Pastry Chef & Owner
100 W Clay Street | Richmond
Photography by Sarah Der
An Excerpt from A Sweet Journey to the Harlem of the South
By Cheyenne Varner
Why Mahogany Sweets? Why is this the work you’re putting your life into?
I’m thankful to have a bakery in Jackson Ward, the Harlem of the South. My career is not only about me and those who’ve trained me, it’s also about my ancestors. Somewhere somebody prayed that I would have this chance.
I am gluten-low, and I also don’t eat dairy for health reasons. When this was Nettie’s Naturally, I could eat just about anything in the bakery. Now I’m thankful to be able to carry that torch; it’s a part of my personal story like it was a part of Lynette’s. I believe that food can heal. If using coconut sugar helps people struggling with diabetes, or making gluten-free desserts helps people who can’t eat wheat have birthday cake, I’m going to do it. I want everyone to feel like, it’s a place where I can go.
Food and culture are a big deal for me, and so is creating a culture of inclusivity. If I have the opportunity to create a space where people can create their own culture together based on what they eat, I’m here for that. Because I am a Black woman, it does help people of color come in. I have people say to me, “I didn’t know what was going on here, but I wanted to support you.” And then they try something and go, “Wow, this is good!”
I wanted the space to feel warm, like going to your grandma’s house because I’m secretly 100 years old, and you know when you go to your grandma’s house, it feels warm and inviting and you can sit and relax. I wanted Mahogany to be a third space, where people come from different walks of life and try chocolate torte or pecan sandies or gingersnap granola, and they may see somebody from a different context than theirs, and the space feels safe for everyone to exist and hang out.
... Read more in Volume Two.
Illustration by Emily Herr