Southern taste

Therice Denby has a fond­ness for mak­ing desserts at her Frank­ford eat­ery, Denby’s Sweet Sen­sa­tions, which opened two months ago. JENNY SWI­GODA / TIMES PHOTO

Wheth­er it’s a sweet con­fec­tion or a whole­some meal, Therice Denby is bring­ing a lot of the South to the North­east. And she has a lot of fans.

So you want something spe­cial, do you? You want a cake shaped like a car or a cake that looks like a baby crawl­ing in­to a di­aper bag?

That’s fine with Therice Denby. Just give her a couple weeks’ no­tice, and when you stop by Denby’s Sweet Sen­sa­tions, her new res­taur­ant and sweet shop on Frank­ford Av­en­ue, to pick up that spe­cial or­der, you might want to sample some soul food, too.

Good old-fash­ioned South­ern cook­ing is what Denby is serving up as well as cakes, cin­na­mon buns and pastries. A busi­ness that is both soul food res­taur­ant and bakery might seem un­usu­al, but it’s fairly com­mon in the South, Denby said.

And Denby’s is def­in­itely a busi­ness with a South­ern ac­cent. “My par­ents are South­ern,” she said, ex­plain­ing that her moth­er’s from Alabama and her fath­er’s from North Car­o­lina, and they’re both great cooks.

“I was raised in the North, but with a South­ern flair,” she said.

Be­sides ad­her­ing to tra­di­tion­al fare like bar­be­cued chick­en, col­lard greens, corn bread, grits, bis­cuits and waffles, Denby is big on us­ing her ima­gin­a­tion, es­pe­cially when it comes to desserts.

“I’ll dream about a dessert and I’ll come in here and make it,” she said dur­ing an in­ter­view at Denby’s Sweet Sen­sa­tions, 4428 Frank­ford Ave.

If that dream in­volves sweet pota­toes, so much the bet­ter. “I can make any­thing good with a sweet potato,” she said.

Denby’s fea­tures sweet potato pan­cakes and sweet potato fries, too.

Denby’s Sweet Sen­sa­tions is a new busi­ness on Frank­ford Av­en­ue; it opened in May. It is, however, not a com­pletely new en­ter­prise. Last year, Denby 

was open in Ber­lin, N.J. The res­taur­ant’s build­ing was in bad shape and had no heat in the winter, so she de­cided to make a move.

Find­ing a spot in Frank­ford “is a bless­ing,” she said, since she and her fam­ily live in Phil­adelphia.

That fam­ily makes up the staff at Denby’s res­taur­ant. The biggest help and sup­port­er is her hus­band, Steven Denby II, and they’ve been to­geth­er 23 years.

 “He’s sup­por­ted my dream,” Therice said.

Their two sons, Steven III and Jalen, as well as niece Ay­anna Jack­son, also work at the eat­ery.

Fam­ily is key to Denby’s out­look.

“This is a fam­ily-ori­ented busi­ness with down-home South­ern hos­pit­al­ity,” she said. “When people come in here, they should feel at home.”

A cus­tom­er who has a crav­ing for a dessert just like mama used to make may re­quest it, and Denby will whip it up.

“Just give me forty-eight hours,” she said.

Giv­ing the cus­tom­ers what they want is Denby’s busi­ness policy. “Just be­cause it’s not on the menu doesn’t mean you can’t have it,” she said. 

For ex­ample, the res­taur­ant is not a ve­get­ari­an eat­ery, but some cus­tom­ers are ve­get­ari­ans. She al­ways tries to ac­com­mod­ate them, she said.

So far, the busiest days of the week are Thursdays and Fri­days — Fri­day, es­pe­cially, since it is potato salad and cat­fish day at Denby’s.

Cat­fish — or whit­ing — is fried in corn meal, Denby said. There are no spe­cial in­gredi­ents, but the fish is served with a spicy sauce.

The potato salad is from a fam­ily re­cipe. “I make it like my mom used to make it,” she said.

But enough about en­trees and sides. What about those spe­cialty cakes?

You’ve seen those cool cakes in all sorts of shapes and sizes on the Food Net­work. Well, you can see them in Frank­ford, too.

But they have to be spe­cial-ordered, Denby said. “We make everything fresh. We don’t have cakes just sit­ting around,” she said.

Denby said she needs a couple of weeks to make the pre­par­a­tions and bake spe­cially de­signed cakes. Oth­er or­ders — birth­day cakes or gradu­ation cake — re­quire just 48 hours.

This isn’t the first North­east Times  art­icle about Denby. Six years ago she was fea­tured be­cause she had won re­cog­ni­tion for de­vel­op­ing a busi­ness mod­el for her res­taur­ant. In 2005, Denby was one of three fe­male en­tre­pren­eurs named win­ners of the En­ter­pris­ing Wo­man Busi­ness Plan Com­pet­i­tion sponsored by Na­tion­al Penn Bank. She won first prize in the res­taur­ant cat­egory.

Part of that busi­ness mod­el was pur­vey­ing sug­ar-free treats. In its cur­rent in­carn­a­tion, Denby’s asks cus­tom­ers to or­der sug­ar-free items two days in ad­vance. Those are not kept on hand, Denby said, be­cause they have a short shelf life.

It’s not that any of Denby’s desserts even get a chance to get old — or even get sold. The Den­bys’ kids are big fans.

“They try to hide the last piece of cheese­cake so nobody gets it,” Steven Denby said. ••

Re­port­er John Loftus may be reached at 215-354-3110 or by e-mail at

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