Magnolia Bake Shop, state’s oldest bakery, celebrates 95 years
It’s expected for spicy scents to fill the air and for gingerbread men to grin inside glass cases at bakeries in December.
But at Magnolia Bake Shop, this delightful form of Christmas magic happens all 12 months of the year — even in August, the timing of this visit.
The quaint business on Magnolia’s downtown square is known not just for year-round gingerbread men, it is also the state’s oldest bakery.
Opened in 1928 by Carmine Stroope, the bakery was operated by family members for generations. In 2020, Amanda Ybarra, who worked under members of the Stroope family for 19 years, and her husband, Jimmy, bought the bakery.
The timing — right before the COVID-19 pandemic — wasn’t exactly sweet.
“It was hard, but we got through it,” Ybarra says, crediting the same community that has kept the bakery open 95 years for sustaining it during that difficult time. “We have loyal customers who support us tremendously.”
While Ybarra has added a few touches — some new treats and a fresh cupcake motif on the front doors — she refuses to adjust any of the long-revered recipes, many dating back to the Great Depression.
“Nothing has been changed since the 1920s,” she says with a laugh. “You come in, and it’s the same. Maybe your grandpa or your grandmother brought you in when you were younger — I hear that a lot — and it’s still the same.
I think that means a lot to them, the memories and carrying on a tradition.”
Because the bakery is so sacred to so many, customers have strong personal opinions on sweets, like the aforementioned gingerbread men, available plain and iced with decorative sprinkles. When Ybarra announced on the bakery’s Facebook page that a new decorator would be joining in September, comments included, “Don’t change the Gingerbread” and “Keep the PLAIN gingerbread…please!!!!!” Ybarra assured them, “We aren’t getting rid of anything just adding. Gingerbread men are safe!”
Other in-demand desserts include everything from wedding cakes and cupcakes to coconut and red velvet cakes and brownies. Magnolia Bake Shop, an Arkansas Food Hall of Fame nominee, also makes breads and breakfast fare like sausage biscuits.
As for cookies, it’s not just the homey, old-fashioned gingerbread men that customers crave. Another most-requested cookie: the historied fruit bars. Ybarra says, “During the Great Depression, these were very popular. It pulled them through.” Dot cookies — tiny butter cookies with colorful drops of icing — also are prized.
Still, the gingerbread men are the stars this time of year.
“We get super busy, especially at Christmas,” Ybarra says. “We do so many different Christmas cookies. And those gingerbread, oh my gosh, we have to do boxes and boxes of them. They go out the door by the dozens. Christmas is crazy!”
Ybarra has several more Christmases — and several thousand more gingerbread men — to go before achieving her next Magnolia Bake Shop milestone.
She says with a smile, “I’m hoping to make it to 100!”