as they were about their new adventure, the Decker's were still a little hesitant as to what their first move would be. "We were told very early on that people in the south don't like change," Decker answered with a smile. But change is inevitable even if it is small doses. The Decker's added new things to the menu and also extended their bakery line but there was no argument from the regulars or the visitors.
One major change that occurred in the kitchen was simply to ensure perfectly followed recipes. All the measurements in the kitchen were in cups, but the Decker's decided it would be easier to transition to measuring in weight.
"You can send any girl to the kitchen and tell them to measure five pounds of flour and it'll be exactly five pounds. But, if you were to tell them to measure a cup of flour, you're going to get a variety of loose cups and packed cups. This way, there's no discrepancies in our recipes, ever," explained Decker.
Today, the Decker's have a well-oiled system that works perfectly. Each item is made fresh daily, with some workers arriving at four in the morning to make sure the daily dough making is done. It's no secret that the Ole Country Bakery is a special place but one reason all their items taste so good may be because they do not use any preservatives. Because of this, the shelf life of the homemade items may not have the shelf life of what you find in your local grocery, but the taste and quality alone will make up for those extra couple of days.
In addition, they try to locally source as much as they can. The pecans for their specialty items come from a Brooksville local, the ham from West Point and the milk from Beason Family Farm in Philadelphia, where all their dairy products are pasteurized, not homogenized.
The fall and winter seasons bring special items to the menu at the bakery. Fruit cakes and orange slice cakes are already on the shelves, as well as pumpkin bread and pumpkin cream cheese rolls. You will always find plenty of pies and decorated cookies closer to the holidays. Today, their Amish bread is hands down their best-seller, but their pies and caramel cakes run a close second. Before moving to Mississippi, Decker had never even heard of a caramel cake, but she quickly learned how to make the southern favorite. Now, she can barely keep it on her shelves.
Breakfast is not the only time you can enjoy visiting the Ole Country Bakery. Lunch is served every day, and Sunday and includes deli sandwiches, salads and soups. These items were also very popular in the middle of the COVID-19 statewide lockdown because the bakery stepped in and acted somewhat as grocery store where the locals could get lunch, milk, bread and other necessary staples. Several varieties of frozen casseroles that are large enough to feed the whole family are also available in the frozen section, giving families an opportunity for a delicious yet easy meal. For nearly 40 years, the community has supported the bakery and helped establish its special reputation. During the lockdown, the bakery was able to return the favor and help the community through a difficult time.
Open six days a week, there's a good chance you may meet Shelia Decker on one of your visits. But, she's the first to admit that she's much more comfortable in the kitchen with her hands in the dough. "Owning this bakery has made me get more involved out front and more comfortable with dealing with the public but I am definitely more comfortable in the back making dough," she remarked about her somewhat shy personality.
When asked what legacy she hopes the bakery can leave behind, Decker said she hopes it will always be a family-owned bakery but she also hopes things are kept the way they are. "There's something special and rare about a bakery that still does everything by hand. I hope when it's our turn to pass the torch, that part of the business will always remain. We definitely feel like we took over someone else's hard work but we want to keep it like the previous owner had it, too," she remarked.
In a world where everyone is looking forward to the next great advancement in technology, Decker and her family continue to push forward and put the goodness of hard work, love and a taste of the past in everything they make.
If you find yourself within 100 miles of the Ole Country Bakery in Brooksville, take a detour! From the moment you step through the doors, you will be greeted with smiles, hellos and smells that will take you back to your grandmother's kitchen.
Even though they are opened from 6 am to 5 pm Monday through Saturday, they are closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's. Make sure to call ahead to find out all about their holiday hours and specials. You can reach Shelia and her staff at (662) 738-5795.