Tiffany’s Bakery is celebrating its 40th anniversary and planning for many more years of satisfying Columbia’s sweet tooth.
By Rachel Haynie Photographs by Jay Browne
James McMillan heard the oven buzzer go off and when he turned around 40 years of baking some of the Capital City’s most sought after goodies had flown by.
“We opened September 28, 1977, at Columbia Mall,” recalled McMillan, who is still putting in long hours at Tiffany’s Bakery on Two Notch Road. “Tiffany’s was a business franchise and I had a business degree from Francis Marion (then College, now University.) I was not a baker, but I hired some good bakers then – two from Eclair Pastry Shop in Five Points and another from Cribb’s Bakery, and we have good bakers now. From the beginning, I learned.”
In fact, McMillan’s hands-on approach to growing the business resulted in carpel tunnel syndrome last year. “Kneading dough too much,” is his explanation.
He began in a 1,100 square foot start-up operation, and doubled his business the first year. He’s now outgrown the 3,800 square feet he’s been in for most of the 40 years (and a major expansion is on the horizon.) Other contrasts can be found in the kitchen.
He has upgraded equipment many times over the decades from the small mixer and oven he used in those early Columbia Mall days. “We now work with a huge mixer you can lower to put in the cake batter then, with a foot pedal, inject exactly how much batter you want into the pans.”
Tiffany’s now can decorate cakes almost photographically, or as an artist would create a painting. “We can scan an image onto fondant, then put the fondant right onto the cake. We still decorate cakes the tried and traditional, free-hand ways, too.”
Because so much in the world today is automated, Tiffany’s customers don’t always understand the hours of work that goes into making a very customized cake, nor why it costs more than a store-bought cake. “I have learned to ask them up front what their budget is,” McMillan said. “We can give them something they will like within their budget.”
Even those who haven’t discovered Tiffany’s directly probably have enjoyed some products baked there. The company has had a viable business-to-business trade over its years. “We made desserts and breads for California Dreaming, Mr. Friendly’s and Harper’s.” McMillan’s famous walnut apple pie recipe ended up in Charlotte on a well-known restaurant’s menu.
While nutritional awareness has grown exponentially over Tiffany’s 40 years, the community’s sweet tooth has not fallen prey to sugar warnings. “We have not seen a dip in our business because of people’s avoidance of sugar,” McMillan said. “If they want a brownie, they will still get themselves a brownie.”
The veteran business owner said the goodie business is recession-proof as well. “We did not experience a down-turn during last decade’s recession.” The measuring cups at Tiffany’s have marked steady growth.
With solid numbers to encourage a new venture, McMillan and son Jamie have committed to building a bigger, better Tiffany’s farther north on Two Notch Road. “The building we’ve planned will be spacious enough for 50 percent more showcases and 35 percent more serving area.” McMillan said they plan to expand the choice of delectables to include gelato. “I have already been out of state to learn how to make it,” said the hands-on owner. The menu and the serving hours will also expand.
“We will have a full breakfast, probably brunch on the weekend; lunch will have more sandwich items to choose from, and our evening service will feature gourmet burgers and a tapas menu. “ The two McMillans look forward to serving craft beer, wine and adult milkshakes, and to making the planned outdoor seating area pet-friendly.
“I am hoping we can be in by early 2018.”
Tiffany’s Bakery & Eatery
8502 Two-Notch Road