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Baking for Better

Lauren Young’s Sweet LaLa’s spreads hope (and frosting)

    “Make life sweeter” is Sweet LaLa’s motto, but cookies are not the extent of their sweetness. 

    The local Memphis bakery was founded in 2014 by Lauren Young, a native Memphian. Young received her masters degree in education, but in 2014, she had an experience that changed her perception of the city she grew up in and ultimately, her career trajectory.

    “My car was stolen at gunpoint and that rattled my world,” she said. “I had never experienced Memphis in that way. I had only experienced it in a happy way. I spent a year rattling with fear, anxiety and a lot of stress.” 

    Baking was her therapy to relieve her anxiety, and a comfort in difficult times. 

    “It’s nourishing a soul when you feed people really good food,” she said. 

    And food became her way of giving back.

    “The opposite of fear is love, so I started to think about what can I do to pour love into my day and into other people,” she said.

    Instead of giving up on Memphis, she was inspired to better her community. 

    Young joined the board at the Juvenile Intervention and Faith-based​ Follow-Up (JIFF), which offers programs as an alternative to juvenile detention. Young realized

    John Young, lead cookie team member at Sweet LaLa’s, began working at the bakery at its founding in 2014. (MC Hitt)

    that many kids in Memphis needed jobs but could not get one because they had previous felony convictions. 

    Employers can be hesitant to hire people with felony convictions for a whole host of reasons, but getting a job is an important part of reintegrating with the community.

    At the same time Young was building her home-baking business, but could not keep up with demand. JIFF had a commercial kitchen that was not in use, so Young proposed moving her business into the JIFF kitchen and hiring young people from the program.

    From 2014 to 2019, Young hired over 125 juveniles in the JIFF program and learned a lot about how they came to be in the situation they were in. 

    “If you break down the why behind crime then you will see that it’s not just someone wanting to hurt someone else,” she said. “I learned there is often someone driving a kid and that kid doesn’t feel like he has a lot of options. If you were to peel back the choice that was being made, the choice was either to hurt a family member or to hurt someone that you don’t know, and it’s easier to hurt someone that you don’t know”

    Through this program she developed a close relationship with her employees, but it did not come without its losses. 

    “While building this bakery, I had five kids [in the program] die from gang violence,” she said.

    Despite many traumatic events, Young still emphasizes the importance of positively impacting the community. 

    “You have to do something, and a city like this has so much more love to offer,” she said. 

    In 2019, Sweet LaLa’s expanded by leaving the JIFF kitchen and opening a location in the Regalia Shopping Center, where they have expanded options including cakes, coffee and savory items.

    “We intentionally built in a fancy shopping center with the hope that you would show up and get delicious baked goods, but you would be surprised to learn about our beginnings,” Young said.

    Sweet LaLa’s was Young’s chance to better Memphis, and according to her, “[she’s] making [her] difference one day at a time.”

    “It’s hard to talk about hard subjects and Memphis has a lot of hard subjects,” she said. “But if you can create a space where you feel safe to have that hard conversation then you could do it in a space like a bakery.”

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    MC Hitt
    MC Hitt, Reporter
    After spending her summer binging 13 seasons of “Doctor Who,” MC Hitt is pumped to start her first year on Tatler. Some people say MC can be described as daring since she would be willing to save humanity and fight in a zombie apocalypse, but when she is not saving the world, MC loves to climb on the St. Mary’s climbing team and listen to Olivia Rodrigo on repeat. Ironically, MC has two dogs, but is a cat person at heart and plans to adopt a cat as soon as she gets to college. Though she is just a sophomore, MC knows that she wants to pursue a career in writing and is super excited to get to develop her skills as a writer on Tatler this year. MC plans to express her passion for writing by reporting on local news stories and sharing her opinions on topics that she believes need attention. She couldn’t be more thrilled to do great work for Tatler this year! 

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