As Statesboro and Bulloch County sleep through the early morning hours, Steve Jones can be found wide awake at his Sugar Magnolia Bakery cooking fresh pastries for his 7 a.m. customers.
"I usually get here around 3 a.m. and start baking those things that were prepared the night before," Jones said. "We have a loyal following that get here when we open ready for their morning coffee and Danish."
Jones founded the bakery on Savannah Avenue with his partner, Barry Turner, in November 2004. "It was really sort of strange how the whole thing came about," he said. "I had worked in bakeries in California for years. My wife wanted to move from the West coast to the Southeastern coast to be near family. We looked at Savannah, but it was just too big."
Jones said he and his wife, Ellen Boyle, were drawn to Statesboro by the website of the Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology school (CCAT) located on Northside Drive.
"We have two children and really thought the school looked interesting, so we came and explored Statesboro and decided to move here," he said. Boyle now teaches at CCAT.
Jones said he found out that Turner was interested in forming a bakery from a mutual acquaintance, Jason Scarborough, executive chef of the Blue Moon Cafe in downtown. "Jason introduced us and the funny thing was we found out that we were neighbors. Barry and I live two doors down from one another and didn't even know it."
From the love of fine food was born the Sugar Magnolia. With its customer base growing steadily, Turner said the bakery is now a self-sustaining business with a loyal following.
"We didn't have a true bakery here after the ones downtown closed several years ago," Turner said. "It just seemed like something was missing. When Matt Phillips developed the Gaslight Plaza, I knew it was the perfect place to put a bakery and so we did. Steve and I are partners, but he is the face of the Sugar Magnolia."
From breakfast to lunch to pizzas on Friday night, the Sugar Magnolia has grown into a staple for many.
"I am here virtually every day that they are open," said Mark Welford, a Georgia Southern professor of geography, and a devout fan of the bakery. "I love the quality of the food, and am glad to pay for it."
"As a native European, I love the idea of slow food," he said. "I can get bread, a dessert, and a great cup of coffee right here, at a nice leisurely pace. And I know the food is made from scratch every day."
Welford said he loves to get the pizza that is cooked on Friday nights.
"It is some of the best, if not the best pizza that I have ever had," he said. "Part of the European culture is the demand of a quality product made on the premises. This is just that. It is wonderful food, especially the lemon squares."
Jones said one of the surprising and most fun things about his business has been the development of an international clientele.
"We have English, Irish, German, Italian, Indian, Austrian, Korean, and Chinese customers," Jones said. "They have become our friends, and we know them by name. It seems very much like a family here."
Jones' children, Tyler and Grady, help in the bakery after school and on weekends. "Tyler has been helping me with Friday pizza night. He is going to the University of Georgia in the fall, so our youngest, Grady, is beginning to help out some."
An accomplished accordion player, Jones said his favorite time at work is Friday nights.
"I enjoy the pizza night, because I can play music and I get to enjoy the community that the bakery has become," he said. "Fridays are our busiest day."