Two years ago, Stacey West graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta.
“I told my husband I wanted to open a restaurant, or have a food shop,” she said. A restaurant in their Powder Springs neighborhood was closed on Sundays, and, for two months, the family used that facility to serve Sunday brunch and try being restaurateurs.
West and her son, Quinton Jones, also a chef, were in the kitchen, and her husband, Robert West, ran the front of the house. They served brunch favorites, like catfish po’boys, chicken and waffles with maple butter, and sweet potato corn muffins. And, they served pimento cheese and grits. Lots of pimento cheese and grits.
Customers loved their cooking, but it was the pimento cheese they wanted to take home. That was the start of Suga’s Pimento Cheeses.
Suga is West’s nickname, pronounced “shuh-gah,” and dreamed up by daughter Chanty as an alternative for “Grandma.”
West began selling her pimento cheese. “I came from up north, and I didn’t grow up with pimento cheese,” she said. “I knew I wanted to have pimento cheese on my brunch menu, so I just kept working through recipes. I kept tweaking until I came up with the right flavor.”
Customers loved the original, but many asked for a spicier version. “I decided, OK, let me put jalapenos in it, but we won’t use the seeds,” she said.
Around that time, a customer suggested she try selling her pimento cheese at the Powder Springs Farmers Market. She signed up, and took her two varieties of pimento cheese. Success there inspired the Wests to start selling at the Marietta Square Farmers Market.
“It was phenomenal,” she said. “We sold out on our first day. We looked at each other and said, ‘Maybe there’s something here.’”
That something turned into a business, with six varieties of pimento cheese using dairy cheese, and three vegan flavors.
“From our mildly spicy pimento cheese with jalapeno, we went on to create bacon asiago with jalapenos, then a variety with roasted poblanos that we mix with Monterey Jack, and one with serrano peppers,” she said. “Then, we were inspired to make a vegan version with no soy, no dairy and no tree nuts. We use a pea plant protein, and we have three flavors — original, mildly spicy with jalapenos, and our very spicy serrano.”
Not content with nine flavors, they added a 10th; their smoked gouda pimento cheese debuted at the 2018 Atlanta Cheese Fest.
The Wests continue to take their pimento cheeses to local farmers markets, and it’s customer feedback that lets them know they’re still on the right track. “So many times, we’re at a market, and people tell us ours is the ‘best pimento cheese ever,’” she said. “It’s fun when our customers tell us our pimento cheese brings back memories of their childhood, of their mom or grandmom — somebody they loved — making pimento cheese for them.”
That feedback keeps them going as they sell their pimento cheeses at the year-round Marietta, East Point and Peachtree City farmers markets, as well as seasonal markets in Rockmart, Acworth, Powder Springs, Chattanooga and Augusta. The cheeses also are available at the Local Exchange in Marietta, Lucy’s Market in Buckhead and Floral Park Market in Home Park.
They keep up with demand through weekly production sessions in their commercial kitchen off Bell’s Ferry Road in Marietta. A session might find West and Jones roasting peppers, cooking as many as 15 pounds of applewood smoked bacon, and shredding several varieties of cheese.
As they stir, they dream up new flavors, and new ways to use pimento cheese. “We’ll taste something and think, ‘Now, how would they go as a pimento cheese?’” West said.
They want their customers to realize pimento cheese is more than just a spread. It’s an ingredient that works in lots of recipes, like the pimento cheese and grits that sparked the business.
They also offer samples of pimento cheese cookies. “We use our smoked gouda pimento cheese and top each cookie with strawberry pineapple jam,” she said. “We tell people it’s a delicious cookie that’s both savory and sweet, and perfect for after dinner and entertaining.”
This isn’t just a hobby for the Wests. Both left their careers to focus on Suga’s. “This is all we do,” she said. “This is what sustains us. I have always had a passion for food, ever since I was a little kid. It is the gift God gave me, to be creative with food.”
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