By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
For someone who has never spent a day in culinary school, Amber Jones, owner of Sweet Jones & The Sugar Shack, has done well. The self-taught baking and pastry art professional has made her mark in the metro Birmingham area with her treats and cakes.
“I’m not a culinary art student or anything like that I’m a YouTube student and I just learned from other mentors that I have had in the community,” Jones said.
More on her mentors later.
She learned an icing recipe three years ago from a YouTuber that she still uses.
“That became a base of my foundation for my cakes,” she said. “It’s a two-step recipe that will get a cake through a summer event or a winter event. Most clients love it because it’s very light, almost like whipping cream. It adds a significant moisture to the cakes as well.”
She also makes a lot of edible toppers. “I’m big on 3-D cakes that require cutting, shaving, or molding for a specific shape, size or character,” she said.
Four years ago, Jones was known for her covered strawberries, which were among her bestsellers. “It’s basically a white chocolate that I dip the strawberries in, then I make my own crunch which is like a strawberry shortcake crumble on top of the chocolate covered strawberry. Those were a total hit, I still have people in boxing me to place an order for those.” Now that she’s focused on making cakes, she doesn’t make the covered strawberries as often.
Although Jones doesn’t not like making treats, they can be purchased with a package deal.
As her customer base grew, she offered other goodies such as Rice Krispy Treats, pretzels, candy apples, cake pops, cake doughnuts, candy popcorn from scratch, and gourmet candy apples.
“Gourmet apples are basically white chocolate apples or milk chocolate apples with toppings. You can do anything from strawberry crunch or Oreos or caramel or nuts or cookies and cream.”
Jones was inspired to launch her business Sweet Jones & The Sugar Shack in February 2018 from her home when she was approached to do a Tweety Bird cake.
“I had never baked a cake … I think I did fairly good for it to be my first order. So I guess that that was like my initiative to say, ‘Hey, let me continue on.’ A lot of people say, ‘practice makes perfect.’ However, I believe in consistency because this makes perfect to me. So I just became more consistent in doing it.”
Jones grew up in Birmingham where she played basketball majority of her childhood and attended Fairfield High Preparatory School where the girls basketball team won the state championship in her senior year.
“That was big, it was huge,” said Jones, a wing and slasher on the team. “We were the first team at Fairfield High to ever win the championship as for as the girls team. I really pride myself on that title. I tell my kids about it often,” said Jones, who still assists with the girls basketball team at the school.
During her senior year, Jones knew she either had to attend college or get a job. However, at the time her mother was recovering from cervical and breast cancer. “I was offered scholarships … I declined because I was tired of playing basketball and I had a lot going on at home. I was concerned about my mother I wanted to be there for her.”
Jones continued, “I didn’t want to deal with basketball but, I walked on at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, AL and I gained a scholarship spring semester of my freshman year.”
During her last season at Shelton State the school won a championship and ranked number six in the nation, she said.
Basketball teaches a lot of characteristics of life, “you’re working hard to get to somewhere. If the hard work doesn’t pay off, of course, you’re going to deal with emotions of defeat, and what could I have done better,” Jones said.
“Basketball still instills in me … to work for something,” Jones said. “If you’re not working for anything, you’re just here living. I would say basketball builds characteristics. If you have a setback, what are you going to do to become a better person? … [Basketball] teaches you everything about anything you’re going through spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally.”
Jones graduated from Shelton State, attended Auburn University in Montgomery where she initially majored in architecture but completed her studies with a bachelor’s degree in general studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2018.
Besides making cakes, Jones is family oriented and loves spending time with her two girls and one boy who range in ages from 5 to 9 and husband Courtney Jones, who is head basketball coach for the boys’ varsity basketball team at Midfield High School.
The business’s name comes from a former teammate at Shelton and incorporates some of Jones’s lifestyle.
“[My former teammate said I should call the business] ‘Sweet Jones’ because I was making sweets and Jones was my last name. Sugar Shack came from me and my husband.”
Jones credits her mentors for a lot of her success. There’s Monique Shavonne Jones, owner of Double Sweetness Cakery. “She was very vital in the beginning stages of my business, always there for great tips, encouragement, and custom referrals. Most of my business in the beginning came from her being overbooked and sending those clients my way,” Jones said.
There’s Kimberly Knalls, owner of Kims catering and Creative Designs. “She was also vital in my learning stages of being a baker. I can recall one time I created an order a customer didn’t quite like the design. I reached out to [Knalls] the night before the cake was due, she gave me a motivational talk, and FaceTimed me the next day while I was recreating the cake design, and she talked me through each step of piping buttercream rosettes.”
There’s Alexis Herrdo, owner of Tees Cakes and Pastries. “Til this day we are tight when it comes to building one another’s brands,” Jones said. “She’s always teaching me about the currency of a bakery, the pros and cons of owning a bakery, as well as customer etiquette.”
In addition to the cakes, Jones provides decor under a sister company Sugar Shack which provides decor for baby showers, birthday parties, intimate occasions, and weddings.
She considers the business a “one-stop shop.”
“When I say ‘one-stop shop’, you get your cake from me, you get your treats from me, you get the full setup for decor from me. I become your party coordinator or your party planner.”
Today, her character cakes include Sponge Bob, Spider Man, Wendy the Pooh, Pokémon, and some others.
As someone who builds 3-D models of a products to make it look realistic Jones can “cultivate a character into a cake better than I can do anything else.”
Her favorite flavor is vanilla. “You can put strawberries on top of vanilla, chocolate, you can mix anything with vanilla,” she said.
She has traveled and created cakes for celebrities and social media influencers that include Rickey Smiley; Leora Byrd, a hairstylist, and social media influencer from Birmingham; comedian Desi Banks; reality television star Erica Dixon; American Idol Ruben Studdard, comedian Brittney Lynn and more. “It’s all about networking right now,” she said.
To learn more about Sweet Jones & The Sugar Shack, visit sweetjonesfeaturingthesugarshack.com.
Updated at 11:21 p.m. on 6/28/2023 for edits.